Old threats never die, they fade away from our minds: nuclear winter

In 1983, scientists published a paper on nuclear winter. This boosted the death toll of all-out nuclear war from ‘only’ 200-500 million to the very real possibility of the complete extinction of the human race*. But some argued the report was alarmist, and there did seem to be some issues with the assumptions. So – a military phenomena that might cause megadeaths, possibly true but requiring further study, and a huge research defense budget that could be used to look into this critical phenomena and that was already spending millions on all aspects of nuclear weapons – can you guess what happened next?

Correct – the issue was ignored for decades. For over twenty years, there were but a tiny handful of papers on the most likely way we could end our own existence, and a vague and persistent sense that nuclear winter had been ‘disproved’. But in 2007, we finally had a proper followup – with the help of modern computers, better models and better observations, what can we now say? Well, that nuclear winter is still a major threat; the initial fear was right. Their most likely scenario was:

A global average surface cooling of –7°C to –8°C persists for years, and after a decade the cooling is still –4°C […]. Considering that the global average cooling at the depth of the last ice age 18,000 yr ago was about –5°C, this would be a climate change unprecedented in speed and amplitude in the history of the human race. The temperature changes are largest over land […] Cooling of more than –20°C occurs over large areas of North America and of more than –30°C over much of Eurasia, including all agricultural regions.

Also, precipitation would be cut in half and we’d lose most of the ozone layer. But there was a more worrying development: it also seems that a small-scale nuclear war could generate its own mini nuclear winter.

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ASSASSINATING CITIZENS: How not to fight terror

By Brian Earp

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In this ‘hour’ of danger: Civil liberties and the eternal threat of terror

NBC’s Pete Williams reports:

The U.S. government is legally justified in killing its own citizens overseas if they are involved in plotting terror attacks against America, Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday.

“In this hour of danger, we simply cannot afford to wait until deadly plans are carried out, and we will not,” he said in remarks prepared for a speech at Northwestern University’s law school in Chicago.

Pay attention to Mr. Holder’s choice of words here. This hour of danger? Excuse me: an “hour” is a bounded stretch of time – and not very long. But terrorism is a threat with no border – it has existed always, and will continue indefinitely. The “war on terror” cannot be won: you can kill a terrorist, sure, but you cannot eliminate a tactic. So let us not talk about an “hour.” This sort of speech is insidious. We all know that an hour takes sixty minutes and then it’s finished. But terrorism will present a “danger” forever.

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