Nuclear winter – A nuclear war would cause 5 billion deaths from starvation

A nuclear war, even on a small scale, would wipe out a large part of the human population because of the famine that would follow the conflict.

We think that the deaths from a conflict in which nuclear weapons are used will mainly be the victims of detonations. A study published by the prestigious journal Nature paints a much bleaker picture.

Even a small conflict in which two nations launch nuclear weapons at each other can lead to global famine, new research suggests. Rutgers University Research. Soot from burning cities would surround the planet and cool it by reflecting sunlight back into space, causing a so-called nuclear winter. That, in turn, would cause a global crop failure that, at worst, could put 5 billion people on the brink of death.

The study is especially relevant today as Russia’s war against Ukraine has disrupted the world’s food supply, underscoring the far-reaching impacts of a regional conflict.

Nuclear war causes the direct death of people from atomic explosions and the lingering effects of radiation and other types of environmental pollution. The researchers wanted to see the consequences beyond these direct victims. To do this, they built a model of the climate in various parts of the world after a nuclear war and how crops and fisheries would respond to these changes.

From bad to worst scenario

During the study, they analyzed six warfare scenarios, each of which would put different amounts of soot into the atmosphere and lower surface temperatures by between 1 and 16°C. The effects can last a decade or more.

A nuclear war between India and Pakistan, perhaps triggered by the disputed Kashmir region, could release between 5 million and 47 million tons of soot into the atmosphere, depending on the number of warheads deployed and the cities destroyed. An all-out nuclear war between the United States and Russia could produce 150 million tons of soot that would persist for years.

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Using data from FAO, the team looked at various options, such as people continuing to raise livestock or handing over some or all of the crops intended for livestock to humans. The study assumed that there would be some reuse of crops for biofuels and that people would reduce or eliminate food waste. International trade must also come to a halt, as countries choose to feed their populations within their own borders rather than export food.

The numbers are overwhelming. Even in the smallest war scenario, that of an India-Pakistan conflict causing 5 million tons of soot, global calorie production could drop by 7% in the first five years after the war. In a scenario of 47 million tons of soot, the world average of calories is reduced by up to 50%. In the worst case of a war between the United States and Russia, calorie production drops by 90% three to four years after the war.

The countries most affected would be those in mid- and high-latitudes, which already have a short growing season and which would cool more drastically after a nuclear war than tropical regions. The UK, for example, would experience a steeper drop in food availability than a country like India at lower latitudes. But France, which is a major food exporter, would be better off because if trade stopped, it would have more food available for its own population. It would also do well in Australia, a country where wheat would grow relatively well in the colder climate induced by atmospheric soot.

REFERENCE

Global food insecurity and famine due to reduced crops, marine fisheries and livestock production due to climate disruption from nuclear war soot injection

Photo: Paul Hocksenar

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