Is money real?

gold bullion

I wrote Hope Island in 2019 – already one of the three predicted events has almost happened. I began to question, not for the first time, the value of money.

In the world today we don’t have real money, we operate almost entirely on promises. You may imagine that the statement you get from a bank guarantees your cash – it doesn’t. There isn’t a pile of cash or gold anywhere that is large enough to supply those promises.

If you gathered all the hard currency in the world, notes and coins, it wouldn’t be enough to pay off the US national debt and your bank statement would mean nothing. In other words, when faith in those bank statements dissipates, the whole imaginary money system would collapse.

Gold itself doesn’t have any great practical uses, it’s main use is jewellery, but it is rare. All the gold in the world would fit in three Olympic swimming pools. That is a lot of gold, but not nearly enough. The value today of all that gold is about 7 trillion US dollars, but the US national debt alone is over 20 trillion dollars.

In financial terms we have built castles made of promises. They will crumble one day.

Gold bullion coins

In the world Hope Island inhabits the only valuable coins are gold. The island has a small, self-sustained population and operates as a collective. Some technology has been retained, like wind generated electricity and plumbing. Much has been lost or is in short supply. Some luxuries can be bought from the mainland which is gradually regenerating 19th and 20th century technology. Conflict is never far from any society and in a novel, as in an oyster, it’s the grit that generates the pearl.

gold bullion coins

The only valuable coin is gold bullion – buy yours now is my advice.

3rd disaster – Carrington Event

image of a solar storm

I wrote Hope Island in 2019 – already one of the three predicted events has almost happened. A repeat of the Carrington Event is overdue.

In 1859 a huge geomagnetic storm hit the earth, caused by a solar coronal mass ejection (a storm on the sun’s surface). In the mid 19th century we didn’t have much around in the way of electronic technology, but telegraph operators across the United States suffered electric shocks and the aurora borealis was seen in lower latitudes than normal.

This is estimated to happen about every 150 years – you can do that bit of maths – it’s overdue.

If this event was repeated now it would kill any astronauts in space, destroy satellite technology, take out all mobile phone support (including banking transactions) and seriously damage computer networks and hardware. We do have safeguards against localised problems, but almost certainly no provision to deal with a worldwide sustained electromagnetic attack.

Apart from the obvious problems of not having social media to occupy us, there is a serious, very serious, financial implication. Without a cashless transaction system there would be a run on banks and we don’t have enough cash in the world to cope with that. The whole monetary system might collapse, paper money would become valueless as it did in Germany in the 1930s. So is money real? I’ll explain why it isn’t in the next post.

2nd disaster – Antarctic ice sheet

Western Antarctic Ice Sheet

I wrote Hope Island in 2019 – already one of the three predicted events has almost happened and the loss of the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet is a real and looming threat.

I’m no expert on this, but I did read reputable scientific reports on the potential impact and level of threat. Large parts of the WAIS sit on a land bed which is below sea level and sloping downward inland. This mean that the ice sheet is extremely vulnerable and potentially unstable. A small retreat in just one major glacier could, in theory, destabilise the entire WAIS, leading to rapid disintegration. (google Thwaites Glacier if you want to be scared)

In some places the ice is over one mile thick. If it does collapse the estimated rise in sea level, worldwide, is around 3.3 metres, or almost 11 feet. This could happen in a matter of a few years, giving us little or no time to prepare.

Most capital cities of the world started life as ports. Very few would survive with that sort of sea level rise, coastlines would change everywhere and many new islands would be created. In my novel Hope Island is one such place.

1st disaster – a pandemic virus?

Illustration of viral encephalitis

I wrote Hope Island in 2019 – already one of the three predicted events has come far to close to reality – and we’re not out of the woods yet.

After a lot of research I decided a flea-born viral encephalitis was as likely as any to break out. A new form could be difficult to treat and have a high case morbidity rate. Since then there have been cases reported, but thankfully not a pandemic (for the moment we’re coping with a corona virus that is causing havoc even a much lower CMR than I feared).

I estimated that in an extreme situation the population might be reduced nearer to that of the year 1800. In the USA that would mean a loss of 98% of the population (although the population expansion in America has been Fast and significantly affected to immigration), in the UK 95% of the population would die. Worldwide we do not have reliable population figures for that date.

It was after checking those figures that another suspicion was confirmed – one of the major problems the world faces is overpopulation, simply too many people. If you could solve that problem, many of the others would disappear.

Three looming disasters

I like a good dystopian novel as much as anyone else, but I also have faith in society surviving disasters and believe that most people are fundamentally good – but not all.

In the summer of 2019 I was reading about some of the problems the world is facing. Then I started to speculate on what would happen after those disasters struck, assuming humanity survived. I have no desire to live through the disruption, trauma and deaths, but in the end I wondered if life might be in some ways simpler and less stressful. So I wrote Hope Island, set 100 years after the three disasters had struck. 

They’re hinted at in the novel, but not explained in detail. I now think each one is worthy of its own post. Let’s hope I’m wrong and they don’t happen.

These events are all quite likely to happen:
A pandemic flea-born encephalitis virus (this was pre Covid-19)
The collapse of the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet
A repeat of the Carrington Event of 1859