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Monday, June 26, 2006 CE

Nature versus Man Number 5: The Toba Supervolcano eruption, 74000 BCE

This is part of a series which is intended to show that we are not necessarily the architecs of our future. Sometimes, unexpected events shape our history in ways that we cannot imagine.

This topic came to a complete surprise to me, I must humbly accept that I knew nothing about it. I am referring to the existence of supervolcanoes. These are enormous deposits of magma that erupt from very large areas every tens or hundreds of thousands of years. I learned that the whole Yellowstone National Park is the largest supervolcano! and it erupts every 600000 years. (Approximately of course). These eruptions have been colossal events on a global scale. They have driven the extinction of species through catastrophic changes in the environment.

The specific event that I mentioned in the title is the eruption of Toba, the supervolcano that exists close to the island of Sumatra. This has been the only supervolcano eruption in which Homo sapiens has suffered its consequences. According to the evolutionary evidence, we, as species should have a greater genetic variability. This is taking into account that homo sapiens exists for about 200000 years in the planet. However, it has been a mystery, the reason why we are not as variable as predicted by the longevity of our species. Archaelogical and geological evidence has surfaced regarding a massive volcanic eruption in Toba, Sumatra around 74000 years ago. This has been associated with the genetic variability of Homo sapiens which seems to be a 700000-80000 year old species according to this parameter. Following complicated genetic and statistical models, it has been determined that the population of Homo sapiens was reduced to 1000-10000 individuals in eastern Africa. Modern man almost went extinct then. It took more than 40000 years for modern humans to repopulate the affected areas again and start replacing the populations of Homo neanderthalensis and Homo erectus that prevailed in Europe and Asia, respectively.

Events of this magnitude have happened before, they do not belong to science fiction. I am not being pessimistic or anything like that, I just want to raise the awareness of how weak we are compared to the forces of nature.

Nature sometimes works in ways we cannot predict.

Further reading

Tuesday, June 06, 2006 CE

Update regarding the Peruvian Presidential elections

This is the final update regarding the elections in my country, which Diane S, very kindly asked me to write about 2 months ago. The runoff was finally won by Alan Garcia, a center-left politician ho was president of Peru in the period 1985-1990 and that was a disastrous government, which ended in hyperinflation, rampant guerrilla activity and corruption scandals. The loser, Ollanta Humala, is a newcomer to the Peruvian politics and tried to convince the people from a nationalist platform. Many people wrongfully believe that he is a left wing politician. He used the ideal of redistribution of wealth in order to obtain support for a nationalist, ethnocentric (respect to the Indian people), militaristic project. Hugo Chavez was, for sure, supporting his candidacy.

For Peru, I believe, that, in spite of the poor record of Mr. Garcia, democracy has won a a battle. He is a more mature politician now and he does not want to go into the history books as one of the worst presidents in Peruvian history. The socialdemocrat ideology has won a battle and this is positive.

For South America, it is also positive that the influence of Chavez has been at least controlled. Center-left, socialist goverments like the Brazilian and the Chilean have been struggling to control him. In Peru would have fallen into Humala's hands, Chavez would have won an important access to the Pacific Ocean, would have had a say in the handling of the enormous natural gas reservoirs and their ports for exporting it. Besides Colombia, there is no space of right wing governments in South America. The only reason for the maintenance the right there is the presence of the FARC and the need for an opposing ideology to fight it.

Finally one more thing. The exit polls were accurate, with a 0.2 % difference from the official results. For those who have an idea of how Peru is, meaning the difficulty of its geography, the countless ethnic groups and languages spoken, the nature of teh roads and the levels of literacy in some places, it is truly remarkable that the pollsters could achieve such a close approximation. In fact, this has been the case of all elections in Peru, except the one in the 2000, when in fraudulent elections Fujimori "won". After seeing this, for me it is very hard to interpret the 3-4% difference between the exit polls in Ohio and the official results of the US general election. Ohio has far more experienced pollsters, a more homogeneous population, better levels of literacy, it is covered by freeways and is is almost geographically flat compared to Peru. ... Just to think about it.
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