The carbon footprint of nuclear war

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Just when you might have thought it was ethically sound to unleash a nuclear attack on a nearby city, along comes a pesky scientist and points out that atomic warfare is bad for the climate. According to a new paper in the journal Energy & Environmental Science, even a very limited nuclear exchange, using just a thousandth of the weaponry of a full-scale nuclear war, would cause up to 690m tonnes of CO2 to enter the atmosphere – more than UK’s annual total.

The upside (kind of) is that the conflict would also generate as much as 313m tonnes of soot. This would stop a great deal of sunlight reaching the earth, creating a significant regional cooling effect in the short and medium terms – just like when a major volcano erupts. Ultimately, though, the CO2 would win out and crank up global temperatures an extra few notches.

The paper’s author, Mark Z Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, calculated the emissions of such a conflict by totting up the burn rate and carbon content of the fabric of our cities. “Materials have the following carbon contents: plastics, 38–92%; tyres and other rubbers, 59–91%; synthetic fibres, 63–86%; woody biomass, 41–45%; charcoal, 71%; asphalt, 80%; steel, 0.05–2%. We approximate roughly the carbon content of all combustible material in a city as 40–60%.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2009/jan/02/nuclear-war-emissions

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