This Is What Nuclear War Would Mean for Life on Earth

We haven’t been this close to nuclear war in decades. So while you’re brushing up on how to duck and cover, why not also brush up on how a few nukes could turn the planet into a wasteland of suffering for humans, and the rest of life on Earth?


There are roughly 15,000 nuclear bombs strewn across the world. The U.S. and Russia control the vast majority, which is what makes President Trump’s di...uh, button-comparing contest with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un so worrisome. That’s to say nothing of the administration considering a first strike on North Korea, an act which would “hopefully” not start a nuclear war.

Hopefully indeed. Research shows that even a relatively small nuclear war involving 50 nuclear weapons would toss 11 billions lbs. of soot into the stratosphere. That would set off a major chain reaction leading to widespread human suffering. The soot would reflect sunlight back into space, cooling the planet. Commonly referred to as nuclear winter, this global cooling would cause widespread crop failure and attendant famine for years before the soot finally falls out.


Up the number of nuclear weapons to around 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs, and society would cease to exist. The survivors of such a catastrophic event would face a horrific-sounding nuclear famine. That’s according to a 2013 report, which states that “the primary mechanisms for human fatalities would likely not be from blast effects, not from thermal radiation burns, and not from ionizing radiation, but, rather, from mass starvation.”

The report shows that 2.3 billion people would face starvation, and ecosystems around the world would wither and die. In other words, that’d be it. No more dick jokes. No more worrying about climate change. No more nothing.

That’s why what journalist Jonathan Schell wrote about nuclear holocaust in The New Yorker in 1982 still rings as true today as ever:

“To employ a mathematical analogy, we can say that although the risk of extinction may be fractional, the stake is, humanly speaking, infinite, and a fraction of infinity is still infinity. In other words, once we learn that a holocaust might lead to extinction we have no right to gamble, because if we lose, the game will be over, and neither we nor anyone else will ever get a another chance.”


Managing editor, Earther

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C.M. Allen

If this were to spill over into a global conflict, I’d be worried. But as of right now, NK has no meaningful military support or allies, and NK is the only one trying to make waves. But they’re more like tiny ripples. NK’s weapons technology is hopelessly antiquated by even the most generous comparisons to modern military hardware. This is just NK posturing, which is not unlike a toddler competing in a Mr. Universe Contest — there’s simply no comparison. This is a battle MORE unevenly matched than either Gulf Wars. And the US military steamrolled the Iraqi forces so badly that it’s a historical joke.

So, really, I don’t get why people are so concerned about any of this. We’ve got more pressing and immediate threats right in our own backyards (sometimes, quite literally) having a sociopathic, narcissistic, borderline-retarded, geriatric, senile president.