Heroes

The Earth has survived some serious catastrophes. Here are the 4 worst.

Our planet's had a bit of a rough past. But the Earth is nothing if not a survivor.

The Earth has survived some serious catastrophes. Here are the 4 worst.

Here are the four worst things the Earth has survived so far:

1. The Big Splash, aka that time the universe punched Earth in the face and may have created the moon

Imagine a young Earth. Like, super young. Only 20 million years after the solar system even formed. A little precious baby Earth.


And then imagine the universe smashing it in the face with an object the size of Mars.

Image from NASA/JPL-Caltech/Wikimedia Commons.

That's the giant impact hypothesis, also known as The Big Splash. Scientists who back this hypothesis think that about 4.5 billion years ago, just after the Earth formed, another proto-planet called Theia may have slammed into it, ejecting rocks and magma out into space. Ouch.

It's not all bad, though. Some of that rock and magma may have coalesced out there in space and eventually turned in our moon. If this is true, it helps explain some of the weird things about our moon, like why Earth rocks and Moon rocks look so similar.

2. The Oxygen Catastrophe, aka that time Earth's entire atmosphere turned into poison and then turned the sky blue

After surviving The Big Splash, Earth had a nice little period of time where it got to relax and, you know, enjoy being covered in magma and stuff.

So relaxing. Image from ESO/L. Calçada/Wikimedia Commons.

Eventually, however, a combination of gas emerging from inside the Earth and meteors crashing into Earth created oceans and an atmosphere around the planet. There were even some wiggly little bacteria-like things swimming around Earth's prehistoric oceans too.

But those oceans, skies, and wiggly things would have looked totally alien to us. That's because there was pretty much no oxygen in Earth's atmosphere (which would have made the sky orange and the ocean blood-red). That was just fine for primitive life-forms, though, because if you're a little anaerobic microbe, oxygen is super poisonous.


Before oxygen, most of the Earth's atmosphere would have been methane, which would have made its surface look a lot like Saturn's moon Titan. Image from ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/Wikimedia Commons.

Then, about 2.3 billion years ago, some little upstart cyanobacteria discovered photosynthesis and decided to start pooping out oxygen. After all, for them, oxygen is just waste, right?

For about 200 million years, cyanobacteria did just that. Most life on Earth kind of ignored it until suddenly oxygen was everywhere and nearly everything died. (Way to go, cyanobacteria.)


Cyanobacteria, the ultimate party poopers. Image from Doc. RNDr. Josef Reischig, CSc./Wikimedia Common.

In fact, there was so much oxygen, it broke down the methane in the atmosphere and rusted the iron right out of the oceans, which turned the ocean and sky blue.

That wasn't so bad: Earth got some nice little green life-forms, and the ocean no longer looked like something out of "The Prince of Egypt." All was well. Right?

Hahaha, no. It gets worse.

3. Snowball Earth, aka that time Earth was more frozen than a Disney movie

It turns out the Earth was totally using the methane in the atmosphere to keep the planet from from freezing — so when the cyanobacteria from The Oxygen Catastrophe broke down the methane in the atmosphere, there was nothing more to say than ... welcome to Snowball Earth.


Image from Stephen Hudson/Wikimedia Commons.

Scientists aren't sure whether this was a complete freeze or if there was a thin band of non-frozen water around the equator, but that's little consolation to the vast majority of the Earth, which was under ice sheets that could have been miles thick.

This probably hasn't happen just once, either. This kind of Earth-over deep freeze has happened again and again and again. The last bout of global freezing may have taken place about 650 million years ago.

But hey! Eventually Earth broke out of its little winter wonderland (possibly thanks to volcanoes), and life suddenly began flourishing like crazy!

Look at these trilobites! Image from Heinrich Harder/Wikimedia Commons.

In fact, for a while, things were going pretty well. Earth was starting to look like, you know, the Earth we know today. Too bad there was at least one more giant setback waiting in the wings.

4. The Great Dying, aka that time everything on Earth almost died

With The Big Splash, The Oxygen Catastrophe, and Snowball Earth solidly in the planet's rearview mirror, and a bunch of plants and animals running around on land, things were looking pretty good.

Then, about 250 million years ago, The Permian Extinction, a disaster so horrible scientists sometimes call it The Great Dying, happened. It more than earned its name, too. 96% of marine species went extinct as did 70% of land vertebrates.

What caused it? Scientists still aren't sure. Some think it might have been a collision with an immense asteroid or runaway methane or maybe what we now know as Russia simply ... exploding.

Either way, we know it took millions of years for life on Earth to recover. A lot of the more popular lineages of animals, like trilobites and a lot of mammal-like reptiles, were wiped out, leaving huge vacuums in the ecosystem. A few lineages did survive, however, including the ancestors of modern mammals and dinosaurs. Dinosaurs!

OH HEY, DID SOMEONE SAY DINOSAURS? Image from Dominik Reinold/Pixabay.

Thanks to climate change, today the Earth is going through some transformations too. With the planet's history as proof, chances are the Earth will survive climate change, too. Whether that includes humans, however...

Look, here's the thing. I like the skies the color they are now, thank you very much. I don't want to live through seas of lava, mile-thick glaciers over Acapulco, or the skies changing color (unless you're talking about a beautiful sunset or the northern lights, of course).

Fighting climate change isn't really about saving the planet. It's about saving ourselves and the other creatures that call Earth home. No matter how cool an ice planet with red skies sounds.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!