Nuclear Winter

In 1983, at a landmark conference in Washington, DC, Carl Sagan and a team of fellow scientists told the world about nuclear winter - the shocking and devastating climatic effects of all-out nuclear war in which the world would be plunged into prolonged darkness eventually destroying life on earth. Today, new research by some of the same scientists has found that even a so-called limited nuclear exchange could result in the decimation of global agriculture and mass starvation.



Daniel Ellsberg on Jeremy Scahill's "The Intercepted," discussing "The Doomsday Machine"

Host of "The Intercepted" podcast, Jeremy Scahill, had "Pentagon Papers" whistleblower Dan Ellsberg on to discuss his new book, "The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner." The interview takes place from the 44:00 minute mark to the 1:06:00 minute mark on the podcast entitled "Full Metal Jackass."

Ellsberg discusses Nuclear Winter at various points throughout the interview. He remarks that a nuclear war between India and Pakistan, utilizing "just" fission weapons, could cause a Nuclear Winter that would kill two billion people due to crop failures.

He warns, however, that a Nuclear Winter caused by a large exchange of thermonuclear weapons could last a decade, and kill most human beings on the planet.

Nuclear Winter would be caused by the smoke and soot of burning cities polluting the atmosphere to the point where the sun's light and warmth would be largely blocked out for an extended period of time. The failure of crops would then cause widespread famine.


"Who's Minding the Nukes?"

The insignia of the U.S. nuclear missileers Stahl interviewed in this reportCBS 60 Minutes' Lesley Stahl reports on the status of U.S. nuclear-tipped missiles at silos located across five states on the Great Plains. This includes antiquated communications and computer equipment, as well as hardware problems. The report comes in the aftermath of a major shake up in the U.S. military's nuclear missile command and corps, based on a competency test cheating scandal, as well as illegal drug use, and even a drunken binge by the top U.S. nuclear missile commander while on official duty in Moscow, Russia.

The report features an interview with the author of the book Command and Control, Eric Schlosser. He has been named an Alliance for Nuclear Accountability DC Days award winner this year.

Unfortunately, the 60 Minutes report does not question the wisdom of U.S. reliance on "deterrence," based on "Mutually Assured Destruction" (MAD). This is all the more ironic, because 60 Minutes' own report touched on a number of incidents where U.S. nuclear weapons nearly caused disasters on U.S. soil. One involved a nuclear missile rocket fuel explosion caused by a dropped socket wrench, necessitating the evacuation of an Arkansas town. Another involved the accidental drop, and near detonation, of a hydrogen bomb in North Carolina, a few days after John F. Kennedy's presidential inauguration. A more recent incident, in 2007, involved the unauthorized -- and unguarded -- transfer of six nuclear warheads, by plane, from North Dakota to Louisiana. This led to the firing of the U.S. Air Force's top two officials.

60 Minutes also did not question the wisdom of U.S. plans to "modernize" its nuclear weapons arsenal, to the tune of $355 billion over the next ten years. The Republic of the Marshall Islands has filed lawsuits against the United States of America in federal district court in San Francisco -- as well as against the other countries in the world with nuclear weapons arsenals, at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, in the Netherlands -- for their failure to negotiate, in good faith, the abolition of their nuclear weapons arsenals, as called for by the four decade old Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) has reported that the "exchange" of "only" 100 Nagasaki-sized nuclear weapons between India and Pakistan could cause a "mini" Nuclear Winter, and crop failures worldwide, resulting in the deaths of a billion people, or more, due to starvation.

As President John F. Kennedy famously said: "Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident, or miscalculation, or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us."

The irony of the U.S. nuclear missileers' insignia (above left), captured for a fleeting moment in the 60 Minutes report, is conveyed by this quote from Noam Chomsky's book Pirates and Emperors: "A captured pirate was brought before Alexander the Great. 'How dare you molest the sea?' asked Alexander. 'How dare you molest the whole world?' the pirate replied, and continued: 'Because I do it with a little ship only, I am called a thief; you, doing it with a great navy, are called an emperor.'"


"A Nuclear Clash Could Starve the World"

Mushroom cloud rising above Hiroshima after U.S. atomic bombing of Japan, August 1945As described in an op-ed posted at CNN, "A Nuclear Clash Could Starve the World," Jayantha Dhanapala and Ira Helfand report on the findings of a new PSR/IPPNW report, NUCLEAR FAMINE: A BILLION PEOPLE AT RISK.

Among the findings: even a limited nuclear war, as between Indian and Pakistan, involving less than half of 1% of the world's nuclear arsenals, would cause climate disruption that could set off a global famine; 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs (see photo, left) exploded in a war between India and Pakistan would lead to the starvation of an estimated 1 billion people, one-sixth of the human race, over the following decade; each U.S. Trident nuclear submarine can destroy 100 cities and produce the global famine described in the study (the United States has 14 Tridents). 

Jayantha Dhanapala is a former ambassador to the United States from Sri Lanka, U.N. under-secretary general for disarmament and chairman of the 1995 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review and Extension Conference. Ira Helfand is the past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) and current North American vice president of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW).


Nuclear Darkness, Global Climate Change, & Nuclear Famine

This website, created by Steven Starr, a senior scientist for Physicians for Social Responsibility, is available in four languages: English, Russian, Hebrew, and Chinese. The site describes the deadly long-term environmental consequences of nuclear war that threaten continued human survival.  Virtually any nuclear war, even one fought with less than 1% of the deployed and operational nuclear arsenals, will cause catastrophic disruptions of global climate and massive destruction of Earth's protective ozone layer, resulting in global nuclear famine.  The site also includes a photo gallery from Hiroshima, Japan, the first city in the world to be annihilated by an atomic bomb in 1945; there is also a nuclear firestorm simulator, which allows you to type in any address or city, select a weapon size, and then illustrate the size of the resulting nuclear firestorm caused by the detonation of the weapon.


Nuclear Winter still possible, new research finds

In 2007, a team of scientists published papers describing their research on nuclear winter. They looked not only at whether a nuclear winter could still happen as a result of a nuclear exchange between Russia and the United States (the two countries still harbor most of the world's 26,000 remaining nuclear weapons) - it could - but also what the effects might be of a "limited" exchange. Using India and Pakistan as examples, they hypothesized an exchange of 50 Hiroshima-sized bombs each and modeled the resulting plumes of ash and smoke. The two studies - Atmospheric effects and societal consequences of regional scale nuclear conflicts and acts of individual nuclear terrorism by Brian Toon et al and Climatic consequences of regional nuclear conflicts by Alan Robock et al, found that such a conflict could devastate global agriculture, creating a nuclear winter-like effect.