Even limited nuclear war would kills billions, study finds

As escalating tensions between the United States, Russia and China rekindle old fears of nuclear war, some researchers are warning that even a limited-scale exchange between nations like India and Pakistan can also have catastrophic consequences for the global food supply and cause mass deaths worldwide.

A nuclear conflict involving less than 3% of the world’s stockpile could kill a third of the world’s population within two years, according to a new international study led by scientists at the University of Rutgers in the lead. A larger nuclear conflict between Russia and the US could kill three-quarters of the world’s population in the same time frame, according to research published Monday in the journal Nature Food.

“It’s really a cautionary tale that any use of nuclear weapons could be a disaster for the world,” said climate scientist and study author Alan Robock, Distinguished Professor at Rutgers’ Department of Environmental Sciences, said.

The discovery comes at a time – 30 years after the end of the Cold War – the threat of a nuclear holocaust may be greater than ever.

Recently, Britain’s National Security Adviser Stephen Lovegrove argued that the breakdown in dialogue between nations, as well as the loss of protections, was created among the nuclear superpowers decades ago. , has pushed the world into “a dangerous new age”. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has also warned that “the prospect of nuclear conflict, once unimaginable, is now back in the realm of possibility”.

Although Robock and others have previously predicted that nuclear war would lead to significant disruptions to the climate and food supplies, the recent study marks the first time that researchers calculate the potential extent of the famine and the number of people who will die.

The researchers hypothesized that detonating even a small fraction of the world’s nuclear weapons would trigger massive firestorms that would rapidly send sun-blocking soot into the atmosphere, reducing sudden temperatures climate change, the researchers hypothesized.

The researchers used climate models to calculate how much smoke would reach the stratosphere – where no precipitation occurs to wash it away – and how this would change temperature, precipitation and light like the sun. They then calculated how these changes would affect the production of different crops, as well as how fish would respond to changes in the ocean.

As a result, they predict that tens of millions of immediate deaths in war zones will be followed by hundreds of millions of starving people globally.

That doesn’t take into account the effect of increased UV radiation on crops due to ozone depletion caused by stratospheric warming, Robock said. Such an effect, which the researchers hope to quantify in future studies, would likely worsen the results, he said.

“In my opinion, our work is an existential threat to nuclear weapons – it shows you can’t use nuclear weapons,” Robock said. “If you use them, you are like a suicide bomber. You are trying to attack others but you will die of hunger. “

According to Ira Helfand, former president of the International Organization of Doctors for the Prevention of Nuclear War, the data being released is based on a growing consensus among experts that the threat of nuclear war is great. more than ever.

“The public needs to understand the magnitude of the danger we face, the immediacy of the threat and the urgency of getting rid of these weapons before they get rid of them,” he said. ta.

Most of the scenarios the researchers consider, Robock said, involve a hypothetical nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan, which they believe is the most likely area for a conflict. such sudden. The two countries have fought in four wars and still have frequent border skirmishes.

The study found that if India and Pakistan went to each of the enemy’s urban centers with 250 of the 100-kiloton nuclear weapons they are believed to possess, about 127 million people in South Asia would be killed as a result of the explosions. explosion, fire and radiation. According to previous research by Robock and others, an estimated 37 million tons of soot would be pumped into the atmosphere, causing temperatures across the planet to drop by more than 5 degrees Celsius, a range experienced during the Age of Mars. Glaciers, according to earlier research by Robock and others. According to the most recent study, food production will collapse, with the number of calories available from major crops and fisheries falling by as much as 42% and consequent famine killing more than 2 billion people worldwide. , according to a recent study.

According to the study, in the event of a larger war between the US and Russia, the two countries are thought to hold more than 90% of the world’s nuclear stockpile, an estimated 5 billion out of 6.7 billion people. worldwide will perish.

But any of the nine nuclear-armed nations, including China, North Korea, France, Israel, and the United Kingdom, have enough firepower at their fingertips to inflict pain and death. around the world, with soot rising to the sky and touching a study showing the domino effect of catastrophic cooling and famine.

While it’s impossible to test the theory directly, there are real-world similarities, Robock said. Massive wildfires in British Columbia in 2017 and in Australia in 2019 and 2020 pumped smoke into the stratosphere, a finding confirmed by satellite observations. The sun then heats the smoke particles, sending them 5 to 15 miles farther into the atmosphere, he said.

“By lifting them higher, it increases their lifespan and they’ll be swarmed around the world before falling out,” says Robock. “That’s the process we simulated in a nuclear winter simulation with more smoke.”

The researchers’ model was able to predict the effects of these fires, giving them more confidence that the models would also be accurate when predicting the effects of a nuclear explosion, he said.

Edward Geist, a policy researcher at Rand Corp., says that the relatively recent finding that wildfires can smoke into the stratosphere strengthens the researchers’ theory. They are serving the world, he said, by drawing attention to the potential effects of nuclear war.

However, there is still a debate about the extent to which solar energy will occur in nuclear detonation, Geist said. While it can certainly happen in a city hit by a nuclear weapon, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen simultaneously in every city under attack, as the article says. , he said.

“The big question is, you have a nuclear war of a certain scale, what percentage of this smoke ends up in the upper atmosphere?” Geist said. “You can make a reasonable case for both – very little will end there, all the way, we have to assume that basically it all ends there, that’s the thing. [these] types of papers. “

He points out that a 2018 paper by researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory also models a hypothetical conflict between India and Pakistan and concludes that previous research by Robock and others overestimated how much soot would be produced, how much smoke would come out, and how severe it would be. As a result, the climate will change.

Robock, however, objected to those findings. The Los Alamos researchers chose a suburb of Atlanta to represent a densely populated city in India or Pakistan, he argued, and did not include in their modeling of atmospheric processes, such as Cloud formations carry air upwards. Robock said they also thought the wind was blowing too hard and ran their simulations for too short a time.

“They have a number of assumptions, all of which make for much less impact,” he said.

A 2020 paper by researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory also looks at the Indo-Pakistani scenario and concludes that there are uncertainties. Although the team predicts that the exchange of 100 15-kiloton nuclear weapons will cool the climate if densely populated urban areas catch fire, they predict there will be little or no effect on the climate. if the fire is limited to suburban areas.

In contrast, the Rutgers-led study assumes that countries will target each other’s cities, where fuel concentrations are densest and climate impacts will be most dramatic, Geist said. But Pakistan has said that if it uses nuclear weapons against India, it will use tactical nuclear weapons to deter a conventional invasion, not to attack cities, he said.

“It really depends on how many things you burn, how much ends up in smoke and how much that smoke ends up in the upper atmosphere, and how much of a real reason for wars,” says Geist. the nucleus turns into that,” Geist said. “We really don’t know, and hopefully we don’t find out.”

While there’s a popular notion that nuclear weapons should never be used because they’re so powerful their destructive power is a deterrent, that’s wishful thinking, Helfand said. The fact that they are yet to be deployed is simply a matter of chance.

“We knew what would happen if these weapons were around,” he said. “Sooner or later our luck will run out.”

https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2022-08-15/even-limited-nuclear-war-would-kill-billions-study-finds Even limited nuclear war would kills billions, study finds

Edmund DeMarche

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