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Nuclear war would cause more global warming

I don’t understand why this study was commissioned. Isn’t the death and destruction of nuclear war bad enough to deter pushing the button? Does anyone really believe that a leader of a nuclear power or a terrorist would be about to start the holocaust and then pause because they were concerned about the environment?

I guess when you work at Stanford though, such thoughts cross your mind. Or maybe it is just the constant pressure within acedemia to “Publish or Perish” to keep your job. Or maybe it has some deeper and political purpose.

Also, I do not concede the point that the proliferation of nuclear energy makes nuclear war more likely. There have only been two nuclear attacks in history and they both occurred before the advent of nuclear power. The supposition that nuclear power begets nuclear war is simply an opinion posed by the researcher and not grounded in any scientific fact or study. It helps him get his paper published, which I think may have been the main reason for including it. It also skews his study away from nuclear power and towards wind and solar.

Several years ago, the late Michael Crichton wrote a book about global warming called “A State of Fear” and it was fairly controversial in its day. One of the many messages that Mr. Crichton was trying to deliver was that scientific conclusions are affected by the opinions of the scientists and those opinions are often affected by the need for money and funding. It makes one curious as to the hidden motives of the paper’s author, Mark Z Jacobson.

One of Mr. Crichton’s tenets was that just because a scientist says it, doesn’t make it so. In this case, I don’t doubt that nuclear war is bad for the environment but to include war in the discussion on alternative fuels, makes me question the integrity of the study and its conclusions.

According to a new paper in the journal Energy & Environmental Science, even a very limited nuclear exchange, using just a thousandth of the weaponry of a full-scale nuclear war, would cause up to 690m tonnes of CO2 to enter the atmosphere


The purpose of the paper is to compare the total human and environmental costs of a wide range of different power sources, from solar and wind to nuclear and biofuels. One of the side-effects of nuclear power, the report argues, is an increased risk of nuclear war: “Because the production of nuclear weapons material is occurring only in countries that have developed civilian nuclear energy programs, the risk of a limited nuclear exchange between countries or the detonation of a nuclear device by terrorists has increased due to the dissemination of nuclear energy facilities worldwide.”


Those figures, as far as I can tell, are entirely arbitrary, and as such I’m rather surprised that the Royal Society for Chemistry are prepared to publish them in their journal.


Either way, nuclear doesn’t come out as badly as first- or second-generation biofuels. These, the author remarks, are “ranked lowest overall and with respect to climate, air pollution, land use, wildlife damage, and chemical waste,” and may actually “worsen climate and air pollution” relative to fossil fuels.

Please click through to Duncan Clark’s review of the Stanford paper which first made me aware of the study.

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5 Responses to “Nuclear war would cause more global warming”

  1. I thought nuclear war would trigger a nuclear winter? That’s what Carl Sagan said.

    IMO, what you’ve found here is a species of what Crichton warned about. With the screwed up priorities of scientific research today, the easiest way to get more funding is to hype a global warming angle.

  2. Tim – I think you are right. The logic of analyzing nuclear war is simply too far fetched to allow one to believe that this study didn’t have other motives.

    I don’t think the late Carl Sagan knew what he was talking about. As with most people that try to predict climate, he didn’t understand all of the inter-dependencies. Remember, he predicted global cooling from the fires of the oil wells in Iraq and Kuwait during Gulf War 1. That didn’t happen either. This is a warning to all that think they can predict the climate with any confidence.
    http://www.csicop.org/si/2007-01/sagan.html

  3. Sean,

    Excuse me. But doesn’t the use of both ‘deeper’ and ‘political’ in the same sentence make the sentence an oxymoronic sentence?

    In my “Reality in a stack” model, politics is layer one; the most shallow and most superficial layer.

    In layer ten, the foundation layer of the stack, I have the fundamental natural forces that drive, shape and control the Universe that we live in. The “Rules of Reality” are established in layer ten then applied upward through a layered stack that consists of physics, chemistry, biology, the nation’s society (citizens), the nation’s economy, the nation’s financial system, governmental operations, governmental policy makers and then, whatever reality may be left not dissipated and/or undistorted by the upward journey gets applied to layer one: Politics, political news reporting, political discourse, political campaigns, political elections and politically motivated policy decisions that are made by overpoliticized governmental policy makers. And don’t forget, these are the rules that are also applied to anything such as AGW that gets drug into a political rat hole and made a political issue.

    Have your ever thought about how much talk-the-talk (information and communication) technologies have advanced in the twentieth century while we are still using mostly nineteenth century walk-the-walk (propulsion) technologies as refined and improved in the twentieth century? Do you reckon expectations may have followed one on upward while it is the other that provides the capabilities to meet and satisfy expectations? Think about it.

    With regards and have a good day,

    Tom Kiser

    Them ain’t chickens comin’ home t’ roost. Them’s the buzzards that was hatched in the twentieth century comin’ home t’ roost in the twenty-first century. We ain’t seen nothing yet. Just wait ’til the twentieth century vintage vultures and condors show up.

  4. […] move towards skepticism.  It is interesting that this is almost precisely the problem that Michael Crichton described in his novel on global warming “A State of Fear” and why he spoke out about the issue of bad scientific discover. The United Nations climate change […]

  5. A research, based on findings from historic volcano eruptions, found that a nuclear war could produce millions of tons of “soot” particles that could block solar radiation, in effect, cooling the planet. They examined the climatic effects of the smoke produced in a conflict in the subtropics between two opposing nations, each using 50 Hiroshima-size nuclear weapons to attack the other’s most populated urban areas. A cooling of several degrees would occur over large areas of North America and Eurasia, including most of the grain-growing regions. As in the case with earlier nuclear winter calculations, large climatic effects would occur in regions far removed from the target areas or the countries involved in the conflict.” They say the global impact of nuclear would be akin to climate disruptions caused by volcanic eruptions which cool the planet by releasing tons of particulate matter into the atmosphere. They cite the 1815 eruption of Tambora in Indonesia as an example. The 1815 eruption of Tambora in Indonesia the largest in the last 500 years was followed by killing frosts throughout New England in 1816, during what has become known as ‘the year without a summer. The weather in Europe was reported to be so cold and wet that the harvest failed and people starved. This historical event perhaps foreshadows the kind of climate disruptions that would follow a regional nuclear conflict. With the exchange of 100 15-kiloton weapons as posed in this scenario, the estimated quantities of smoke generated could lead to global climate anomalies exceeding any changes experienced in recorded history. And that’s just 0.03 percent of the total explosive power of the current world nuclear arsenal. The climate effects of particulate matter are of increasing interest to climate scientists. Some researchers have postulated that a similar release of sulfate aerosols into the atmosphere could be used in a worst-case scenario to block global warming. However no one is advocating nuclear war as a practical solution to global warming. The study projects fatalities of 2.6 million to 16.7 million per country in a small-scale, regional nuclear war. Considering the relatively small number and size of the weapons, the effects are surprisingly large. The potential devastation would be catastrophic and long term.