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A Nuclear Winter?

 
 
Heywood
 
Reply Sun 28 Mar, 2004 03:22 pm
I didn't know what other forum to put this in, so I figured the collective knowledge here would do nicely...

What if there was a nuclear winter?

I mean, we've opened the pandoras box on the power of nuclear weapons. What if everything went to crap and there was a nuclear war?

What do you think would happen?

Would the human race be able to survive somehow? Would there be any safe animals to eat? I'm sure there must be some place safe where people would be able to live, or would it be ultimately useless? Do you think following something like that, civilization would become something like tribes who just take care of their own region? Or do you think people would still obey "law"...in whatever form it might be in at that point?

I know, its a morbid topic, but with how adaptable humans are, and the potential we have for making the best of any situation, its a facinating concept.
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neil
 
  1  
Reply Sun 28 Mar, 2004 06:45 pm
The consensus seems to be that the dust would clear enough for shade tolerant plants to grow (but there is little reserve of shade tolerant seed) about a month after a massive nuclear exchange. Same for a very large asteroid strike. Unless it occurred close to the equator only one hemisphere would be seriously dusted. Food would be available for those who were well diversified, but millions of poor people would starve to death, and billons would be mal nourished for up to two years. There would be lots of other problems,so civilization might take centuries to recover. Comparatively few people would behave honorably, compassionately, and ethically in my opinion, so unnecessary deaths might exceed the initial deaths. Generally industry and government have very little reserve, and might not produce much reserve even with a weeks advance warning. If you have a good plan, and can convince the rich and powerful, a billion lives may be in your hands, as several other mechanisms could cause a disaster besides nuclear and asteroid hit. Neil
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rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Sun 28 Mar, 2004 06:46 pm
71,000 years ago, Mt. Toba erupted and almost wiped out the human race (see: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/166869.stm for more detail).

I would guess that the magnitude of the damage done by a nuclear winter would depend on how long it lasted.

But at the very least, it seems likely that human civilization as we know it would cease to exist. Even if a few enclaves of people survived in protected enclosures, there would be no civilized world left to return to. Nuclear/Volcanic winters undercut biospheres at their root, knocking out the ability of plants to photosynthesize and killing them, and once they go, all the animals start to go as well.

If the situation lasted a year, humans would probably survive, but our civilization would not. If the situation lasted a hundred years, we might not make it at all. And it could last much much longer than that, so... let's just not go there Smile
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Heywood
 
  1  
Reply Sun 28 Mar, 2004 07:38 pm
Amazing link, Ros. Thanks.

I figured the most important part of the entire equation was whether the plants would survive. Once they're out of the picture, we'd be royally screwed, most likely.

And with the way people are so used to instant communication, the shock of the removal of electricity (if it was a nuclear attack, most likely powerstations would be targets) would just make everyone go apesh*t. Lets just hope our world leaders are smart enough to realize the potential for destruction and respect it.

Freaky.
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John Garvey
 
  1  
Reply Sun 28 Mar, 2004 08:18 pm
Nuclear Winter
Your post is an incentive to read again the book by Jonathan Schell, "The Fate of the Earth" where it first appeared in the New Yorker magazine in 1982. The first section is entitled "A Republic of Insects and Grass".

Two short quotes from that section:

"The right vantage point from which to view a (nuclear) holocaust is that of a corpse, but from that vantage point, of course, there is nothing to report."

"In trying to describe possible consequences of a nuclear holocaust, I have mentioned the limitless complexity of its effects on human society and on the ecosphere--a complexity that sometimes seems to be as great as that of life itself. But if these effects should lead to human extinction, then all the complexity will give way to the utmost simplicity--the simplicity of nothingness. We--the human race--shall cease to be."
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rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Sun 28 Mar, 2004 10:36 pm
Heywood wrote:
And with the way people are so used to instant communication, the shock of the removal of electricity (if it was a nuclear attack, most likely powerstations would be targets) would just make everyone go apesh*t.


The winter in New England was particularly harsh this year, with several weeks back in January falling well below 0 degrees F. At minus -10 F it's fairly hard to keep a home heated even with the electricity on, and exposure to those temperatures for long can be deadly. During the depth of that freeze, I was remembering the NorthEast Blackout which occurred only six months earlier (which took out the entire North East United States, except for New England), and was thinking how lucky we were that the blackout happened during the summer, when electricity is a mere convenience, rather than the a fundamental source of survival during harsh winters.

If a similar blackout had occurred during those incredibly cold January weeks, I'm not sure how many people would have survived. Shelters (those with generators) would have been overwhelmed, and families with fireplace might have had to host dozens of neighbors for days.

