In 1983, Cornell University Astronomy Professor Carl Sagan and four other NASA scientists conducted an in-depth study of the possible atmospheric consequences of nuclear war. The study concluded that the gigantic fires caused by nuclear detonations in cities and industrial areas would cause millions of tons of smoke to rise into the Earth’s stratosphere. There the smoke would block most sunlight, causing average temperatures on Earth’s surface to rapidly cool to Ice Age levels.
The 1983 study was recently repeated in 2006. The new research modeled a range of nuclear conflicts, beginning with a “regional” nuclear war between India and Pakistan, a “moderate” nuclear war which used about one third of the current global nuclear arsenal (equivalent to the nuclear weapons now kept on launch-ready, high alert status by the U.S. and Russia), and a full-scale nuclear conflict using the entire global nuclear arsenal.
The new research substantiated the original 1983 findings and found that the smoke could actually remain in the stratosphere for at least a decade. A large nuclear conflict would cause crop-killing nightly frosts for more than a year in the world’s large agricultural regions, destroy massive amounts of the protective ozone layer, and lead to the collapse of many ecosystems and starvation among most people.
Columbia writer Steven Starr wrote a summary of the 2006 studies published by the Bulletin of the International Network of Engineers and Scientists Against Proliferation . Starr writes: “U.S. researchers have confirmed the scientific validity of the concept of ‘nuclear winter’ and have demonstrated that any conflict which targets even a tiny fraction of the global nuclear arsenal against large urban centers will cause catastrophic disruptions of the global climate.”
Starr, a long-time resident of Columbia, is an independent writer whose many articles have appeared in prestigious journals such as the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, as well as the on-line newsletter of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. Additionally he has written for the Strategic Arms Reductions Web site of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. He has also worked as an educator and consultant on disarmament issues.
In 2006, he made presentations to the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and Defense and the United Nations. In 2007, he again spoke at the U.N., on a panel that included U.N. Ambassadors from New Zealand and Sweden. His presentation outlined the dangers of the launch-ready, high-alert nuclear arsenals of the U.S. and Russia, in support of the New Zealand Resolution L29 which was subsequently approved by the U.N. General Assembly. Resolution L29 called for the elimination of nuclear weapons from high-alert status and was opposed only by the United States, Great Britain and France.
Steve traveled to New Zealand and Australia to further discuss the resolution, as well as the recent research on the climatic consequences of nuclear war with ministry officials of those nations.
Steve Starr is a member of the Missouri University Nuclear Disarmament Education Team, which is a project of MU Friends of Peace Studies. He and other members of the team are available for nuclear disarmament presentations to any local, state, national or international group. Requests for speakers, DVD showings, etc., can be made by calling 817-1512.
Bill Wickersham of Columbia is an adjunct professor of peace studies at MU, a member of Veterans for Peace and a member of the national steering committee of Global Action to Prevent War.