Are you grounded? Did the person you love whom you thought you were going to spend the rest of your life with just break up with you? Are your parents kicking you out of the basement because you’re not looking for a job? Or did you just recently lose your job because of a stupid thing you did? Whatever it is, it’s definitely the end of the world. After all, the true end of the world, which could mean the cessation of all life on the planet, the loss of the planet’s ability to sustain life or even total or irreversible planetary destruction, is nothing compared to such harrowing experiences. Same goes for a globally massive event that would mean a dramatic change in life and civilization as we know it.
Since the “unfortunate things” that are happening to drama kings and queens right now are the worst things that could possibly happen on Earth, it’s time for some lighter reading material to take our minds off these devastating problems: a list of events that could have killed thousands upon thousands—even millions upon millions—as well as those that actually managed to do so.
15. Solar Storm of 2012
You (almost) believed the Mayan calendar. You danced to Jay Sean’s now-obsolete hit. You watched that awful Hollywood disaster flick. Thankfully, the hype was just that: a hype. But did you know that 2012 could have actually ended the world, albeit in a different manner? See, in July of the same year, the Earth was almost hit by a solar flare. Good thing the planet wasn’t in the path of what would’ve been a catastrophic cosmic event, as it would’ve disabled electricity, knocking humanity back to the 17th century. That’s alright; it wouldn’t have been as bad as what happened in the movie 2012, right? Well, you’d probably say that mega-earthquakes and rising sea levels are better than having no Instagram, microwaved pizza and Uber.
14. Mass extinction millions of years ago
Every few million years, some freak phenomenon wipes out millions upon millions on Earth. In the course of prehistory, there had been five of these extinction events. All of them were grim yet fascinating occurrences, but since we only have so much space for this item, we’ll only go into detail with three. The first one was 450 million years ago, when the world’s temperature severely dropped, killing all sorts of life. The next one happened 200 million years later, where massive levels of volcanic eruption took place, ending 97% of life on Earth. Last but definitely not least is the most well-known one: the asteroid crash that killed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. So, did anyone do the math to check how soon the next one is?
13. Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster
Although nuclear energy is sustainable, yields much power and does not produce greenhouse gases, it poses a different kind of threat to the environment: nuclear radiation. Proof of this is the Chernobyl incident of 1986. The combination of engineering flaws and human error led to an explosion of one of Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant’s reactors, releasing tons of radioactive material into its surroundings. Due to how severe this catastrophe was, and because USSR tried to hide and downplay the incident, the most accurate death toll estimate is anybody’s guess. Some say it’s only around 10,000, while others claim that it reached up to six figures. As if that’s not awful enough, thousands affected by the radiation that are still alive could succumb to cancer in the near future.
12. Bonilla Comet
If you think that comet fragments hitting Earth and killing hundreds of thousands of people could only happen in beautiful and bittersweet anime movies, you can’t be more wrong. Back in 1883, fragments from the Bonilla Comet barely missed Earth by a mere 400 miles. Going back to the anime that we’ll not name (pun intended) for the sake of those who haven’t watched it yet, the devastation caused by Bonilla Comet and the comet in that anime movie would’ve been the same. And speaking of naming (still a reference to that anime’s title), the Bonilla Comet got its name from José Bonilla, the astronomer that saw the comet that almost caused hundreds of thousands of deaths. If you’re really interested though, the anime movie is called Your Name.
11. Eruption of Mount Tambora Volcano
The first thing that comes to people’s minds when someone mentions Indonesia are the beautiful beaches of Bali and possibly all the partying that can be had there. Well, how about the volcano that caused the biggest eruption in all of history? Because joining the ranks of Vesuvius and Pompeii is one of this Southeast Asian country’s most active volcanoes, Mount Tambora. Back in 1815, Mount Tambora had its biggest eruption, causing much land and property damage, going even as far as creating a tsunamis. On top of that, the following year became known as “The Year Without Summer”, as some countries, especially those in Europe, North America and the Northern Hemisphere in general, experienced a non-seasonal winter that prevented crops from growing, causing massive food shortages in those areas.
The term “small but terrible” probably came from smallpox, a microscopic terror of a virus that killed hundreds of thousands in various periods of human civilization in the past 3,000 years. And even though there has been a vaccine for it in the past 200 years, it still continues to exist, and can even be found in almost every corner of the world.
But despite its three millennia of existence, this virus has become the most dangerous it’s ever been in the 21st century, thanks to it being used as a bioterrorist weapon. In fact, the threat of it being used against livestock, or worse, people, is the reason why superpowers like the United States and Russia continue to study this really old virus.
9. Shaanxi Earthquake
Being caught up in an earthquake, even one that is just Magnitude 4 or 5, can make you feel like it’s the end. So imagine just how bad a massive one would be, like the Shaanxi Earthquake. This mega-earthquake happened back in 1556, during the reign of the Ming dynasty. It struck the Shaanxi province and affected neighboring provinces Shanxi, Henan, Gansu, Hebei, Shandong, Hubei, Hunan and Jiangsu, resulting in up to 800,000 deaths. It also slightly damaged buildings in Beijing, Chengdu, and Shanghai. Historians believe that the reason for this great loss of life at the time can be explained by the people’s residence of choice: yaodongs, which are man-made caves in loose cliffs. Now just imagine how catastrophic this earthquake would be if it struck today, in a time of flats and skyscrapers.
