Armageddon is often referred to as the end of the world. This is a misnomer. If some cataclysmic event were to take place, the world itself will be just fine. However, the same can not be said for those who call its surface home. Unbeknownst to the vast majority of people, the human race has nearly met its match on more than one occasion. Whether by sickness, natural disaster, extraterrestrial object or by our own hand, here are 10 Times the World Almost Ended.
THE TOBA SUPERVOLCANO
Let's start big with an event so terrible it has been deemed the most catastrophic event in human history. 74,000 years ago on the site of Lake Toba, on the Island of Sumatra, there was no Lake Toba. What there was instead was the Toba Supervolcano. The lake was formed when the volcano erupted, spewing more than 2500 kilometers of earth, ash and toxic gas into the atmosphere. The initial explosion literally vaporized all life in the region.
Monster tsunamis battered the coasts surrounding the Indian ocean and the South China Sea, while the ash clouds and sulfur gas blocked out the sun. The resulting effect on the world’s climate was devastating, intensifying the ice age the Earth was already experiencing. At the time of the Toba eruption, Homo Sapiens (Modern Man) shared the Earth with Neanderthals and Homo Floresiensis. Evidence suggests that the Toba eruption could have directly or indirectly contributed to the extinction of the other two races. Lucky break for Homo Sapiens like you and me.
Coming in second behind the Toba eruption is the Laki Volcano, better know as the Skaftar Fires in Iceland. On June 8th, 1783, a volcanic fissure tore through Southern Iceland, releasing more than 14 km of lava and an estimated 130 million tons of poisonous gas into the atmosphere. As the toxic gas clouds dispersed over Northern Europe, people and animals began to drop dead. Acid rain fell in sheets, burning skin and destroying entire crops. Up to fifty percent of Iceland's population was killed, and records from the time indicate that more than 20,000 people died from the gas clouds in Britain alone. The carnage was not over when the volcano stopped erupting either. The millions of metric tons of toxic gas that had accumulated in the atmosphere resulted in unnaturally harsh and extreme weather throughout Europe and North America that lasted for several years.
YERSINIA PESTIS (THE BLACK DEATH)
The Dark Ages were not fun for a plethora of reasons. There were just so many things that could kill you. Inclement weather could destroy your meager home, the neighboring kingdom could decide it was sick of staring at your kingdom, and let's not forgot about the occasional witch burning and inquisition. If you did manage to survive all of that, however, there was just one more tiny thing you had to contend with called the Black Death.
The Black Death originated on the steppes of Central Asia at the beginning of the 14th century and arrived in Europe in 1343. The disease caught a ride on the backs of black rats and fleas who carried it along the silk road and eventually onto merchant ships destined for Sicily. After reaching European shores, it took no time at all for the terribly infectious plague to kill an estimated thirty to sixty percent of the European population. In some European cities, the death toll rose to as high as fifty percent of the population. The disease could be contracted as easily as breathing the same air as an infected person and killed just as easily. It was not uncommon for a person to contract the disease in the morning and be dead by supper.
(See how the History of Cats contributed to the Black Death).
Nothing conjures images of an apocalyptic end to our world like the thought of nuclear weapons. Unbeknownst to most of the general population, the world has almost met its end on more than one occasion at the hands of these catastrophic weapons.
NORAD & Soviet Computer Glitch
Did you know that a computer glitch nearly released a barrage of nuclear weapons on the world? Did you know it has almost happened three times! Once on November 9th, 1979 and again on June 3, 1980, a systems glitch at NORAD (North American Aerospace Defence) caused multiple alarms to falsely indicate an imminent nuclear attack on the United States and it allies. During both incidents, nuclear weapons were armed and loaded in American bombers and were enroute to release their apocalyptic payload when the error was discovered.
