A team of researchers led by Rutgers University has calculated how much sun-blocking soot would enter the atmosphere from firestorms that would be ignited by the detonation of nuclear weapons in six nuclear war scenarios, ranging from a small India-Pakistan conflict to a massive U.S.- Russia war, based on each country’s nuclear arsenal.
Using this data, the experts estimated productivity of major crops, such as maize, rice, soybean, or spring wheat on a country-by-country basis, as well as projected changes in livestock pastures and global marine fisheries. The analysis revealed that, following a full-scale nuclear war between U.S. and Russia, over five billion people would die of hunger.
The scientists discovered that, under even the smallest nuclear scenario (a localized war between India and Pakistan), the global average caloric production would decrease by seven percent within five years of the conflict. In the largest war scenario tested (a massive U.S. – Russia nuclear conflict), this percentage would spike to 90 in just three or four years after the war. Crop declines would be most severe in mid-high latitude nations, triggering export restrictions and causing severe disruptions in import-dependent nations in the Middle East and Africa, ultimately leading to a catastrophic disruption of global food markets.
The scientists considered whether using crops generally fed to livestock as human food or reducing food waste would offset these devastating losses in a war’s immediate aftermath, but the savings remain minimal under the large injection scenarios.
“Future work will bring even more granularity to the crop models,” said study lead author Lili Xia, an assistant professor of Environmental Science at Rutgers University. “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.”
“If nuclear weapons exist, they can be used, and the world has come close to nuclear war several times,” added study senior author Alan Robock, a distinguished professor of Climate Science at the same university. “Banning nuclear weapons is the only long-term solution. The five-year-old UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has been ratified by 66 nations, but none of the nine nuclear states. Our work makes clear that it is time for those nine states to listen to science and the rest of the world and sign this treaty,” he concluded.
The study is published in the journal Nature Food.