It probably says something about the state of the world that researchers are seriously studying the possible effects of nuclear war. A new analysis published in the journal Nature Food focuses not on the immediate effects of a nuclear exchange but on the way it could affect global food supplies. The news, unfortunately, is not good. Almost any nuclear conflict is likely to cause widespread famine.
We have already seen how even a managed crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic or the Russia-Ukraine war can affect food supplies all over the world, but a nuclear war would add another major stressor: crop failure. Scientists around the world have long warned of warming global temperatures, but a nuclear conflict could cause the opposite problem. The atomic firestorms vaporizing cities would release huge clouds of soot into the air, and these particulates would circulate in the atmosphere, where they reflect sunlight and cause temperatures to plummet.
Unlike climate change, this would not be a gradual process. Depending on how much soot is launched into the atmosphere, global temperatures could drop between one and 16 degrees Celsius, say the researchers. Scientists are currently worried that just a few degrees of warming could catastrophically alter the globe. A change on the scale cited in the study could result in widespread crop failures.
The team from Rutgers University devised models to determine how the climate would change with various nuclear war scenarios. The worst case, an all-out conflict between the US and Russia, would release 150 million tonnes of soot. The haze could persist for years, putting up to five billion people on the verge of starvation. A smaller conflict between India and Pakistan would loft between five million and 47 million tonnes of soot into the atmosphere. This would have a lesser but still catastrophic effect on food supplies that leave two billion starving in the aftermath.
If you’re looking for a place to hole up in the event of nuclear war, the researchers suggest Australia. The nations most affected by nuclear detonations would be those in northern latitudes with shorter growing seasons. Australia could apparently grow more wheat with cooler global temperatures, and its isolation makes it less likely to be drawn into conflicts over resources. The research doesn’t address the possibility of a Mad Max scenario down under, but maybe you should work on your offensive driving just to be safe.