Lim­ited Nu­clear Ex­change Might Kill 1 Bil­lion from Cli­mate Re­ac­tion

Traveling Minds - - Table Of Contents -

As the no­tion of nu­clear hos­til­i­ties leaps from its old, Cold War perch into mod­ern de­bate, new cal­cu­la­tions by Univer­sity of Ne­braska-lin­coln re­searchers show that even a lim­ited nu­clear strike could have dis­as­trous global con­se­quences.

In a new re­port, a group of ex­perts led by Adam Liska, a bi­o­log­i­cal sys­tems en­gi­neer at Ne­braska, has de­ter­mined that a sin­gle nu­clear war­head could cause dev­as­tat­ing cli­mate change re­sult­ing in wide­spread drought and famine that could cost a bil­lion lives.

Dur­ing the five decades of the Cold War, the doc­trine of mu­tual as­sured de­struc­tion kept the Soviet Union and the United States in coun­ter­bal­ance, each na­tion rec­og­niz­ing that both would be an­ni­hi­lated if ei­ther at­tacked.

But the old rules may no longer ap­ply as more na­tions, in­clud­ing North Korea, have gained nu­clear weapons. and other na­tions have de­vel­oped smaller 'tac­ti­cal' nukes.

“We’re los­ing our mem­ory of the Cold War and we’re los­ing our mem­ory of how im­por­tant it is to get this right,” said co-au­thor Tyler White, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist who spe­cial­izes in in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity and nu­clear pol­icy.

Ad­di­tion­ally, pol­icy an­a­lysts say some nu­clear pow­ers have adopted doc­trines that al­low for lim­ited strikes and for first use of nu­clear weapons. Rus­sian de­fense strat­egy, for ex­am­ple, con­tem­plates lim­ited nu­clear strikes to de­ter or end con­ven­tional wars. Mil­i­tary strate­gists in the United States might con­sider lim­ited use of nu­clear weapons if the na­tion or an ally is in se­ri­ous mil­i­tary jeop­ardy; in re­tal­i­a­tion for a chem­i­cal or bi­o­log­i­cal weapons at­tack; or to bring rogue nu­clear states un­der con­trol.

Along with White, Liska en­listed ex­perts in cli­mate mod­el­ing and cli­mate change to as­sem­ble the re­port, which ap­pears July 6 in En­vi­ron­ment Mag­a­zine. Robert Oglesby, a pro­fes­sor of Earth and at­mo­spheric sciences, spe­cial­izes in cli­mate mod­el­ing and cli­mate change; and Eric Hol­ley, a doc­toral stu­dent in nat­u­ral re­sources, has stud­ied how in­sur­ance and fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives might be used to adapt to cli­mate change.

Us­ing publicly avail­able data on 19 types of weapons now held by five ma­jor nu­clear pow­ers — the United States, Rus­sia, China, the United King­dom and France — Liska and his col­leagues cal­cu­lated how many nu­clear bombs in each cat­e­gory could be used be­fore trig­ger­ing con­di­tions they de­scribe as “nu­clear au­tumn” or “nu­clear drought.” Not as se­vere as the nu­clear win­ter pre­dicted by sci­en­tists in the 1980s, a nu­clear au­tumn nonethe­less would sig­nif­i­cantly im­pact Earth’s cli­mate.

“The ques­tion is not if a nu­clear drought can oc­cur, but what fac­tors in­crease its prob­a­bil­ity of oc­cur­ring and what ac­tions can be taken to mit­i­gate the po­ten­tially dev­as­tat­ing global im­pacts?” said Liska, who spe­cial­izes in life-cy­cle anal­y­sis to as­sess the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts of prod­ucts and ser­vices.

Other sci­en­tists pre­vi­ously have found nu­clear blasts suf­fi­cient to ig­nite a de­vel­oped area roughly the size of Los An­ge­les -- 500 square miles -- would throw 5.5 mil­lion tons of ash and soot into the strato­sphere. Sun­light, tem­per­a­tures and rain­fall would de­crease around the world, grow­ing sea­sons would be sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced for at least five years and global tem­per­a­tures would be their low­est in 1,000 years. Rain­fall could de­crease by as much as 80% in some ar­eas of the world.

The black ash cre­ated by a nu­clear blast would cool tem­per­a­tures at the Earth’s sur­face, Oglesby said. Be­cause there would be less tem­per­a­ture dif­fer­ence be­tween the lower and up­per at­mos­phere, rain­fall would dwin­dle and cast large ar­eas of the planet into drought.

“If the ash reaches the strato­sphere, many months could pass be­fore it dis­si­pates,” Oglesby said.

Physi­cist Stephen Hawk­ing and for­mer De­fense Sec­re­tary Wil­liam Perry are among those who have re­cently warned about the grow­ing dan­ger of nu­clear weapons use.

Liska and col­leagues found that the United States, Rus­sia and China each have weapons, in­clud­ing air- dropped, in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­siles and land­based mis­siles, that could trig­ger a nu­clear drought with the det­o­na­tion of fewer than five bombs. Each weapon rep­re­sents only a frac­tion of their ar­se­nals. China could cause a nu­clear drought with the launch of a sin­gle land-based mis­sile. It holds 20 of that type in its ar­se­nal.

The po­ten­tial cli­mate de­struc­tion posed by nu­clear weapons is fur­ther com­pounded by cli­mate change re­lated to fos­sil fuel con­sump­tion, Liska added. More na­tions are turn­ing to nu­clear en­ergy to re­duce fos­sil fuel us­age, which also cre­ates op­por­tu­ni­ties for more na­tions to ob­tain nu­clear weapons. Po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity as a re­sult of peo­ple flee­ing ex­treme heat, drought and higher sea lev­els will ex­ac­er­bate global con­flict and in­crease the chance of lim­ited nu­clear con­fronta­tions.

“We pulled to­gether what is known about nu­clear weapons to­day, to make a case about the mag­ni­tude of th­ese im­pacts,” Liska said. “With that un­der­stand­ing, we can make bet­ter choices go­ing for­ward."

Yet, even if this new in­for­ma­tion on the dire con­se­quen­cies of us­ing nu­clear weapons were to pen­e­trate through the noise of mass me­dia and reach the minds of more than a few peo­ple, hu­man­ity is un­likely to make bet­ter choices.

Hu­mans have been dumbed down to the point that most are in­ca­pable of un­der­stand­ing even the most ba­sic is­sues that af­fect them.

While al­most no sane hu­man wants a nu­clear bomb dropped on them or their fam­ily, many don't seem to mind if it hap­pens to some­one else, who is not of their race, na­tion­al­ity, re­li­gion, so­cial group, etc.

Im­age by Bronipoezd

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