History recalls only a few instances when humans faced the threat of extinction. Sometimes it’s pure luck that has saved our species from extinction, other times it’s thanks to the determination and big-brained decisions of a few individuals.
About 70,000 years ago, the Toba volcano erupted on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Its eruption is considered the largest on Earth in the last 25 million years. The eruption threw enough ash into the atmosphere to block the sun for six years, which lowered the Earth’s temperature by 3-6°C, leading to the mass extinction of animals and humans in Eurasia and Africa. According to some reports, the human population dropped to a catastrophic 2000-5000 individuals during that period.
Smallpox first appeared in North Africa about 10,000 years ago and gradually spread to ancient civilizations. It started with headache and rash and ended with severe vomiting, loss of vision and sometimes death. On average, mortality was 30%, but for children, these numbers were much higher. Here’s a brutal truth: Newborn babies are often not named until they get smallpox. Despite all the medical advances, the disease was finally eradicated only in 1980. In the 20th century, this thing killed between 300 and 500 million people.
The Caribbean Crisis
On October 16, 1962, a folder filled with photographs of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba was delivered to U.S. President John F. Placed on Kennedy’s desk. This is the Kremlin’s response to the US nuclear bunkers previously discovered in Turkey. News of a possible nuclear war quickly swept the country, sending some American residents into bomb shelters while others tried to flee the country as quickly as possible. What is really strange is that the Soviet press kept this information under wraps so that people did not suspect how far the world had come to an end.
Los Alamos National Laboratory fire
In June 2011, a forest fire in South America covered about 246 thousand square kilometers in three days, coming very close to Los Alamos. If the name sounds familiar, this is where the atomic bomb was born. Factories and some facilities are still operating, meaning the risk is still there. This is the second such incident since the 2000s, and disaster was averted only by quick action by the authorities. Had they failed to control the spreading fire, it would have engulfed the national laboratory and set off a dangerous chain reaction. According to representatives of the laboratory, such an outcome is unlikely, since the warehouse with radioactive resources is located behind thick fireproof walls. However, at the time of the fire, about 20,000 barrels of plutonium nuclear waste were stored in a fenced area outside the facility, which workers could not remove in time.
It is difficult to estimate how devastating the consequences would be if the national laboratory were to catch fire. The accident at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant in March 2011 destroyed the lives of 180,000 people and caused $220 billion in damages. It makes us wonder what disaster is going to hit us next.