A “nuclear winter” from a US-Russia conflict would wipe out 63% of the world’s population

More than 5 billion people — about 63% of the world’s current population — would die of starvation after a full-scale nuclear war between the United States, Russia and their allies, a new study has found.

According to the researchers, the conflict would cause widespread fires into which up to 165 million short tons (150 million metric tons) of soot could be dumped Earth Atmosphere, which would cause crop declines in the food-exporting US and Russia that would send worldwide calorie Production collapsed by up to 90%.

The study published Aug. 15 in the journal health food (opens in new tab), is the latest in four decades of pioneering research that has attempted to delineate the threat of nuclear war. Of the approximately 12,705 nuclear warheads in the world, Russia has 5,977 and the United States has 5,428, the US said Latest report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The country with the third most nuclear warheads is China with 350. India and Pakistan have 160 and 165 respectively.

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Full-scale nuclear war “would produce climate change unprecedented in human history,” study co-author Alan Robock, a professor of climate science at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said at a news conference Monday (Aug. 15). ). “More people would die in a nuclear war between the US and Russia [from famine] alone in India and Pakistan than in the countries actually waging the war.”

Ever since the US dropped the Little Boy atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the most immediate effects of any nuclear war have been well known, at least to those in a target city. The single bomb killed one estimated 140,000 people within five months of the detonation and destroyed or badly damaged more than 60,000 of the approximately 90,000 buildings in the city. Six eyewitness accounts compiled by journalist John Hersey and published in 1946 recount the immediate devastation of the attack and its immediate aftermath. At first, the bomb’s light appeared as a blinding, “noiseless” flash as bright as they were Sun; then the shockwave hit, hurling corpses under collapsing buildings. As a result, the clear, black Shadows of the vaporized dead were stenciled on the walls and streets, and the survivors, exposed first-hand, emerged naked, their skin “stripped” by the heat of the blast, to wander the devastated city in stunned confusion.

Studies emerged as already in 1947 to document the suffering that followed the attack, which for many would last a lifetime. Radioactive fallout, a by-product of nuclear energy fission Reaction that gave Little Boy his cataclysmic power had swept the area. Rates rose in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which was bombed three days later Cancercataracts and other health problems persisted in survivors for years who had been near the epicenters of the bombs.

But it would be another four decades before scientists would begin to learn and discuss the deadliest and most frightening outcome of small-scale nuclear war: the so-called “nuclear winter.” In this doomsday scenario, radioactive dust and smoke would block a significant portion of sunlight. With temperatures If it fell, many of the world’s crops would die, stifled by darkness, causing global famine and wiping out billions of people.

To model how this apocalyptic event would affect the planet’s ability to sustain life, the researchers calculated the amount of soot that would be generated from six potential nuclear war scenarios: five scenarios based on a “limited” war between India and Pakistan around the Kashmir region, which would produce 5.5 to 52 million metric tons (5 to 47 million tonnes) of soot, depending on the extent of the conflict, to a full-scale global nuclear war involving the US and Russia , which would cause countless conflagrations that would blanket the sky with 165 million tons (150 million tons) of soot.

With soot levels in hand, the scientists incorporated the data into the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s (NCAR) Community Earth System Model, a forecasting tool that simulates changes in Earth’s sunlight, temperature, and precipitation. These changes were then fed into NCAR’s Community Land Model, which gave the scientists a country-by-country breakdown of the dramatic reductions a nuclear winter would bring to corn, rice, soybean, wheat and fisheries crops.

Assuming international trade halted and remaining resources were not hoarded, the scientists then calculated how nuclear winter would reduce the food calories produced around the world and the number of people who would starve as a result.

The researchers found that in the worst-case scenario of a nuclear war between the US and Russia, temperatures on Earth’s surface would fall by as much as 29 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius), or more than triple the temperature difference between now and 2019 the last ice age) and that 5 billion people would perish. In the most extreme war between India and Pakistan, global calorie production could fall by 50% and cause 2 billion deaths.

According to the scientists, the most affected regions would be food-importing countries in Africa and the Middle East. Australia and New Zealand, meanwhile, would do best because they avoid most of the bombings in the northern hemisphere and rely on wheat crops that can grow better in cooler climates.

