GCRI Hosts Discussion Of Nuclear War

On Thursday 27 September 2012, GCRI hosted the first of what looks to be an ongoing series of discussions among a group of nuclear war scholars. The discussion covered several nuclear war topics, including an extended discussion of nuclear winter.

Meeting participants included Martin Hellman of Stanford, James Scouras of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, and Seth Baum, Tony Barrett, Jacob Haqq-Misra, and Tim Maher, all of GCRI.

The group considered an observation that the United States government has not been as active as it could in preparing for the possibility of nuclear winter. (See e.g. A Nuclear Winter’s Tale: Science and Politics in the 1980s by Lawrence Badash, reviewed here by Sean Malloy.) Several hypothesis were considered to explain why the U.S. isn’t more active:

• Nuclear winter is fundamentally about a change in climate. But climate change is a politically sensitive topic, which could lead government officials to avoid nuclear winter. On the other hand, many government agencies actively consider climate change, including the military.

• Considering nuclear winter requires accepting the possibility that deterrence might fail. But the U.S. may be so heavily invested in the success of its deterrence regime that it is reluctant to accept the possibility of failure.

• Nuclear winter is simply a dark, gloomy topic. Many people do not like thinking about such things. On the other hand, nuclear war is also gloomy, and that gets a lot of attention.

We welcome comments and suggestions on these topics. Comments will be considered in future meetings of the nuclear war discussion group.

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Seth Baum is Executive Director of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute.
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