8. The Spanish flu killed millions
While the Spanish Inquisition did slay a lot of people, Spain’s Catholic Church’s kill count was a mere fraction compared to that of the Spanish Flu. It killed around 20 to 40 million in the United States, and around 50 to 100 million across the globe, including remote regions such as the Arctic and the Pacific Islands, making it one of the worst biological epidemics in history. And given how huge that number was, mass graves had to be dug. Such a shame, as people who would otherwise be healthy got sick, died and had to be buried. And due to how much the Spanish Flu ravaged the U.S., the country it affected the most, the average lifespan of people in the country was reduced by a decade.
7. Russian President Boris Yeltsin almost nuked the US
The ’90s were a relatively peaceful time. The Cold War just ended, as the USSR had been dissolved, and George W. Bush’s Middle East blunders, which caused the global radical Islamist terror threat, had yet to happen. But smack dab in the middle of that rather chill decade was the possibility of nuclear war. In 1995, Russian president Boris Yeltsin almost nuked the U.S., as he thought that their country’s former adversary launched a nuclear ICBM against them. For the first time ever, the then-Russian leader opened the briefcase of nuclear codes and analyzed whether to nuke the U.S. or not for ten minutes. Thankfully, within that short span of time, somebody informed him that what he saw was not a U.S. missile, but a science experiment. Close call.
6. Black Plague
The Black Plague, more sinisterly known as Black Death, is one of the most infamous epidemics in all of history. It claimed around 200 million lives in Europe during the 14th century, killing almost two-thirds of the continent. The bacteria Yersinia Pestis, which can be found in the oriental rat fleas, caused the disease. The parasites in question were in rats that originated from Central Asia and traveled through the Silk Road, reached Crimea, and from there were carried to Europe by the merchant ships they rode. Due to how severe the Black Plague was and people’s belief in the supernatural at that time, there was an increase in religious fanaticism, as well as persecution towards foreigners, beggars, those with skin diseases not related to the Black Plague, Romani and Jews.
5. The Carrington Event
This is the second solar flare on this list, so at this point you already know that the more a civilization relies on electronics, the more damaging they can be. Thankfully, the Carrington Event, which was more powerful than the 2012 one, hit Earth in 1859, a time way, way before Wi-Fi, microwaved pizzas and Uber, making humanity not as affected as it would’ve been if it happened today. Nevertheless, this cosmic phenomenon did manage to cause hefty damage on telegraph communications across the world. And because of how massive this solar flare was, people in countries where it was supposed to be night-time thought morning had already come. There was, however, a silver lining to the Carrington Event: the aurora lights were visible all the way from the Sahara.
4. Cuban Missile Crisis
If you’re thankful that Kim Jong-Un or Donald Trump haven’t launch a nuclear missile yet, imagine how nerve-wracked you’d have been if you lived during the Cuban Missile Crisis. During the Cold War in 1962, President John F. Kennedy was alarmed that there were nukes in Cuba. With the threat close to home, he ordered to block any incoming missiles that were being delivered to the communist island country. What JFK did could’ve escalated the situation to the point where the U.S. and the USSR would be nuking each another. Thankfully, all of that was averted, as JFK and the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev managed to reach an agreement, which required the U.S. to remove its ICBMs in Turkey and the USSR to remove missiles from the Caribbean island.
3. Killer of crops, killer of people
It may not seem like it, but agriculture and food production require a lot of scientific research. And if the experts are not careful, one erroneous finding can be accepted as fact, and in turn lead to the introduction of wrong practices that can be devastating. Back in the 20th century, experts—or at least people who claimed to be as such—declared that the bacteria Klebsiella Planticola, which was supposed to decompose plant waste, was safe. Unfortunately, they were wrong. It’s a good thing a study from Oregon State University managed to avert an agricultural disaster that would’ve killed wheat and other crops and none of these erring experts and big businesses swept the study under the rug for profit. We wonder if that would still be the case today.
2. 1983 Soviet nuclear false alarm incident
You might be thinking “Ugh, another Cold War story?” Well, that can’t be helped, as it’s the closest humanity ever got to a nuclear apocalypse. And this story in particular was all because of a false alarm and a hero that prevented World War III. Back in 1983, a Soviet early-warning satellite reported the launch of an American ICBM. A few moments later, it reported the launch of five more missiles. Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov, however, was unconvinced that it was an actual nuclear offensive from the U.S., as that would involve even more missiles. He then refused to retaliate. Of course, Lt. Col. Petrov was completely spot-on. If he weren’t, you wouldn’t be reading this entry, as you’d be too busy looking for food in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
1. Simulation was confused with reality
This is our last Cold War tale and the last entry on this almost-apocalypse list, so we made sure it’s a good one. In 1979, a low-level Air Force officer ran a training program that simulated what would happen if the Soviets launched a thousand missiles towards the U.S. What he didn’t know was that the computer he ran the program on was connected to the main NORAD control room, so everyone thought it was for real. This prompted every missile silo in the U.S. to start preparing for a counterattack against something that was not really happening. Thankfully, NORAD’s commander decided to double-check everything by asking radar stations if they saw any activity. They didn’t. Satellites also confirmed radar stations’ reports. Lesson learned: what’s on your computer isn’t always accurate.
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