When the Poles Flip

What will happen when the Earth's magnetic field flips? Well, a lot of boy scouts will get lost, satellites will start orbiting in the wrong direction and all your fridge magnets will drop off. This is, of course, obvious but many people have not yet properly considered how we will cope with reading compasses upside down, realigning satellite dishes and getting used to having your bins collected on a Tuesday rather than a Wednesday.

But the biggest problem is likely to be geese. Are likely to be geese. The biggest problems are likely to be geese. Whatever. Canada geese, for example, spend the summer months in the north, mainly for the skiing, but will migrate to California in the winter because they're fickle like that. For this they use a kind of internal compass, which you could liken to satellite navigation, although you'd be completely wrong and stupid to do so. When the poles reverse, these geese are going to be careering about all over the place, not knowing what to do with themselves and generally being a bit of a nuisance.

Theoretically the solution is ludicrously simple: geese have a switch at the back of the neck that can be used to reset their internal navigation systems. Practically, this means that someone will have to go out, catch them all and flip the switches one by one.

Nobody knows how many geese there are on the planet but it's thought that it's somewhere between twenty-six and four billion - a broad margin of error, arising from the fact that all geese look the same and this makes them difficult to count. Whatever the actual figure, they all have to be recalibrated by hand and since only three people have so far volunteered for the job - and one of those can only work alternate Fridays - the chances of success appear slim.

So, what will happen when the planet's magnetic field flips? Disasterologists predict earthquakes, floods and plagues of locusts but don't you believe a word of it. Chances are, the first thing you'll know about it is when a confused goose knocks on your door and asks you the way to Disneyland.

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