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“It’s important to know how much smoke enters the atmosphere,” said study co-author Owen B. Toon, a professor of atmospheric and ocean science at the Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics who worked with Carl Sagan at the 1983 worked paper credited with introducing the concept of “nuclear winter” into the public consciousness, Live Science said. “The energy released by these fires is 100 to 1,000 times the energy released by the weapons themselves. It doesn’t rain in the stratosphere. So if that much smoke goes up there, it stays there for years.”

Toon, Sagan, and their associates were first drawn to the subject of nuclear winter after noting a startling revelation about what might have killed the dinosaurs. In 1980, a separate team of scientists discovered that asteroid At the end of the 20th century, the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico Cretaceous, about 66 million years ago. As is well known today, the asteroid wiped out the non-bird dinosaurs. But it wasn’t the energy of the collision itself that killed around 75% of the beasts of the earth, including the dinos – it was the chilling cloud of dust and debris released by the impact.

Using rudimentary atmospheric models and satellite data, Toon, Sagan and their colleagues applied this finding to nuclear conflict. They found that small-scale thermonuclear warfare with just 100 1-megaton nuclear warheads could start enough fires to send a thick layer of inky black smoke into the atmosphere, which would cause land temperatures in much of the world to plummet to 5 degrees minus 13 F (minus 15 to minus 25 C) within just one to two weeks. They predicted a cooling effect that would last up to two decades. “The possibility of the extinction of homo sapiens cannot be ruled out,” concludes their study.

Sagan had been drawn to questions of human long-term survival through his interest in the Drake equation, the famous formula that allows scientists to guess the potential number of intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations inhabiting the world Milky Way. Worryingly, the first estimates by the inventor of the equation – astrophysicist Frank Drake – suggested that the advanced extraterrestrial civilizations populating our galaxy could number anywhere from 20 to 50 million. This got Sagan thinking about an idea known as the Fermi Paradox: If that were the case, then why hadn’t we encountered them before?

“He came to the conclusion that intelligent civilizations shouldn’t last very long because they destroy themselves with nuclear weapons,” Toon said.

While the total amount of nuclear weapons in the world has greatly decreased Since the end of the Cold War, the number of countries possessing weapons has increased and bilateral US-Russia peace deals, scrapped by Russian President Vladimir Putin and then-US President Donald Trump, are unlikely to continue during the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. China, on the other hand, could plan to quadruple its nuclear arsenal to over 1,000 by the end of the decade, according to US estimates Department of Defense.

“All nuclear-armed states are increasing or modernizing their arsenals, and most are sharpening nuclear rhetoric and the role nuclear weapons play in their military strategies,” wrote the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in its last annual reportwhich brought global annual military spending to a record high of $2.1 trillion for 2021, the seventh consecutive year of increase.

The new research underscores the need to commit to long-term disarmament strategies that will eradicate nuclear weapons from the planet, the new study’s authors wrote.

“If nuclear weapons exist, they can be used, and the world has come close to nuclear war on several occasions,” Robock said. “The ban on nuclear weapons is the only long term solution. The 5 year old UN treaty banning nuclear weapons [which bans the development, testing, production, stockpiling, stationing, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons] was ratified by 66 nations but none of the nine nuclear states. Our work makes it clear that it is time for these nine countries to listen to science and the rest of the world and sign this treaty.”

Additionally, the current nuclear arms reduction treaty — dubbed New START — is scheduled to expire in 2026, said Tom Collina, director of policy at the Plowshares Fund, a San Francisco-based foundation that supports initiatives to prevent the proliferation and use of nuclear weapons.

“In addition to taking weapons off alert and committing to only the second deployment, both sides should work to reduce their excess arsenals by negotiating a new treaty to replace the New START treaty,” Collina told WordsSideKick.com.

A major test of these political barriers is the 10th Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference this month. Delegates are currently gathering at the UN headquarters in New York to renew and expand pledges on non-proliferation and disarmament. So far, however, little progress has been made at the conference, according to the Arms Control Association.

Originally published on Live Science.

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