Our society is remarkably dependent on existing technical systems. We were lucky this time that the blackout happened in a "convenient" season. But it should serve as a warning. I hope others besides myself have noticed.

Best Regards,
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rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Sun 28 Mar, 2004 10:41 pm
Heywood wrote:
I figured the most important part of the entire equation was whether the plants would survive. Once they're out of the picture, we'd be royally screwed, most likely.


Correct. The plants are the key, and the Sun is the source. If Sunlight were to be blocked for long enough, then our worries about power grids would become insignificant.
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Terry
 
  1  
Reply Mon 29 Mar, 2004 12:12 am
Yes, the human race would survive although in reduced numbers. We have great advantages over the people 70,000 years ago including language, science and technology. If they could survive thousand of years of ice ages without electricity and central heating, we certainly can.

I do not think that civilization would collapse. Hopefully the survivors would work together to get through the years of winter. A strong government that could take charge, control looting, and implement a long-term survival plan would be needed.

Large animals dependent on plants would die, but smaller ones such as mice and city rats could survive for years by scrounging. I don't know how long the food chain in the ocean would last.

Even if all living plants died, their seeds would survive and germinate as soon as conditions were favorable. Many seeds are viable for decades or longer. And I would be willing to bet that thistles (the bane of my garden) would be spring up again from its roots.
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g day
 
  1  
Reply Mon 29 Mar, 2004 06:52 am
The radioactive dust goes everywhere and polutes everything and just spreads out - you can't contain it.

Visit this link and see the eerie silence a nuclear holocast brings. Magnify the picture hear several million fold to get an idea of what our prospects would be.

http://xpda.com/junkmail/junk153/chernobyl/

Chernobyl 17 years on, and that was a small reactor that only shut down 200 mile radius.
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neil
 
  1  
Reply Mon 29 Mar, 2004 07:28 am
I have wood stove for auxiliary heating. It could serve as primary heat, even at the rare 30 degrees f we get here in NE Florida. The years supply of fire wood (cluttering our small yard) might not last a week with a hot fire 24/7, especially with freezing neighbors stealing my reserve of fire wood. Us Floridians don't tolerate even cool weather well. We are acclimatized. Neil
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rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Mon 29 Mar, 2004 01:27 pm
Terry wrote:
Yes, the human race would survive although in reduced numbers. We have great advantages over the people 70,000 years ago including language, science and technology. If they could survive thousand of years of ice ages without electricity and central heating, we certainly can.


Hi Terry,

I question whether we are any more capable of surving such conditions than our ancestors from 70,000 years ago. While it's true that we have language and knowledge, much of that could be eroded in only a single generation.

Evolutionarily speaking, we are not different than the people of 70,000 years ago. We are not inherently more intelligent. We simply have generations of knowledge spread throughout the population and written references (which might be lost).

Again, it all depends on how long it lasts, and how severe the darkening is. I agree that we would probably survive a few years, though I suspect that out civilization would be forever changed. But if a nuclear winter were to last for a hundred years (along with the radiation), I'm not sure anything larger than a rat would make it.
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Brandon9000
 
  1  
Reply Mon 29 Mar, 2004 01:58 pm
The likelihood of this occurring is now less than it once was.

A nuclear winter would be brought about by a massive nuclear exchange. This was the likely scenario with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but they don't exist anymore. Maybe we'll fight a major nuclear war with China, but it doesn't seem to be on the horizon. Today, the more likely scenario is a small number of nukes smuggled into the target country and detonated, e.g. the US by terrorists. If the perpetrator could be identified, and if the perpetrator had a return address to direct retaliation to, the retaliation would likely consist of a similar small number of missiles. For instance, one day nukes go off in NY and Washington, DC. The U.S. identifies the perpetrator as country X and retaliates with a handful of nuclear bombs. From everything I've heard, nuclear detonations on this scale are insufficient to bring about the nuclear winter effect.
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Heywood
 
  1  
Reply Mon 29 Mar, 2004 06:40 pm
Good point, Brandon.

I was thinking along the lines of if all the sh*t hit the fan at the same time and everyone loosed their nukes at each other.

Also, they were able to rebuild Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I thought that radiation stayed around for thousands of years?

How is it that people are able to live their without massive numbers of cancer victims?
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sanqi
 
  1  
Reply Tue 30 Mar, 2004 06:54 am
Has anybody read this article?

http://www.sepp.org/NewSEPP/GW-Aliens-Crichton.html

The meat of the article

"What happened to Nuclear Winter? As the media glare faded, its robust scenario appeared less persuasive; John Maddox, editor of Nature, repeatedly criticized its claims; within a year, Stephen Schneider, one of the leading figures in the climate model, began to speak of "nuclear autumn." It just didn't have the same ring."
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