Over the last few million years or more, there have been some very close calls for the planet Earth. Even in what we think of as modern history, the planet has been in greater danger than most people realize. But all the while chaos is just a hop, skip and a jump away, ordinary folks just go on about their lives as if everything is normal. Sometimes ignorance truly is bliss. And as Agent K from Men in Black pointed out, the only way people go on about their lives is that they do not know about it! But while we go to work or watch our favorite television program at home with family, there have been several times where the planet held its breath waiting for sudden doom.
It’s not like this is a topic no one knows anything about. In fact, the doom and gloom niche is big business for the entertainment industry! Movies with an apocalyptic theme have been tremendous blockbusters, as have movies and television shows showing what’s left after the end of the world. These dystopian alternate realities are big business and a huge draw for people. But oddly enough, there have been some real life close calls and perhaps even a few more to come. With no script and no actors, these problems worked themselves out naturally or with real life brain power by some very bright problem solvers. What will come at us next that we don’t know about is still in question, but for now, here are the 15 times the world almost ended!
15. Cold War False Alarm
On September 26, 1983, when the Cold War was still very present and tensions were high between the United States and the Soviet Union, a huge mistake almost became an irreversible mistake! Lt. Colonel Stanislav Petrov was in command in a USSR bunker designed to detect an incoming attack. Every night was dull as mud… until it wasn’t. The mission was to act in a matter of seconds to respond to any nuclear attack on the Soviet Union.
When out of nowhere, sirens began screaming and indicator lights began flashing, he saw the worst nightmare of every person on earth. During this period, any nuclear attack would set off a chain of events that would only result in the destruction of civilized life on the planet. Instead of launching soviet missiles, he remained calm and thought through the situation. It turns out that the instruments detected clouds and not missiles. Thanks to his calm and rational thinking, the planet is still in tact. Thanks Lt. Colonel Petrov!
14. Solar Storm of 2012
In July of 2012, the earth’s orbit caught a massive solar flare from the sun. Thank goodness, the earth was not in the path of the flare. NASA discovered this information and over time realized just how bad it could have been. In fact, it has been reported that if this flare had come just one week earlier, the planet would have been sent back to the 17th century!
So no electricity, mixed with other planetary problems wouldn’t necessarily cause the planet to break apart, but you know how people can get when they panic! It also seems that moving forward, there’s a possibility of future flares like this. Scary stuff to think that electricity could get wiped out in the blink of an eye across the entire planet! Survivalists… unite!
13. The Black Plague
Plagues have happened from time-to-time through the centuries. Modern-day medicines and quarantine procedures minimize the spread of diseases, but historically this has not been available. Spawning most likely from black rats, during the 14th century, the European continent’s population was cut in half. The black plague took as many as 20 million lives and is seen as one of the nastiest viral pandemic in our planet’s history.
While not officially destroying the earth, the destruction of its population is every bit as catastrophic. The plague lasted for five horrific years with panic and fear at every human encounter. The question of if a person would catch what became known as the black death caused doctors to stop seeing patients. Proof that viral outbreaks are a real thing and nothing to laugh at, modern medicine has rendered problems like this as less severe today. But will there be a next evolution of the plague?
12. Bonilla Comet
In 1883, a Mexican astronomer named Jose Bonilla observed some very peculiar objects shooting through the sky. He even wrote about the event in a scholarly journal. Through the years, this event has been reexamined and astonishingly, it seems that it is now believed that this comet came about 400 miles from our planet and was particularly massive in size.
How massive is the question, but it seems likely that it was a few billion tons in size and could have killed all life on the planet. It’s particularly scary that the entire human race came down to just a bit further than the distance from New York City to Pittsburgh! There are probably a great many other close calls from space objects that have happened over time (not to mention the one that landed and wiped out all the dinosaurs!). Survivalists… assemble!
11. Cuban Missile Crisis
In October of 1962, President John F. Kennedy spent thirteen days panicking after realizing that the Soviet Union had nuclear missiles located on the island nation of Cuba, which was only 90 miles from the United States. The United States threatened to block off Cuba and neutralize the threat, but everyone was terrified that this was the start of a massive nuclear war. Fortunately, an agreement was reached that prevented any further action. The Soviet Union agreed to remove the missiles if the United States would refrain from invading Cuba.
After the agreement was reached, it seemed the world breathed a collective sigh, but the Cold War raged on over the next few decades keeping tensions high and worries of impending nuclear attack even higher. Nevertheless, the Cuban Missile Crisis remains one of the planet’s historic “close calls.”
10. Destructive Bacteria To Crops
Genetic modification as related to food was a rapidly growing trend in the late 20th century. When a soil bacteria called Klesiella Planticola was declared to be perfectly safe for wheat crops, it seemed that this would be a fantastic addition for the purpose of decomposing plant waste. Unfortunately, this bacteria was not safe and if it wasn’t for a study conducted by Oregon State University, it would have destroyed wheat and virtually all other crops as well.
What started out as a great idea turned out to be potentially lethal to humanity. What if someone had ignored or attempted to discredit the Oregon State University findings? What if big business interests had gotten in the way and swept this research under the rug? Thankfully, none of that came to pass, but it certainly was another close call as it relates to the production of food on our planet.
9. Computer Chip Malfunction Almost Causes Nuclear War
Isn’t it amazing how a 50 cent computer chip can cause such a huge disaster? Well, in 1980, at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (commonly known as NORAD) that is exactly what happened. When a screen that always displayed that there were zero incoming missiles suddenly said that there were two, all hell began to break loose. So in 1980, when tensions were insanely high with the Soviet Union, when a screen shows any number of incoming missiles, many things begin happening.
