News Release

The Other Climate Threat: Nuclear Winter

A recent article in Salon “The Big Climate Crisis We Aren’t Talking About: Is Nuclear Winter Coming?” by Norman Solomon states: “A nuclear war would quickly bring cataclysmic climate change. A recent scientific paper, in sync with countless studies, concludes that in the aftermath of nuclear weapons blasts in cities, ‘smoke would effectively block out sunlight, causing below-freezing temperatures to engulf the world.’ Researchers estimate such conditions would last for 10 years. The Federation of American Scientists predicts that ‘a nuclear winter would cause most humans and large animals to die from nuclear famine in a mass extinction event similar to the one that wiped out the dinosaurs.’ …

“While there’s a widespread myth that the danger of nuclear war has diminished, this illusion is not the only reason why the climate movement has failed to include prevention of nuclear winter on its to-do list. Notably, the movement’s organizations rarely even mention nuclear winter. Another factor is the view that unlike climate change, which is already happening and could be exacerbated or mitigated by policies in the years ahead, nuclear war will either happen or it won’t. That might seem like matter-of-fact realism, but it’s more like thinly disguised passivity wrapped up in fatalism.” (Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.)

Available for interviews are two of the authors of the scientific paper cited above, “Nuclear Winter Responses to Nuclear War Between the United States and Russia in the Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model Version 4 and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies ModelE“:

ALAN ROBOCK, robock@envsci.rutgers.edu
    Robock is distinguished professor, department of environmental sciences at Rutgers University. He is also associate editor, Reviews of Geophysics.

OWEN BRIAN TOON, toon@lasp.colorado.edu
    Owen Brian Toon is a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences. He is a fellow at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder.

    He said today: “Climate change and nuclear conflict are linked. Just today we see conflict developing between the European Union and Russia due to migrants stuck at the border between Belarus and Poland. Russia apparently flew nuclear capable aircraft over Belarus to demonstrate its concerns. As the century progresses, the number of migrants is going to rise because increasing areas of the Middle East and Africa, among others, are going to have significant stress due to rising temperatures, and changing precipitation. Large scale migrations toward better climates are highly likely. Such migrations are already the source of conflict. Unfortunately nuclear weapons are unnecessarily being held in launch on warning status. The U.S. president needs to be prepared to launch hundreds of our weapons within less than 30 minutes of a warning of a Russian attack. Unfortunately, false warnings have occurred in the past, and will likely occur in the future. A nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia has the potential to create global scale starvation, even in the richest nations. A large fraction of humanity could die.

    “Russia, for example, is very vulnerable to loss of food crops in a Nuclear Winter. We can eliminate the possibility of accidental war by getting rid of the land based missiles (ICBMs). They cannot be recalled if a mistake is made. Submarines and aircraft can wait to verify an attack, or be recalled. They are more than capable of providing deterrence, without threatening disaster by accident or miscalculation.”