Nuclear war would cause a global famine and kill billions: Even a nuclear conflict between new nuclear states would decimate crop production and result in widespread starvation

More than 5 billion people would die of hunger following a full-scale nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia, according to a global study led by Rutgers climate scientists that estimates post-conflict crop production.

“The data tell us one thing: We must prevent a nuclear war from ever happening,” said Alan Robock, a Distinguished Professor of climate science in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers Universityand co-author of the study. Lili Xia, an assistant research professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers,is lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Food.

Building on past research, Xia, Robock and their colleagues worked to calculate how much Sun-blocking soot would enter the atmosphere from firestorms that would be ignited by the detonation of nuclear weapons. Researchers calculated soot dispersal from six war scenarios — five smaller India-Pakistan wars and a large U.S.-Russia war — based on the size of each country’s nuclear arsenal.

These data then were entered into the Community Earth System Model, a climate forecasting tool supported by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The NCAR Community Land Model made it possible to estimate productivity of major crops (maize, rice, spring wheat and soybean) on a country-by-country basis. The researchers also examined projected changes to livestock pasture and in global marine fisheries.

Under even the smallest nuclear scenario, a localized war between India and Pakistan, global average caloric production decreased 7 percent within five years of the conflict. In the largest war scenario tested — a full-scale U.S.-Russia nuclear conflict — global average caloric production decreased by about 90 percent three to four years after the fighting.

Crop declines would be the most severe in the mid-high latitude nations, including major exporting countries such as Russia and the U.S., which could trigger export restrictions and cause severe disruptions in import-dependent countries in Africa and the Middle East.

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