I've studied nuclear war for 35 years -- you should be worried. | Brian Toon | TEDxMileHighMay 29, 2021
yearsago, a mountain-sized asteroid traveling 10 times faster than an assault rifle bullet smashed into the shallow seas that covered what is now the Peninsula. from Yucatan in Mexico. The immense energy of that impact hurled rocks as far north as Canada and vaporized the asteroid, part of Mexico and part of the shallow sea. Well, this fireball of vaporized rock and water rose high above Earth's atmosphere and spread across the entire planet. As it cooled, sand-sized blobs of molten rock solidified into an immense swarm of shooting stars. Shooting stars re-entered Earth's atmosphere and heated the upper atmosphere to a thousand degrees Fahrenheit.
Standing on the ground, the dinosaurs watched the blue sky turn to a sheet of red-hot lava. Science artist David Hardy imagines the fate of the dinosaurs in this painting. They were roasted to death under glowing skies. The energy of heaven is like that of the glow rod of an electric furnace. If you're dying to experience what the dinosaurs did when they died, fire up your oven and hop on. (Laughter) The glowing skies set everything on fire. Large clouds of smoke billowed into the upper atmosphere and blocked the sun from reaching the ground. It turned cold and dark.
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i ve studied nuclear war for 35 years you should be worried brian toon tedxmilehigh...
Photosynthesis stopped, and plants and animals, in the ocean or on land, starved or froze to death. The dinosaurs did not do anything wrong to cause their death. It was just fate that an asteroid hit earth and killed 70% of the species we know of on the planet. Unfortunately, in our lifetimes, we can experience the same fate as the dinosaurs. But I'm not talking about another asteroid collision, I'm talking about a
nuclearwar would have many of the same phenomena that the dinosaurs experienced. But this time it would absolutely be our fault. Fortunately, there are things we can do to prevent this from happening.
If you live in a city that has a military base, there is a missile targeting you right now. If you live in a city that has a major industry, major university, major airport, oil refinery, or oil storage facility, there's a hydrogen bomb headed your way right now. We live in a dangerous era. There are 15,000 nuclear weapons on the planet. And the 9 nuclear weapon states are in conflict with each other. United States and North Korea, NATO and Russia, India and Pakistan. We are just one misunderstanding, one mistake, or one fanatical politician away from a nuclear conflict. In World War II, fleets of hundreds or even a thousand aircraft were used to bomb a single city.
But with the invention of the atomic bomb, all that was needed was an airplane and a bomb. The Enola Gay carried an atomic bomb with the power of 15,000 tons of TNT. And when he dropped that bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, a hundred thousand people died. Over time, even more powerful bombs were built. Hydrogen bombs. This plane from the 1960s was carrying five hydrogen bombs, the red and white stuff in there, and it had the power of 500 Hiroshima bombs. And, of course, the United States and Russia do not only use airplanes. They have intercontinental ballistic missiles with hydrogen bombs and they have nuclear missile submarines.
A single Trident missile submarine can carry one hundred hydrogen bombs with the explosive power of 1,000 Hiroshima bombs. Knowing the power of the bombs and their targets, we can understand the destruction and loss of life that could occur if they were ever used. Imagine, for example, that the United States attacks Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, with the smallest bomb carried on a Trident missile submarine. 500,000 people - about the population of Sacramento or Baltimore - would die. Nuclear weapons kill people in four different ways. In this orange circle, there is a shock wave so powerful that it topples concrete buildings and kills everyone within that area.
In the red circle, there is radiation being released from the atomic bomb as it fissions. The radiation would kill 50 to 90% of North Koreans in the coming weeks. In this green circle, the shock wave continues with enough power to bring down residential buildings. And in this yellow circle, six miles in diameter, is a burst of light so bright that if your skin were exposed, you would get third-degree burns, which can be fatal, and flammable things like leaves, newspapers, and your clothing would burn. burst into flames And of course, if we attack North Korea, they are likely to strike back.
If they use the same size of gun that we use, and they've already tried one like this, they could kill 150,000 people in this 6-mile diameter circle in Denver. And these scary scenarios I'm talking about are only if each side uses a nuclear weapon. But Russia and the United States each have 4,000 strategic nuclear weapons. That is enough to attack every city with more than 100,000 people, in every country, with 10 atomic bombs. In such a war, 400 million people would probably die on the planet, in China, Russia, Europe and the United States. But wait, that's not all. (Laughter) I just talked about the damage near ground zero.
