[By: Susi Snyder]
A nuclear war anywhere in the world, using as few as 100 weapons, would disrupt the global climate and agricultural production so severely that the lives of more than a billion people would be at risk, according to research findings released today by International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and its US affiliate, Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Dr. Ira Helfand, the author of Nuclear Famine: A Billion People at Risk—Global Impacts of Limited Nuclear War on Agriculture, Food Supplies, and Human Nutrition, said the new evidence that even the relatively small nuclear arsenals of countries such as India and Pakistan could cause long lasting, global damage to the Earth’s ecosystems “requires a fundamental change in our thinking about nuclear weapons.”
Working with data produced by scientists who have studied the climate effects of a hypothetical nuclear war between India and Pakistan, Dr. Helfand and a team of experts in agriculture and nutrition determined that plunging temperatures and reduced precipitation in critical farming regions, caused by soot and smoke lofted into the atmosphere by multiple nuclear explosions, would interfere with crop production and affect food availability and prices worldwide.
The research was funded by a grant from the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The findings and the methodology on which the study is based will be published in a forthcoming issue of the peer-reviewed journal Climatic Change.
Among the specific findings:
- Corn production in the US would decline by an average of 10% for an entire decade, with the most severe decline (20%) in year 5. Soybean production would decline by about 7%, with the most severe loss, more than 20%, in year 5.
- There would be a significant decline in middle season rice production in China. During the first 4 years, rice production would decline by an average of 21%; over the next 6 years the decline would average 10%.
- Increases in food prices would make food inaccessible to hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest. Even if agricultural markets continued to function normally, 215 million people would be added to the rolls of the malnourished over the course of a decade.
- Significant agricultural shortfalls over an extended period would almost certainly lead to panic and hoarding on an international scale, further reducing accessible food.
- The 925 million people in the world who are already chronically malnourished (with a baseline consumption of 1,750 calories or less per day), would be put at risk by a 10% decline in their food consumption.
While the IPPNW report calls for further research into the effects on additional crops in additional agricultural regions, Dr. Helfand said this preliminary study “raises a giant red flag” about the danger of nuclear weapons and the urgency of their elimination.
“The death of one billion people over a decade would be a disaster unprecedented in human history,” he said. “It would not cause the extinction of the human race, but it would bring an end to modern civilization as we know it. “The danger identified in this report requires a fundamental change in our thinking about nuclear weapons. We must now recognize that it is not just the arsenals of the nuclear super powers that threaten all humanity. Even the smaller arsenals of emerging nuclear powers like India and Pakistan pose a global threat.”
Noting, however, that even one US Trident submarine has the ability to destroy 100 cities and create a global famine, Dr. Helfand said “Even the most ambitious current proposals for nuclear arms reductions would leave the US and Russia with many times the nuclear fire power needed to create a global disaster on the scale described in this study.”
Former Soviet president and founding chairman of Green Cross International, Mikhail Gorbachev, who received an advance briefing on the findings, said he is “convinced that nuclear weapons must be abolished.
Download the full Nuclear Famine Report:↓ Nuclear Famine Report
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