Nuclear Darkness
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Global Warming versus Cooling from Nuclear War

Climatic changes resulting from nuclear conflict would occur many thousands of times faster – and thus would likely be far more catastrophic – than the climatic changes predicted as a result of global warming.1   The rapidity of the war-induced changes, appearing in a matter of days and weeks, would allow human populations and the whole plant and animal kingdoms no time to adapt.

It is worth noting that the same methods and climate models used to predict global warming were used in these studies to predict global cooling resulting from nuclear war.  These climate models have proved highly successful in describing the cooling effects of volcanic clouds during extensive U.S. evaluations and in international intercomparisons performed as part of the Fourth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.2

Predicted drops in average surface temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere caused by small, moderate and large nuclear conflicts are contrasted with the effects of global warming during the last century in Figure 1 and with average surface air temperatures during the last 1000 years in Figure 2.

Global Warming vs. Cooling from nuclear war - 1880 to 2010

Reproduced/modified by permission of American Geophysical Union.

Figure 1: Observed Global Warming during the period 1880 through 2006 contrasted with predicted temperature drops from a range of nuclear wars. The India-Pakistan war detonated only one half of 1% of the explosive power of the currently deployed and operational U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. 3

Global Warming vs. Cooling from nuclear war - 1880 to 2010

Reproduced/modified by permission of American Geophysical Union.

Figure 2: Northern Hemisphere average surface air temperatures during the last 1000 years contrasted with forecast temperature drops from a range of nuclear conflicts.4

There are, of course, other important considerations which must be made when estimating the overall environmental and ecological impacts of nuclear war.  These must include the release of enormous amounts of radioactive fallout, pyrotoxins (poisonous gases produced in large fires) and toxic industrial chemicals into the ecosystems. There will also be massive increases in the amount of deadly ultraviolet light which will reach the surface of the Earth as a result of ozone depletion (no calculations on ozone depletion from a large nuclear war have been done using modern climate models, but recent calculations predict massive depletion from nuclear conflict using only a tiny fraction of the current global nuclear arsenal).  All these by-products of nuclear war must be taken into account when comparing the danger of nuclear conflict to other potential dangers now confronting humanity and life on Earth.

1 This comparison is not meant to minimize the dangers of global warming, which warrant grave concern, rather it is intended to make the point that the potential environmental dangers posed by nuclear war should receive at least as much attention as is that now being afforded to the issue of global warming.
2 Robock A, Oman L, Stenchikov G (2007b). Nuclear winter revisited with a modern climate model and current nuclear arsenals: Still catastrophic consequences. Journal of Geophysical Research, vol. 112, D13107, doi:10.1029/2006JD008235..

3 Robock A, Oman L, Stenchikov G (2007b). Nuclear winter revisited with a modern climate model and current nuclear arsenals: Still catastrophic consequences. Journal of Geophysical Research, vol. 112, D13107, doi:10.1029/2006JD008235; Figure 8

4 Robock A, Oman L, Stenchikov G (2007b). Nuclear winter revisited with a modern climate model and current nuclear arsenals: Still catastrophic consequences. Journal of Geophysical Research, vol. 112, D13107, doi:10.1029/2006JD008235; Figure 9.