04 January 2007

Global Cooling--The More Frightening and More Likely Climate Catastrophe: Nuclear War in the Third World

Very few members of the general public are aware of the stealthy growth of the threat of a climate crisis beyond "global warming." Global cooling has always been a greater danger to humans than global warming. The recent little ice age resulted in a loss of life in the many millions. Another severe episode of global cooling would be immeasurably worse.

We've been warned about nuclear winter for decades now. Before catastrophic global warming became so fashionable in the popular media, nuclear winter was fashionable among politicians and journalists. But the nuclear winter that appears more likely with each passing day is not the same nuclear winter that Carl Sagan warned against. Sagan was worried about an all-out nuclear war between super-powers, with a resulting nuclear winter that could potentially finish humans for good.

The new concerns about nuclear winter center upon the growing likelihood of a small scale nuclear war that originates in a third world nation such as Iran or Pakistan. It seems that even a limited nuclear war could have devastating consequences for the world's climate--far more devastating than global warming is likely to be.

The scientists' research is a new twist on the nuclear winter hypothesis, which attracted attention in the early 1980s. Back then, planetary scientist Carl Sagan and others warned that a much larger nuclear war between the United States and Soviet Union would lead to extensive atmospheric cooling and agricultural failure on a much greater scale and kill far more people.

The hypothesis sparked widespread scientific and political controversy. It faded from public attention toward the end of the Cold War, after which many U.S. strategists concluded that major nuclear wars that threatened all civilization were improbable.

But that judgment was premature, because of the recent emergence of small- and medium-sized nations that either have or are trying to develop nuclear weapons, the scientists warned. They said that worldwide, a regional nuclear war could kill tens of millions of people, partly because even a small number of nuclear blasts could generate enough smoke to trigger a global climate change.

The nuclear explosions and smoke could also damage the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere, they said. That layer shields Earth's surface from cancer-causing radiation from the sun.

Initially, about 20 percent of the soot would be washed out of the atmosphere by rainfall, said Turco, who was one of the pioneers of the original nuclear winter hypothesis.

However, much of the rest of the soot would rise skyward and warm as it was baked by the sun. That warming would make the soot more buoyant and force it even higher into the sky until it penetrated the stratosphere -- just above the tops of thunderclouds -- where high-speed winds would quickly spread the soot throughout the atmosphere, Turco and his colleagues said.

Personally, I think the threat of severe global cooling from a low level nuclear war in the third world is overblown. The threat of global cooling, on the other hand, is dire enough to be taken seriously. Climate on earth is a chaotic phenomenon--constantly changing, and not well simulated by current overly simplistic climate models. There is no reason to believe these models by Turco et al are any better. Nevertheless, long before humans reached the top of the food chain, earth's climate changed abruptly and unpredictably.

If the northern hemisphere suffers another Little Ice Age scale disaster, billions of people would be a risk of starvation, or dying of violence or ordinarily preventable disease.

It is not surprising that the media focuses on the less likely and less dangerous phenomenon of "catastrophic global warming." The crisis du jour is all the media, and most politicians understand. Thinking people, on the other hand, must look at all the possibilities--all the possible etiologies.

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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