That's all the military considers in their war plans. But there will be side effects. Remember the dinosaurs: it was the burning forests that killed three-quarters of the species we know of on the planet. And the same would happen after a nuclear war; the cities would catch fire and burn. It is this damage, the damage that the military does not even consider, the damage that is considered an accident, that could destroy human civilization. Even a war between India and Pakistan, two of the smallest nuclear powers, with only a few hundred weapons the size of the Hiroshima bomb.
We could die as unintended consequences that the Indian and Pakistani generals didn't even think of. My colleagues Luke Oman and Alan Robock calculated the spread of smoke after a war between India and Pakistan. It only takes about two weeks for the smoke to cover the entire Earth. And it would rise to altitudes between 20 and 50 miles above the surface. At those altitudes, it never rains. The smoke would linger there for
years. This farmer, perhaps in Europe or the United States, but many thousands of miles from Pakistan and India, looks up at the smoky sky above him and the crops that have died in his field from lack of light and low temperatures. .
It is estimated that in a war between India and Pakistan, we would lose 10-40% of corn, wheat and rice yields for years due to bad weather. The entire world only has enough food to feed the population for 60 days, unless agriculture produces more food. Ira Helfand, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning member of Physicians International for the Prevention of Nuclear War, has estimated that between one and two billion people would starve to death after a war between India and Pakistan. And after a full-scale nuclear war, temperatures would drop below ice age conditions. We would be in a nuclear winter.
No crops would grow. It is estimated that 90% of the planet's population would starve and civilization would be destroyed. And no one would be safe. Neither those from countries without nuclear weapons, nor those from countries that did not participate in wars, nor those on the other side of the planet from where the explosions occurred. No one would be safe. I bet you're not getting a warm fuzzy feeling from this talk. (Laughter) But we don't have to keep going as we have, walking towards disaster. We can do things to stop nuclear war and prevent global hunger and the end of human civilization.
In the 1980s, politicians recognized the dangers of nuclear conflict and did things about it. Today, politicians do not seem to understand the dangers of these wars. And the younger generations hardly think about the nuclear conflict. We baby boomers had this instilled in us. In elementary school, we were taught "duck and cover" exercises and how to get under our desk in a desperate attempt to avoid a nuclear explosion. (Laughter) In high school, our mothers told us, "You can't drink your milk anymore, because the 500 atmospheric nuclear weapons test had poisoned the earth with radiation. And popular culture was dominated by radioactive mutants, like Godzilla, who it's a Japanese nightmare of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.In the 1980s, I worked with Richard Turco, Carl Sagan, a Russian scientist, and others to tell Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan about the dangers of nuclear war.We told you nuclear war it would cause a nuclear winter that could end civilization as we know it.
And they listened. (Applause) Ronald Reagan said, "Many renowned scientists tell us that such a war could end with no victory for anyone because we would end the earth as we know it. . And Mikhail Gorbachev said: "The models made by Russian and American scientists showed that a nuclear war would result in a nuclear winter that would be extremely destructive for all life on earth; the knowledge of that was a great encouragement for us, for people honorary". and morality, to act in that situation. In September 2017, the United Nations passed a resolution banning nuclear weapons such as land mines, chemical and biological weapons have been banned.
Unfortunately, the nuclear weapon states want to ignore that ban and just carry on as they have been. It's up to us to wake them up before they sleepwalk into a nuclear disaster. what can you do about it? Talk to your political representatives. Tell them that you would like the Department of Defense to inform us about what happens after a nuclear war. They did this in the 1980s. How many people would die in Korea if we nuke them? How many people would die in Russia, China, South Korea, and Japan, the countries that surround North Korea? What will happen if, like every other war we've fought, it doesn't go as planned and expands beyond North Korea?
And you need to ask your politicians to stop "jumping in with warnings." In launch with warning, the US president can launch nuclear-armed missiles in a matter of minutes without consulting anyone, using the nuclear soccer ball, which a military officer carries wherever the president goes. In 1968, the United States and 190 other countries signed the treaty to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. In that treaty, we promised to reduce our nuclear arsenals to zero as soon as we could. We have to keep that promise. All our lives may depend on it. (Applause) Thank you.
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