Humans (or at least their ancestors) have been living on Earth for about 2.5 million years, which in scientific jargon is measured in units of time like “a lease”. A lease that has not necessarily been respected since we have completely ruined this huge rental house in which we live to the point of exposing ourselves to a nasty fine when we have to vacate the premises. The fine will probably be our extinction, because when we’ve broken up the Earth well, we won’t be able to get away with doing work. Now that we’ve created a shitty atmosphere with this ultra-subtle metaphor by playing the lesson giver that doesn’t help, let’s talk about the times when we came close to extinction, the real one.
The times when it was almost fucked up
1. The drastic reduction in individuals capable of reproduction 1.2 million years ago
Scientists at the University of Utah have calculated that 1.2 million years ago there were only 18,500 individuals capable of reproducing. Well already that’s not much, but in addition they were shared between the three species homo erectus, homo sapiens and homo ergaster and were scattered between Asia, Europe and Africa, which clearly does not help to reproduce .
It was by studying the genome of the different populations of that time that the scientists estimated that a catastrophic event that occurred in that era had probably drastically reduced the population. The fact that so few individuals capable of reproduction are so dispersed on the surface of the globe could then have seriously caused the extinction of humanity.
2. The “big cold” 150,000 years ago
About 150,000 years ago the Earth cooled violently for 72,000 years between 195,000 and 123,000 years to be precise. The temperature has dropped drastically, the glaciers have expanded on the surface of the planet by absorbing humidity from the air and by covering a good part of the habitable surfaces of what could be called ice deserts. It was extremely cold and extremely dry.
All of humanity is believed to be descended from the few people who took refuge in a single, mostly untouched region of the world located off the coast of present-day South Africa. It is the only place where the water would have remained at a high enough temperature, allowing people not only to survive the cold but also to find food thanks to the seafood and the plants that grew in the area. Estimates vary but humanity could only have been composed at that time of a few hundred individuals, a few thousand at most.
3. The theory of the eruption of Lake Toba around 73,000 years ago
When the Lake Toba volcano in Indonesia erupted about 73,000 years ago it reached the highest possible eruption value. A theory has been established to explain the population drop in the years that followed, which is called a population bottleneck because of the fallout from this event.
If the eruption lasted only two weeks, it would have plunged the world into a volcanic winter of about ten years which would have been followed by a global cooling of the planet over a millennium. It is estimated that at this time humanity was reduced to 15,000 individuals, which corresponds to the population of the first arrondissement of Paris, the least populated of all.
This could be explained by the mass extinction of animals and plants due to the violent change in temperature and the fallout of ash on the surface of the Earth. For 10 years humanity has not been able to feed itself properly and it is estimated that this event was the closest to the total extinction of humanity.
4. The false nuclear alarm of 1983
Much closer to our era (in the sense that it was almost 40 years ago) the nuclear false alarm of 1983 could have thrust us into oblivion. Assume that during the Cold War (1946-1991) humanity came close to several critical moments, most notably with the Cuban Missile Crisis. At the same (perhaps even more critical) intensity, the Soviet nuclear false alarm of 1983 was probably the most auspicious time to launch warheads.
It all happened extremely quickly on the night of September 25-26 as a Soviet defense satellite sounded the alert that one, then four nuclear warheads had been launched from the United States towards Russia. . The order indicated in this situation being instant response and it is thanks to one man that nuclear war was avoided: Stanislav Petrov.
He had only a few minutes to analyze the attack and decide what to do next, but he theorized that the rather “small” number of warheads launched (four) was not logical and sufficient for a heavy strike and therefore must have been a false alarm. He therefore prohibited the response and after verification and study of the alert, it was confirmed that it was a technical problem with the satellite and Petrov therefore avoided the start of an open nuclear war.
Times when it was a little less hot (but still creepy)
5. “2014 JO25”, the asteroid that grazed Earth in 2017
In April 2014 the Earth very nearly became the scene of a Don’t Look Up before the hour since an asteroid observed three years ago came dangerously close to the blue planet, at 1,800,000 km exactly, the closest recorded for 400 years. What was scary is that he could have deviated from his course and come right at us, and that would have been clearly the end of everything.
6. The Black Death
When we know that this epidemic decimated nearly half of the population in Europe, attacked a significant part of the population in North Africa, Eurasia or even in Sub-Saharan Africa, we can say that it was quite widespread. We know that on the power and political side, the epidemic brought down the Yuan dynasty of China but also capsized the Byzantine and Khmer empires.
The epidemic caused major upheavals in the religious, social, economic and demographic aspects of the world at that time. A global disaster that has caused a drop in the workforce, inflated the costs of agriculture, widened the gap between wealth and above all killed millions of people around the globe. However, the epidemic has not “threatened” humanity with extinction as close as the first points of this top (even if we do not minimize the horror that it represented, let’s be clear).
7. Globally every day since the invention of the nuclear bomb
You may not know a few things about the nuclear bomb, but assume that the ones made from the warheads used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are several hundred times more powerful. If a country used them today the conflict could quickly become chaotic and lead to our extinction. We say it like that, since it’s a bit unmanageable with Russia at the moment. Besides, if you don’t understand anything about the situation, go and see what you need to know about the conflict in Ukraine.