Humanity Extinction: 5 Times We Almost Didn’t Make It

Asteroids, pandemics, nuclear war - humanity has faced extinction over and over. How did we survive near-annihilation? Read this tour through the 5 times we narrowly dodged humanity extinction.

Our species has walked a precarious path since first emerging roughly 300,000 years ago. Time and again, forces of nature or our actions have threatened mankind with annihilation.

Let’s explore 5 pivotal moments throughout history when mankind faced utter ruination, only to somehow find salvation and live on.

The Toba Catastrophe – Supervolcano Eruption, 75,000 years ago

Roughly 75,000 years ago, a massive supervolcano in present-day Indonesia erupted with devastating power, spewing over 700 cubic miles of ash and debris. This was the last and largest eruption of the Toba caldera—2,800 times more powerful than Mt. St. Helens in 1980.

The cataclysmic event plunged the world into a volcanic winter lasting years, blanketing the globe with ash and blocking sunlight. The devastating climate change triggered by Toba may have reduced the entire human population down to just a few thousand individuals clinging to existence in isolated refuges.

Genetic analysis hints modern humans descend from a tiny population of as few as 1,000 to 10,000 breeding pairs that managed to survive the post-Toba winter. Their perseverance allowed our ancestors to eventually venture from Africa and colonize the other continents.

While massive volcanic eruptions pose an omnipresent threat, the lessons learned from Toba show that with ingenuity, flexibility, and determination, humanity can endure earth-shaking catastrophes.

The Black Death – Bubonic Plague, 1300s

Emerging from the East in the 1300s, the bubonic plague ravaged populations across Asia, North Africa, and Europe in merely a few years, leaving devastation in its wake. Around 50 million people perished, over a third of Europe’s entire population at the time.

Caused by the Yersinia pestis bacterium and carried by fleas on rodents, the horrifying “Black Death” swept through crowded medieval cities with ruthless efficiency. Victims endured swollen lymph nodes, blackened skin from coagulated blood, and eventual organ failure. Outbreaks recurred for centuries.

Yet humanity recovered from the traumatic shock. Doctors innovated new treatments while governments implemented quarantines to contain infectious spread. Scientific advances like antibiotics eventually subdued the plague.

Although the disease endures in small pockets today, it poses little threat thanks to modern medicine and improved living conditions. Our hardy immune systems and medical progress ensure microbial scourges need not imperil mankind as they once did.

The Black Death - Bubonic Plague, 1300s

The Cold War – Nuclear Armageddon, 1945-1991

With the creation of immensely destructive thermonuclear weapons in the mid-1900s, humanity gained the means to instantly annihilate itself on a global scale. The tense Cold War standoff between nuclear superpowers USA and USSR kept the world teetering on the edge of atomic armageddon for decades.

Weapon stockpiles grew massive enough to destroy civilization many times over. Provocative crises like the Cuban Missile Crisis repeatedly escalated tensions, fueling global fears of an imminent nuclear holocaust that would leave no survivors.

Thankfully, cool heads prevailed. The policy of mutually assured destruction deterred escalation, while treaties like SALT introduced arms control. The Cold War concluded with humanity still intact, albeit sobered by its flirtation with apocalypse.

By glimpsing nuclear war’s unfathomable dangers, leaders stepped back from ultimate confrontation. While the threat remains, mankind now undertakes disarmament while working to curtail catastrophic conflict in a globalized world.

Humanity Extinction. The Cold War - Nuclear Armageddon, 1945-1991

The Black Swan – Near-Collision, 1994

A chilling reminder of humanity’s fragility came in 1994 when the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet collided spectacularly with Jupiter. Back in 1992, Jupiter’s immense gravity had ripped the comet apart into fragments. The cosmic crash represented the first observed collision between two solar system bodies.

However, calculations reveal that two years prior the intact comet had zoomed past Earth at a distance of just 280,000 miles. Had the comet arrived days earlier in its orbit, it could have struck our planet with a force of over 1000 nuclear bombs, potentially dealing a crushing blow to civilization.

This dangerous “near-miss” with a huge comet caught Earth by complete surprise. It highlighted the need to invest more resources into tracking Near Earth Objects (NEOs) and developing contingencies if another threatening object emerges in the future.

While cosmic collisions represent an ever-present hazard, expanding our space capabilities better equips us to avoid fateful impacts. Our survival following the Shoemaker-Levy event demonstrated humanity’s resilience even against astronomical odds.

the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet

Climate Crisis – Global Warming, Present Day

Today, humanity’s voracious fossil fuel energy appetite has pushed Earth’s climate to the brink of disastrous tipping points. As greenhouse gas emissions trap heat, global temperatures and sea levels are rising relentlessly.

Climate change now exacerbates extremes of drought, flooding, storms, wildfires, and other natural disasters. Melting ice sheets risk flooding coastal cities where much of humanity resides. Climate zones are shifting faster than ecosystems can adapt.

While climate change unfolds gradually, not as suddenly as asteroid impacts or nuclear war, leading scientists warn the environmental crisis threatens civilization if left unaddressed. Urgent action is needed to transition rapidly away from carbon-based energy.

Our response will define the fate of humankind and Earth’s living systems in this century. With determination and innovation focused on renewable energy and sustainable practices, we can mitigate the climate emergency and prosper in harmony with nature. Our future remains in our hands.

Humanity Extinction: Story of Resilience

Humanity has encountered numerous forces throughout history with the power to erase our species forever. From volcanoes and viruses to the barely restrained fury of the atom, we have seen mortality’s abyss up close.

Yet so far we have always managed to navigate these existential threats by drawing on our exceptional faculties of reason, creativity, and hope. Though many challenges still confront our civilization in this 21st century, we should have faith that humanity’s will to endure and flourish remains unbroken.

Our shared cultural heritage, passed on through generations, chronicles the long saga of mankind’s unyielding spirit when confronted by disaster and calamity. As in eras past, with courage, compassion, and sacrifice, we can build a brighter future by working together to overcome the monumental trials of today.

Humanity is a survivor.

Quantum Soul
Quantum Soul

Science evangelist, Art lover

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