On September 26, 1983, a glitch in the Soviet early warning system indicated the launch of three American Nuclear ICBM missiles. Stanislav Yevgrafovich, a young Soviet missile officer, correctly surmised, on a hunch, that the missile warnings were a false alarm, and called off the retaliatory strike by the Soviet Union. Historians believe that if it had not been for the actions of Yevgrafovich, the Soviet’s would have launched a retaliatory strike inciting nuclear war that would have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of millions of people.
It isn't often in history when one can look back and say a simple “heads up” could have potentially avoided nuclear annihilation, but that was exactly the case in 1983 and again in 1995. In 1983, NATO began Operation Able Archer as an exercise to simulate NATO nuclear launch procedures. At nearly exactly the same moment the Soviets began operations to detect NATO nuclear launch procedures. The Soviet’s successfully detected operation Able Archer and ordered their military to prepare for a retaliatory strike. It wasn’t until the end of the Cold War that it was discovered how close the world came to World War III that day.
A similar incident took place on January 25th, 1995 when Norwegian and American scientists launched a Black Brant XII rocket from a launchpad in Northwestern Norway. The rocket's trajectory took it along the same corridor as Minuteman III nuclear missiles if they had been launched from their base in North Dakota toward Moscow. The Soviets mistook the rocket launch as an imminent nuclear missile attack. It wasn't until after the fall of the Soviet Union until it was discovered that the suitcase containing the nuclear launch codes was presented to then Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
SOLAR STORM 2012
2012 was the year everyone thought would be “the last year”. But 2012 came and went and the world didn't end. Crisis averted, but only barely. On July 23rd, 2012, a coronal mass ejection erupted from the surface of the sun and careened toward Earth. The CME’s trajectory took it directly though the path of Earth’s orbit, missing it by a mere nine days (no time at all on the cosmic scale). Had the solar storm struck the Earth, every electronic device on the planet would have been fried. Estimates of the possible damage from the 2012 solar storm would have been more than one trillion dollars, twenty times greater than the cost of Hurricane Katrina. Experts posit that had the storm struck the Earth, civilization would have come to a grinding halt, and society would have been reduced to what is was prior to the technological revolution.
The early 1990’s brought a lot of questionable things into this world, including grunge, furbys, tamagotchi and a genetically modified superorganism that would have destroyed all terrestrial plant life on planet Earth. In the 1990’s, scientists working for a European genetic research company developed a bacterium to target Klebsiella Planticola., an enzyme present in all plant life. The bacterium was developed to reduce harmful plant residues on crops and eliminate the need for crop burning by turning decomposed plant matter into fermented alcohol. However, shortly before the bacterium was to be released for mainstream use on the world’s crop supply, it was discovered by an independent researcher that if administered, the bacterium would have spread globally in mere months and would have killed off all terrestrial plant life on planet Earth. Production was immediately halted, and civilization let out a collective nervous laugh at almost destroying its entire food supply.
Natural disasters can happen in a depressing variety of ways, but few bring about as much human misery as a pandemic. Spanish Flu was the pandemic of all pandemics and is recorded as one of the single deadliest disasters in human history. Described by John M Barry, the author of, The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Greatest Plague in History as the “greatest medical holocaust in human history.” The Spanish Flu struck early in the twentieth century and struck hard, infecting more than 500 million victims worldwide and extracting a death toll of up to 100 million people. The influenza pandemic was so devastating that the world’s average life expectancy fell by twelve years, and it was said to have claimed more victims in a year than the Black Death had in a century. Historians vary on the exact source of the pandemic, but the most accepted consensus is that the virus originated in Asia and was circulated on a tremendous scale by traveling soldiers during World War I.
At every moment, we are but a tiny species clinging to a rock, hurtling through cosmic uncertainty. With so much doubt and chaos surrounding us this election year, it’s impossible to know what is in store for our precious planet. However, one thing is certain; the planet doesn't care what happens on its surface. So it’s up to us to ensure we don't destroy ourselves.
More From Jacob Siuda: