Study warns that even restricted nuclear war could escalate the climate crisis

Study warns that even restricted nuclear war could escalate the climate crisis
Pixabay

If—or, depending on your outlook, when—the world ever endures a nuclear war, scientists have an inkling of what the environmental effects could be thanks to devastating Canadian wildfires from 2017.


According to a new Rutgers University study published Thursday in Science Magazine, wildfires in British Columbia in August 2017 expelled so much smoke into the atmosphere that the pyrocumulonimbus (pyroCb) cloud sat in the upper atmosphere for eight months. Soot in the cloud was heated by solar radiation and lifted the cloud higher into the sky, combining with the dry air in the north to keep the cloud aloft until the next spring.

"This process of injecting soot into the stratosphere and seeing it extend its lifetime by self-lofting, was previously modeled as a consequence of nuclear winter in the case of an all-out war between the United States and Russia, in which smoke from burning cities would change the global climate," study co-author and professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University–New Brunswick Alan Robock said in a press release announcing the findings.

Not that the world's two most powerful militaries need to be involved—a relatively low-level nuclear war between India and Pakistan, for example, could "cause climate change unprecedented in recorded human history and global food crises," said Robock.

The study used the smoke from the wildfires as a model, but the scale of smoke in the atmosphere from an all out nuclear war would be orders of magnitude greater.

The smoke cloud contained only about 0.3 million tons of soot, while a nuclear war between India and Pakistan could produce 15 million tons and a U.S. vs. Russia war could generate 150 million tons. Still, the scientists validated their previous theories and the climate model they're using for ongoing research on nuclear war impacts by studying the wildfire, according to Robock.

On Monday, Common Dreams reported on two potential crises going on right now that could result in nuclear conflagration: the dismantling of the 32-year-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between Russia and the U.S. and rising tensions between India and Pakistan—and, reportedly, China, another nuclear-armed state—over the territory of Kashmir.

Referring to the destruction of the INF treaty, Kate Hudson, general secretary of the U.K.-based Campaing for Nuclear Disarmament, said that it did not bode well for peace.

"It's a game of nuclear tit for tat," said Hudson, "in which there can be no winners as the threat of nuclear war rises."

Understand the importance of honest news ?

So do we.

The past year has been the most arduous of our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be catastrophic not only to our health - mental and physical - but also to the stability of millions of people. For all of us independent news organizations, it’s no exception.

We’ve covered everything thrown at us this past year and will continue to do so with your support. We’ve always understood the importance of calling out corruption, regardless of political affiliation.

We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, no matter the amount, makes a difference in allowing our newsroom to bring you the stories that matter, at a time when being informed is more important than ever. Invest with us.

Make a one-time contribution to Alternet All Access, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.

Click to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card
Donate by Paypal

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.