A large-scale nuclear weapons confrontation between the US and Russia would affect crops and pastures, while the ozone layer would be destroyed and more ultraviolet radiation would increase.
More than 5 billion people would starve after a full-scale nuclear war between the US and Russia, according to a global study estimating post-conflict crop production. Building on previous research, Lili Xia and Alan Robock, professors of environmental sciences at Rutgers University in New Jersey, worked to calculate the amount of sunblock soot that would cover the atmosphere from thunderstorms. fires that would be ignited by the detonation of nuclear weapons. The results are published in Nature Food.
The researchers calculated soot dispersion from six war scenarios (five smaller wars between India and Pakistan and one major war between the United States and Russia) based on the size of each country’s nuclear arsenal. This data was then entered into the Community Earth System Model, a climate forecasting tool supported by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). NCAR’s Community Land Model made it possible to estimate the productivity of major crops (corn, rice, spring wheat, and soybeans) on a country-by-country basis. The researchers also examined projected changes in livestock grazing and global marine fisheries.
Even in the smallest nuclear scenario, a localized war between India and Pakistan, global average caloric output would decline by 7% within five years of the conflict. In the largest war scenario ever tested, a full-scale nuclear conflict between the US and Russia, the world’s average caloric output would drop by about 90% three to four years after the fight.
Crop declines would be most severe in mid- and high-latitude nations, including major exporting countries like Russia and the US, potentially triggering export restrictions and causing severe disruption to import-dependent countries in Africa and Middle East.
These changes would induce a catastrophic disruption of global food markets, the researchers conclude. Even a 7% global decline in crop yields would exceed the largest anomaly ever recorded since the Food and Agriculture Organization’s observational records began in 1961. Under the largest war scenario, more than 75% of the planet would starve within two years.
Xia warned in a statement that “the ozone layer would be destroyed by the heating of the stratosphere, producing more ultraviolet radiation at the surface, and we need to understand that impact on the food supply,” he said.
“If nuclear weapons exist, they can be used, and the world has come close to nuclear war several times,” Robock said. “Banning nuclear weapons is the only long-term solution. The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, five years old, has been ratified by 66 nations, but none of the nine nuclear states. Our work makes it clear that it is time for those nine states to listen to science and the rest of the world and sign this treaty, “he warned.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.