In the event of a full-scale nuclear war between the United States and Russia, more than 5 billion people would die from hunger, according to a global study led by Rutgers climate scientists.
The Rutgers University environmental sciences professors Lili Xia and Alan Robock calculated the amount of sunblock soot which would enter the atmosphere from firestorms sparked by the detonation of nuclear weapons.
In six war scenarios (five smaller conflicts between India and Pakistan and one major conflict between the U.S. and Russia), soot dispersion was calculated based on the nuclear arsenals of each country.
A climate forecasting tool supported by NCAR, the Community Earth System Model, was then used to analyze the data.
Based on NCAR’s Community Land Model, scientists were able to estimate the productivity of major grains (corn, rice, spring wheat, and soybeans) country by country.
The research was also conducted on livestock grazing and fisheries within the global ocean.
According to scientists, if India and Pakistan were to wage a localized war, the global caloric output would decline by 7% within five years.
World caloric output dropped 90% three to four years after the biggest war scenario ever tested, a full-scale nuclear conflict between the US and Russia.
The greatest crop declines would be in mid-high latitude nations, including major exporters such as the U.S. and Russia, triggering export restrictions and disrupting import-dependent countries in Africa and the Middle East.
The researchers conclude that global food markets would be disrupted catastrophically by these changes. Crop yields would decline by 7% globally, surpassing the biggest anomaly ever recorded since 1961, when food and agriculture observations began. Within two years, more than 75% of the planet would starve if the largest war scenario were to occur.
The researchers examined whether livestock feeding or food waste reduction could offset caloric losses after the war, but the savings were minimal.
“Future work will bring even more granularity to the crop models,” Xia said.
“For instance, 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 food supplies,” the researcher explained.
A team of climate scientists at the University of Colorado has partnered with Rutgers to develop detailed soot models that include inventories of every building in specific cities, including Washington, D.C., to get a better idea of the amount of smoke that will be produced.
In the event of a nuclear war of any size, Robock says there is already enough information to know that billions of people will die.
There have been several close calls with nuclear war in the history of the world since nuclear weapons exist, Robock said. There is only one long-term solution: banning nuclear weapons. Sixty-six nations have ratified the five-year-old UN Atomic Weapons Convention, but not all nine nuclear states. This treaty should be signed by those nine states as soon as possible.
The results are published in Nature Food.
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