April 10, 2008
Regional Nuclear Conflict Would Change Global Climate

A thermonuclear war would ruin your whole day and several years after that. "Heck, I reckon you wouldn't even be human beins if you didn't have some pretty strong personal feelings about nuclear combat."

"Our research supports that there would be worldwide destruction," said Michael Mills, co-author of the study and a research scientist at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "It demonstrates that a small-scale regional conflict is capable of triggering larger ozone losses globally than the ones that were previously predicted for a full-scale nuclear war."

Combined with the climatic impact of a regional nuclear war -- which could reduce crop yields and starve hundreds of millions -- Mills' modeling shows that the entire globe would feel the repercussions of a hundred nuclear detonations, a small fraction of just the U.S. stockpile.

Will we ever witness a nuclear war? If we do then start thinking about your food supply.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 April 10 10:43 PM  Dangers Nuclear Warfare

HellKaiserRyo said at April 11, 2008 12:31 AM:

Well, if the die-off scenarios for peak oil happen, I hope that I would be nuked instead of starving to death.

David Govett said at April 11, 2008 1:18 AM:

Wish we had one of them ozone bombs, so we could replenish the atmosphere.

Wolf-Dog said at April 11, 2008 6:40 AM:

It seems that the University of Colorado research used the parameters of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States during the previous century: During the Cold War, both the Soviet Union and the United States buried the intercontinental ballistic missiles in deep underground silos covered with enormous covers made of reinforced concrete. This meant that in order to destroy the retaliatory capability of the opponent, it was necessary to detonate most of the bombs at a very low altitude, causing a lot of debris to rise to the upper atmosphere. But in order to depopulate cities, it is enough (or even more efficient) to detonate the hydrogen bombs at very high altitude, so that very little incinerated mass would rise to the upper atmosphere. The largest hydrogen bomb test was conducted by the Soviet Union over the arctic island of Novaya Zemlya, and in this case the 50 megaton bomb was detonated at 4,000 meters above ground. The fireball certainly touched the ground, but it had the effect of vitrifying the ground, instead of sending a lot of incinerated earth to the upper atmosphere. In addition, the latter hydrogen bomb had a casing made of lead instead of uranium so that the radiation fallout would be only due to the primary core of the device. (The uranium casing would have increased that bomb's power to 100 megatons.)

Thus the necessity to use the thermonuclear bombs at low altitude, will depend on how many nuclear bombs the new opponent accumulates before the war. If it is a question of depopulating cities, detonating high yield hydrogen bombs at high altitude will not cause too much debris to rise to the upper atmosphere.

inquire said at April 11, 2008 10:30 AM:

I have no doubt we will see a nuclear conflict 'in our generation' (ie. within about 25), likely sooner than later (ie. within 10 years). My only hope that it is a limited one. But, even a limited nuclear exchange will not only have all the catastrophic damages on the environment and population mentioned, but it will also signal the second phase in nuclear policy. No longer will the genie be kept in the bottle, the threshold will have most certainly been dropped to near zero, and the crater formerly known as city-X will leave a livid reminder to the rest of the world the consequences. The physical damages, although potentially catastrophically serious, could perhaps be limited compared to the psychological, and political fallout that would ensue. Although, if we are in a bad enough condition as a planet to even have a nuclear exchange all circumstances - food, population, environmental, political - will likely be in horrendous shape to begin within.

I often feel like we are living in the Dune novels, where the Krisatch-haderach (sorry forget the name) can see the strings of time, and he can try to manipulate them towards certain outcomes rather than others, but at a certain point all the various threads and streams combine to a 'knot' that cannot be understood no matter how much spice is used. He can clearly see the outcome beyond the knot; but they are all either extremely good or extremely bad. I feel that our future is so strongly knotted right now that predicting most anything one way or another is near impossible as all our possible future seems to converge into an unpredictable mess. Unlike Paul Atreides, we cannot choose to sacrifice ourselves to walk the one golden path that may allow us to survive beyond the singularity. (hopefully this makes sense if you've read the Dune series, if you haven't, sorry for the digressive nonsense).

philw1776 said at April 11, 2008 11:52 AM:

Color me skeptical about this study. I know they're not equivalent circumstances but in the late 40s thru the early 60s nations detonated hundreds of nuclear weapons before atmospheric testing was banned. A thoughtful study unlike this one would compare and contrast with that real world data point.

This reminds me of some of Carl Sagan's last works where he stridently hyperventilated that the burning of the Iraqi oil fields would cause nuclear winter. Didn't happen. Love Carl's works "Demon Haunted World" etc. but he, like too many scientists today, let his ideology and politics distort the science.

Wolf-Dog said at April 11, 2008 12:58 PM:

Here is an official Soviet movie (45 seconds) of the 50 megaton hydrogen bomb test over the arctic island of Novaya Zemlya. Even from Finland, more than 1000 kilometers away, windows were broken:

The following 7 minute long movie shows in considerable detail the construction and detonation of the 50 megaton Soviet hydrogen bomb over the arctic island:

This shorter movie shows that the ground became vitrified like an ice skating rink but that there was no deep crater because the detonation was at 4,000 meters. From 100 kilometers 3rd degree burns would be caused from such a 50 megaton hydrogen bomb:

Here is another movie (3 minutes) of the Soviet 50 megaton hydrogen bomb "test".

kurt9 said at April 11, 2008 5:16 PM:

This nuclear winter scenario was debunked nearly 20 years ago. It was actually cooked up as part of a KGB disinformation campaign during the 80's. The book "Comrade J", by Pete Earley, tells the whole account about how the "nuclear winter" theory was created by the KGB as part of a disinformation campaign to prevent the U.S. from basing Purshing II missiles in West Germany in 1983.

I'm surprised that you guys allowed yourselves to get suckered into this. On the other hand, I should not be surprised since you've allowed yourselves to get sucked into the global warming swindle.

Randall Parker said at April 11, 2008 6:16 PM:


I do not expect a big die-off in the developed countries due to Peak Oil. But poverty for tens of millions of people is a distinct possibility.


They describe excess UV radiation as a major mechanism for crop damage.

Ned said at April 11, 2008 7:13 PM:

"Heck, I reckon you wouldn't even be human beins if you didn't have some pretty strong personal feelings about nuclear combat."
- Major "King" Kong (Slim Pickens), "Dr. Strangelove"

Did anyone else recognize the quote?

Randall Parker said at April 11, 2008 7:33 PM:


Yes, I was curious to know if anyone recognized it. Glad you did. Slim Pickens was great.

Wolf-Dog said at April 11, 2008 11:24 PM:

Major Kong also added: "Tell ya somethin' else - this thing turns out to be half as important as I figure it just might be, I'd say that you're all in line for some important promotions an' personal citations when this thing's over with. That goes for every last one of ya, regardless of your race, color, or your creed. "

I remember this very clearly because He said the last sentence above with a very obvious Southern accent.

Ned said at April 12, 2008 2:49 PM:

Here's another great quote from the movie:

Major T. J. "King" Kong: Survival kit contents check. In them you'll find: one forty-five caliber automatic; two boxes of ammunition; four days' concentrated emergency rations; one drug issue containing antibiotics, morphine, vitamin pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills; one miniature combination Russian phrase book and Bible; one hundred dollars in rubles; one hundred dollars in gold; nine packs of chewing gum; one issue of prophylactics; three lipsticks; three pair of nylon stockings. Shoot, a fella' could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff.

Slim Pickens did the Texas-Oklahoma accent about as well as I've ever heard it, even when I used to live in Texas. I'm not sure where he got it - he was a lifelong Californian - unless he picked it up during his early years when he worked in the rodeo.

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