Is Accidental Nuclear Extinction Possible?

The idea that the human race is a species capable of destroying itself via nuclear weapons has been a heavy burden each person on the planet has carried for some time.  But reports of nuclear extinction being a very possible accident may have been over exaggerated for political reasons.  As this topic is highly political and controversial, the data involved is wide open many suggest for falsification.  But how serious is the threat that mankind would be entirely wiped out by a nuclear war?  And how likely is such a war?

The idea of massive mushroom clouds rolling up across cities throughout the world has got to be one of the most iconic and terrifying images left over from the Cold War.  During this period citizens from nuclear power countries were informed of the possibilities of an unfortunate Armageddon that would result in the absolute and utter extinction of all life on this planet.  Books, such as On the Beach were written outlining the horrifying after effects of such a war.  The books, while possibly some of the most bleak and terrifying on the subject may actually be a bit off on their predictions on nuclear winter according to research conducted by scientists around the world.  In the book Nuclear War Survival Skills, Cresson Kearney outlined many of the facts and myths about nuclear devastation.  In fact, despite the popular interpretation of nuclear war there is very real evidence to suggest that such an event would not in effect end human life, or even come close to it.

Take the statement suggesting that the Earth possesses enough nuclear weapons to devastate and destroy the entire human race.  This assessment, while true is only accurate due to an unlikely technicality.  If all of the people in the world were to suddenly migrate to very few central points across the globe and an airburst were detonated above them, and these crowds did not seek shelter, the possibility of nuclear war creating an extinction level event are very possible.  But even with the vast communicative powers of today’s media no such mass migration has ever taken place.  This also assumes that the goal of such a war would be in effect to destroy civilian population centers as well as military targets.  Such a scenario is equally unlikely even in such nations that have been labeled dangerous.  Unfortunately, with the Dead Hand system and the Soviet Union’s Anthrax Doomsday project during the cold war, we cannot say in full confidence that no nation has ever proposed a defense so powerful it could endanger the lives of most people in the world.

In the end, the idea of nuclear winter was one of the most compelling incentives for Gorbachev and others to create a lasting peace with nuclear armed nations.  However, Starley L Thompson and many researchers at Boulder Colorado believe there may be major holes in the Nuclear Winter theory.

On the other hand, this idea has been used as a general defense strategy and alongside the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction has kept the planet from engaging in a thermonuclear conflict.  The propaganda effects are so useful, so why question them?  Isn’t it safer to live simply in a world where nuclear war is strictly off limits thanks to a self propagating lie?  Why call it into question?

Mutually assured destruction, and mutually assured ignorance are two entirely different principles.  The former is an effective strategy for defense, and the latter is a byproduct of the first.  Perhaps our nation and indeed the world should engage in a serious and sober discussion about matters of nuclear concern and defense so we can assure a level of sanity from survivors.  And in the seemingly unlikely case of a nuclear war, effective education on the matter could assure survivors of the conflict work hard to rebuild immediately rather than simply giving up.  Millions could be saved not only from the initial attacks, but from the aftermath as well.

And there is one more point to make that may bear mentioning.  While the idea of nuclear winter, world ending fallout clouds, and others may have worked during the Cold War, the state of affairs on Earth have demonstrated that we are still depending on outmoded and outdated defenses to ensure nuclear war does not take place on a smaller scale.  There is essentially no boogeyman to scare smaller nations from waging catastrophic wars utilizing a limited nuclear arsenal on one another or on unarmed nations aside from further conflict.  And once the launching of nuclear ICBMs is demonstrated to solve problems on the small scale, do we not increase our risk on a larger scale?