By David L. Brown
There’s great news today! A scientist at Rutgers University and his climate modeling team have determined that if a regional nuclear war should take place, for example between India and Pakistan, the effect would stop global warming in its tracks.
This delightful result would take place because of an effect first described about two decades ago in an article describing “nuclear winter,” a scenario in which the Soviet Union and Western nuclear powers might engage in an exchange of nuclear and hydrogen bombs. The original model showed a complete environmental disaster for the Earth, akin to the destructive meteor that caused the demise of the dinosaurs.
The less extreme scenario envisioned by Alan Robock, and reported in the June 9 issue of New Scientist, would call for a limited and regional nuclear exchange in which 100 relatively small Hiroshima-sized bombs would be ignited over cities. According to Dr. Robock’s model, such an event would inject about 5 million tonnes of black carbon soot into the atmosphere, causing a reduction in global temperatures of about 1.4 degrees Centigrade.
According to the New Scientist report:
Growing seasons in the middle latitudes would be shortened and in some cases fail entirely. “By explaining the consequences to the world, we hope that nothing like this will ever happen,” says Robock.
Well, wait just a minute. Here we have been looking for an answer to the global warming problem for a long time, and just as soon as Robock finds a plausible mechanism to attain that goal he jerks it back like a man teasing a dog with a bone. Climate change is a significant threat to humanity, so we should not ignore any possibility. Let’s examine this subject a bit more carefully before we cast it aside.
In fact, Robock’s description, at least as reported, falls far short of revealing the full benefits of a regional nuclear war. For example, he focuses exclusively on the direct Sun-blocking effect of soot, and does not take into account how such an event would impact the problem of over-population that underlies the entire issue of greenhouse gas induced global climate change. Any nuclear war that might involve up to 100 Hiroshima sized bombs would have a significant impact on population numbers in the belligerent nations, which are already prime examples of humanity’s mega-fecundity.
According to Wikipedia, about 140,000 Japanese died in the original attack. Multiply that by 100 to get a rough idea of the potential death toll in Dr. Robock’s model, or 14 million. But, since the size of cities has grown by leaps and bounds since 1945—and particularly in places like India and Pakistan where people are almost as common as dirt in other places—let’s add a factor of 10 to that number and assume that 140 million people would be immediately eliminated from the global gene pool. Well, not so many really against more than 6.5 billion, but it would be a start. A lot fewer human beings would be leaving an environmental footprint on the Earth.
Then there is the beneficial fact that economic consequences would surely result from such an event, causing involuntary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions all around the globe. That, too, would reduce the effect of humanity on global warming.
But it wouldn’t stop there. Because of the changes in growing conditions mentioned by Robock, food would become scarce and famine would be sure to spread during the following months and years. It’s easy to imagine that the result could be somewhat like a magnified version of the “Year Without Summer” in 1816 that resulted from mere volcanic eruptions. Even that event, at a time when human numbers were far smaller than today, led to massive starvation and death around the world. In today’s over-populated condition, if farm production were to be significantly reduced it could cause the loss of hundreds of millions or even billions of human lives. That would have a truly wonderful effect on the problem of climate change, which is after all the result of human numbers.
Well, you have probably figured out by now that I am speaking with tongue in cheek, somewhat as when Jonathan Swift proposed that the Irish famine could be solved by encouraging the Irish to eat their own children. No one could possibly portray a nuclear war as a reasonable solution to climate change. However, it should be noted that the depth of the problem can be reflected by the seriousness of this suggested “solution.”
We should remain vigilant to the possibility that unstable nation-states in possession of nuclear weapons remain a clear and present danger to civilization. But there are better ways to address the problem of climate change than through nuclear war. On the whole, let’s not lose sight of the fact that continuing lack of attention to the question of human-caused global warming is probably a worse threat than any nuclear one.