History remembers only a few cases when humans were facing the threat of extinction. Sometimes it was pure luck that saved our species from getting wiped out, and other times it was thanks to the determination and big brain decisions of certain individuals.
Toba Volcano Eruption
About 70 thousand years ago, the Toba volcano woke up on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. Its eruption is considered one of the largest on Earth in the last 25 million years. The explosion threw enough ash into the atmosphere to block the sun for six years, which dropped the temperature on Earth by 3-6 ° C, leading to the mass extinction of animals and humans in Eurasia and Africa. According to some reports, the human population has decreased to a catastrophic 2000-5000 individuals during that period.
Smallpox first appeared about 10,000 years ago in northern Africa, gradually spreading through the ancient civilizations. It started with a headache and rash and ended with severe vomiting, loss of vision, and, in some cases, death. On average, the lethality was 30%, but for children, these numbers were much higher. Here’s a brutal fact: newborns were often not given a name until they had smallpox. Despite all the medical breakthroughs, the disease was finally eradicated only in 1980. In the 20th century, this thing killed anywhere from 300 to 500 million people.
On October 16, 1962, a folder stuffed with photos of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba was placed on US President John F. Kennedy’s table. This was the Kremlin’s response to the American nuclear bunkers previously discovered in Turkey. News of a possible nuclear war quickly swept the country, throwing some US residents into a bomb shelter building spree while others tried to get out of the country as fast as possible. What’s really weird is that the Soviet press kept all this info under wraps, so the people did not even suspect how close the world had come to a full stop.
Los Alamos National Laboratory Fire
In June 2011, forest fires in the southern United States covered about 246 thousand square kilometers in three days, getting very close to Los Alamos. If the name sounds familiar, it should because this is the birthplace of the atomic bomb. The factories and certain facilities are still functional, which means the danger is still present. This was the second incident since the 2000s, and the catastrophe was avoided only thanks to the swift reaction of the authorities. If they’d failed to contain the spreading fire, it would have engulfed the national laboratory and started a dangerous chain reaction. According to laboratory representatives, such an outcome was unlikely because the warehouse with radioactive resources is located behind thick fireproof walls. However, during the fire, around 20,000 barrels of plutonium nuclear waste were stored in the fenced area outside the institution, which the workers did not manage to remove in time.
It is difficult to assess how catastrophic the consequences would be if the National Laboratory caught fire. The closest possible example of such a disaster is the accident at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant in March 2011, which ruined the lives of over 180,000 people and caused $220 billion in damage. It makes you wonder what cataclysm is going to hit us next.