A full-scale war between the US and Russia would wipe out more than half of humanity, according to a study.
Five billion people will die in a modern nuclear war, followed by a global famine caused by soot blocking sunlight in the atmosphere, which will far exceed the losses caused by deadly explosions.
A full-scale war between the US and Russia would wipe out more than half of humanity, according to a study published in the journal Nature Food.
According to a statement accompanying the study, the Rutgers University team arrived at that death toll by estimating how much global crop yields would be affected as drifting clouds block sunlight that feeds plants that people feed on.
First, the researchers estimated the amount of ash that would be thrown out by nuclear wars of various sizes when major cities in India, Pakistan, the United States or Russia burned down. They then uploaded this to a US government-sponsored climate forecasting tool to track how that ash would travel around the globe, as well as where and how much it would affect food production.
In the event of a nuclear war between the US and Russia, the model showed that the planet’s winds would lift swirling clouds of smoke and particulate matter into the sky over major food exporters such as the US, China, Germany and the UK.
Falling yields in these countries will set off a cascade of escalating consequences that will drag the rest of the world into crisis. As crops fall, so does food exports, spreading famine across Africa and the Middle East, which depend on food imports for survival.
In this scenario, three-quarters of the people on Earth will starve within two years of the missiles stopping—and that will be just the beginning.
Three to four years after the nuclear exchange, global crop, animal and fish yields would have fallen by 90 percent, further spreading famine, destruction and collapse, and setting off other feedback loops.
According to co-author Lily Xia of Rutgers, many details about the extent to which crops would suffer from such a swap remain unclear.
“For example, the ozone layer will be destroyed by the heating of the stratosphere, which will lead to increased ultraviolet radiation on the surface, and we need to understand how this will affect food supplies,” Xia added.
Such a war would have to reach the scale of a full-scale exchange between the superpowers in order to spread hunger far beyond the explosion zone.
Even during the most limited nuclear war the team has explored — a local exchange of nuclear strikes between India and Pakistan — global food production would drop by 7 percent due to soot and ash from explosions entering the atmosphere.
This number is much less than the number of crop failures obtained by the model for the US and Russia case study. But it’s also more than any disruption to global food stocks since the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization began tracking them.
Such destruction will hit a world that is already facing the prospect of falling crop yields due to climate change.
Recall, scientists also told what would happen if Russia starts a nuclear war.