The Air Force began freaking out, sirens were going crazy and everyone’s heart rate was very high in the command center of NORAD. Before things got so out of hand that the United States actually fired their own missiles the glitch was discovered and everyone got to breathe a little easier. But as it has already been mentioned, the threat of nuclear war would undoubtedly destroy the planet.
8. The Spanish Flu
This global disaster actually killed more people in a single year than in the multiple years of the black plague. The Spanish Flu was responsible for killing between 20 and 40 million people between 1918 and 1919. With mass graves dug to bury the countless people that were otherwise healthy and strong, the spanish flu is credited as the worst biological epidemic in history.
Because of the Spanish flu, the lifespan in the United States went down by ten years. Imagine the devastation and destruction this flu would have caused if it continued on the same horrific path. While on one hand, World War I was coming to a close, the Spanish flu very nearly wiped out humanity in a way that the war could not.
7. Shaanxi Earthquake
Some natural disasters have been known to destroy a great deal of human life. The Shaanxi Earthquake of 1556, during the Chinese Ming Dynasty impacted 90 countries and killed nearly a million people. If such an earthquake occurred today, there is no way to measure the cost of destruction. In fact, recovery may not even be possible in a restorative manner.
When you consider that the Shaanxi earthquake occurred at a time in history where people were still living much more simplistically with less infrastructure, it is amazing to learn that this one event destroyed well over half the population of certain countries. The world went on and the region bounced back, but one has to wonder what would happen if such an event happened just like this today? Could humanity in that region survive and rebuild?
6. Chinese Floods
In the early part of the 20th century, China was once again ravaged by natural disaster. With five months of the most intense flooding the region had ever seen, it is hard to explain just how far reaching this disaster was. Four million people died as a result of these floods, once again showing a need for rebuilding and revitalization for this part of the world. During this very difficult time in Chinese history, men were selling wives and daughters with reports of cannibalism just to survive.
There’s no question that when faced with the absolute worst circumstances imaginable, people will often resort to these tactics. Imagine though if natural disasters were hitting other parts of the world simultaneously. It seems unlikely that humanity could survive such events. Once again, the Chinese people have bounced back in a stunning display of “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” There’s truth in this, although a loss of 4 million citizens is enough to let the wind out of your sails for sure.
5. Pre-Civilization Mass Extinction
When we think about destroying the planet, it’s not always about breaking it into tiny bits like Alderaan in Star Wars. Wiping out all life would definitely count toward what we think of as mass the world ending. But this has actually already happened on our planet, about five times! About 450 million years ago, the earth’s temperatures dramatically dropped, creating what we think of as an ice age. This event wiped out over 80% of all species on the planet!
About 250 million years ago, massive levels of volcanic eruption across the planet caused the most damage, killing as much as 97% of all life! The asteroid crashing event we all know about that killed the dinosaurs (or at least most all of them) occurred more recently, about 66 million years ago, give or take. We generally tend to think of many of these events as a planetary temper tantrum. But could it happen again?
4. Mega-Colossal Volcanic Eruption
Volcanos are no laughing matter. An eruption of a volcano can do so much more than people realize and that is pretty terrifying. About 70,000 years ago in the Sumatra area of Indonesia, a volcanic eruption caused such massive destruction to that part of the world that it impacted global temperatures and even caused the sun to look dimmer for a few years!
While 70,000 years ago is a very long time, this is much more recent than when dinosaurs were roaming around the world. By this time, there was human life and this volcanic event just about wiped it out. Estimates are that this event impacted the human race by decreasing numbers to just a few thousand on the whole planet. This would put us on the endangered species list for sure! So does that mean that our whole ancestry could be traced back to just a few thousand individuals? Strange for sure… but another close call for planet earth.
3. Albuquerque Nuclear Broken Arrow
The military refers to a broken arrow as a nuclear device that is accidentally detonated, or even worst… lost! This is indeed a terrifying idea considering the impact these devices have on everything. In May of 1957 though, an accident just about created a huge disaster with potentially earth-shattering consequences. When a nuclear bomb fell out of the jet aircraft transporting it to New Mexico, the bomb landed and even went off!
Luckily, the nuclear portion of the weapon had been separated as a “safety precaution” for just such an occasion and the capsule was found not to have gone off with the other explosives. Unfortunately, a cow was killed in the mishap and certainly that pilot had some explaining to do. When you consider that the modern world was watching for the detonation of nuclear devices anywhere and everyone, with their own trigger fingers ready to launch, this could have been wildly disastrous.
2. Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant
Chernobyl was a nuclear power plant located in Ukraine. In April of 1986, through some bad mechanical engineering mixed with human error, that entire region of Europe was drastically impacted. Chernobyl had four reactors and through an accident at the plant, a tremendous amount of radioactive material was released causing a great amount of contamination to the immediate and surrounding areas.
What this has done to humanity in the long run, has changed the way we look at nuclear power. While still utilized, Chernobyl has shown us what a substantial impact any accident can have on the planet. For decades, agriculture has been and will continue to be impacted as a result of radioactive material in the soil. The health of humans and all living things of people in that region is also a serious concern. Indeed the disaster could have been worse and would have had even more of a disastrous impact. Now, the Chernobyl site is nothing more than a quarantined zone providing a constant reminder of a terrible disaster.
This little guy has been around for over 3,000 years and has managed to ravage multiple populations of people over time. While there is now a vaccine that has rid the world of this very deadly monster, what makes this virus so horrible is that it lasted for so very long and has moved its way to virtually every corner of the globe.
But the reason this virus is a potential game changer for the human race is because of modern advances in biological science. Samples of smallpox remain and there are terrifying possibilities for unleashing it in the form of a bio-terrorist weapon. The mere possibility of what that could do is frightening enough to make everyone sweat a bit.