Oliver Letwin retired last year after a long career with the British Conservative party. He was involved in Britain’s Emergency Management Planning so has a pretty good idea about what can go wrong and how likely things are to go wrong. In this book he walks us through a Black Swan event – an event that is very rare and therefore often unplanned for.
This book is actually 2 books in one. Every odd numbered chapter tells a fictional narrative of a dystopian disaster brought about in 2037 when our dependence on cutting edge technology, at the expense of analogue/manual back up technology, proves to be our downfall. In this future world we have surpassed 5G and 6G and are now totally reliable on electronics, the world wide web of everything and 7G connectivity. So confident are our political and industrial leaders in modern technology that they have no failsafe, no manual, or analogue fall back in case anything goes wrong. Naturally, being a dystopian story, things do go wrong and when there is no safety net, no back-stop to save us – when things go bad, they go bad very quickly.
Every even numbered chapter deals with the facts of the matter. He writes here about how far our technology has gone thus far and the direction that we appear to be heading in. How politics and budget targets can push us toward the apocalyptic scenario that he has been warning about for several years already.
It seems that the better connected we become, the more vulnerable we become as our reliance on technology becomes a narrower and narrower focus. When we have no alternative back-up, no plan B, we are inviting trouble. Whether that trouble comes in the form of a cyber attack by a hostile state, natural phenomena such as a CME (coronal mass ejection – or solar flare), or an EMP (electro magnetic pulse – by discharging a nuclear weapon high above the earth) – our electrical grid and everything that depends on it could, in theory, fail.
Letwin explains how difficult it is to persuade politicians and industrial leaders to invest large sums of money to upkeep old-fashioned technology as a failsafe, fall back for a disaster that may never happen – especially when the new technology is 99.9% reliable. BUT should that 0.1% event happen…..what then?
In Letwin’s imaginary future world we are so convinced of 7G’s superior technology and connectivity that we don’t have a plan B. The speed that things go wrong, once the first domino falls is very scary with very worrying consequences. He talks us through what would happen from the actions (or inaction) of our political leaders during a disaster such as this, down to how it affects the man and woman on the street, particularly the old and infirm when the temperature drops below freezing and there is no electricity to make the heaters or central heating work. Without power there is no way to convey to the population any message from the government. We’d be on the doorstep of anarchy. Pretty much every service that we rely on fails as a result of the electrical grid going down and because most things rely on internet connectivity – there is suddenly no communication network, no GPS to guide us around the streets, driverless cars would not work, no street lights or traffic signals, no rail network, planes are grounded and those already in the air have no guidance system – chaos is all around. As a result – the food delivery system fails, no one can buy food anyway or anything else for that matter because by 2037 we have no physical cash anymore, hospitals can’t function, neither can the emergency services – everything is digital and relies on electricity and the connectivity of the internet to function. And to add to the problem, in this scenario Britain has gone with 100% renewable energy – solar, wind and hydro – all of which are very difficult to get back on line from a cold start – assuming that the infrastructure is still intact and functioning after such an event (if the transformers have not been fried by an electrical pulse)….but that requires an in depth explanation that I don’t have time to go into here.
This fictional scenario is even more frightening when you remember that the author is an ex politician who was working on preventing this and many other disaster scenarios. He knows how the political system works – or fails to work. It’s a wake up call to shake us all from our complacency. But will it shake us enough, or will we continue to blindly rely on the latest technology without maintaining a reliable alternative….just in case?
For anyone interested in dystopian scenarios, emergency management, or disaster preparedness (prepping), it makes and interesting and thought provoking read.
I read it in two sittings as it was so absorbing….and I am very interested in “being prepared”.