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Nuclear Famine: The Threat to Humanity from Nuclear Weapons

January 17, 2017, 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Location Center for Environmental and Life Sciences - 120
Posted InCollege of Science and Mathematics

About Dr. Alan Robock

Dr. Robock is a Distinguished Professor of climate science in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1970 with a B.A. in Meteorology, and from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with an S.M. in 1974 and Ph.D. in 1977, both in Meteorology. Before graduate school, he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines. He was a professor at the University of Maryland, 1977-1997, and the State Climatologist of Maryland, 1991-1997, before coming to Rutgers. Prof. Robock has published more than 370 articles on his research in the area of climate change, including more than 220 peer-reviewed papers. He serves as Editor of Reviews of Geophysics, the most highly-cited journal in the Earth Sciences. His honors include being a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, and the American Meteorological Society (AMS). Prof. Robock was a Lead Author of the 2013 Working Group 1 Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007). 

About the Seminar

A nuclear war between any two nations, such as India and Pakistan, with each country using 50 Hiroshima-sized atom bombs as airbursts on urban areas, would inject so much smoke from the resulting fires into the stratosphere that the resulting climate change would be unprecedented in recorded human history.  Climate model simulations find that the smoke would absorb sunlight, making it dark, cold, and dry at Earth’s surface and produce global-scale ozone depletion, with enhanced ultraviolet (UV) radiation reaching the surface.  The erythemal dose from the enhanced UV radiation would greatly increase, in spite of enhanced absorption by the remaining smoke, with the UV index more than 3 units higher in the summer midlatitudes, even after a decade.

The changes in temperature, precipitation, and sunlight from the climate model simulations, applied to crop models show that these perturbations would reduce global agricultural production of the major food crops by 10-40% for a decade.  The impact of the nuclear war simulated here, using much less than 1% of the global nuclear arsenal, could sentence a billion people now living marginal existences to starvation.

The greatest nuclear threat still comes from the United States and Russia.  Even the reduced arsenals that will remain in 2017 after the New START treaty threaten the world with nuclear winter.  The world as we know it could end any day as a result of an accidental nuclear war between the United States and Russia.  With temperatures plunging below freezing, crops would die and massive starvation could kill most of humanity.  The environmental and humanitarian impacts of the use of even a small number of nuclear weapons must be considered in nuclear policy deliberations.

As a result of international negotiations in the past several years, the United Nations will conduct discussions in the summer of 2017 that will result in an international treaty banning nuclear weapons.  It is incumbent on us to pressure the United States and the other eight nuclear nations to sign this treaty.