It’s a funny thing, living in a time of relative ecological and geological peace, you can feel like things have always been basically calm on planet Earth and that they always will be. This is reinforced even more by how short our lifespans are in relation to the big picture since we live on an extremely old planet that’s already killed of its dominant species several times over. It’s easy to forget that we’re living on dirtball with an iron core hurtling through space with only a thin magnetic field to keep us all from freezing instantly.
But it’s not peaceful and we have a record of that, we know it. We also know that there are catastrophic events which may not rise to the dino extinction level but nearly do. That’s already happened to the human race with the eruption of the Toba super volcano circa 69,000 or 77,000 years ago. Toba is in Indonesia and that eruption caused a 6-10 year volcanic winter for most of the planet and cooled it for 1,000 years. We were already in an ice age at the time so any further cooling would have been devastating.
Genetic evidence shows that the effect was so great that the human population was reduced to between 3,000 and 10,000 surviving individuals. There were perhaps even less. And this brings us back to the present. It’s not a question of whether these kind of volcanic eruption will ever occur again, it’s a question of when. All told there have been 47 super eruptions throughout the planet’s history that we know of and 11 of them have been as nearly as powerful or more powerful than the Toba super volcano. The most recent really big one was also in Indonesia and was over two orders of magnitude less powerful than Toba, a pipsqueak pop by comparison. Still, the Indonesians called it “the year without a summer.” Read that closely, year without a summer.
However, Indonesia is on the other side of the planet. Lets bring this home right into the heart of the U.S., specifically in Yellowstone National Park, a part of the country known for its exceptional natural beauty, an emblem of wild America. There’s a lurking super volcano there under all that natural beauty and it’s exploded three times before while moving north and east just a bit every time.
That second to last explosion, the second most recent one, was roughly equivalent to the Toba eruption. For statistical purposes they were virtually identical. The most recent was less than half as powerful but still fits within the category of the Earth’s most powerful volcanos. Indeed, five of the eleven most powerful volcanos in the history of the planet have occurred in the American West. That should tell you something. It will happen again.
Current world population is over 7 billion souls and every thirteen years we’re able to add another billion. Those who study population believe that we’ll top out at 9 billion people at which point things will equalize. But consider that despite the technology that’s allowed the world to support this many people and tie them together via satellite and language is completely useless to prevent an enormous explosion of the Earth. When, not if, the great Yellowstone volcano explodes again we will see billions of deaths. The entire breadbasket of the U.S. would be covered in a shroud of ash that will linger for years.
Crops will fail, food will wane, cattle and other domestic animals will go hungry and die, exports to more needy countries will dry up even as the expanding ash cloud affects the rest of the world and people all over the globe will starve. The economy of the U.S. will be destroyed which will send the rest of the world’s economy into free fall. Wars will break out, lines of trade will be cut and even more people will die from empty bellies and bullets.
This will happen. Maybe not soon, maybe not in 1,000 or 10,000 or 100,000 years but it will happen and if there are any humans left on this continent when it does happen then many, perhaps most of them will die.
If you sit with that and really try to absorb it, it’s hard to come to terms with. Who living today or since long before the Roman Empire has seen such a thing? Who can return to tell us about it? No one. No one living has seen it and no one living has walked through that barren, dark, and stony aftermath from which there is no escape.