Courtesy Reuters

Nuclear War and Climatic Catastrophe: Some Policy Implications

It is not even impossible to imagine that the effects of an atomic war fought with greatly perfected weapons and pushed by the utmost determination will endanger the survival of man.

Edward Teller

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, February 1947

The extreme danger to mankind inherent in the proposal by [Edward Teller and others to develop thermonuclear weapons] wholly outweighs any military advantage.

J. Robert Oppenheimer, et al.

Report of the General Advisory Committee, AEC

October 1949

The fact that no limits exist to the destructiveness of this weapon makes its very existence and the knowledge of its construction a danger to humanity. . . . It is . . . an evil thing.

Enrico Fermi and I. I. Rabi

Addendum, ibid.

A very large nuclear war would be a calamity of indescribable proportions and absolutely unpredictable consequences, with the uncertainties tending toward the worse. . . . All-out nuclear war would mean the destruction of contemporary civilization, throw man back centuries, cause the deaths of hundreds of millions or billions of people, and, with a certain degree of probability, would cause man to be destroyed as a biological species . . .

Andrei Sakharov

Foreign Affairs, Summer 1983

Apocalyptic predictions require, to be taken seriously, higher standards of evidence than do assertions on other matters where the stakes are not as great. Since the immediate effects of even a single thermonuclear weapon explosion are so devastating, it is natural to assume-even without considering detailed mechanisms-that the more or less simultaneous explosion of ten thousand such weapons all over the Northern Hemisphere might have unpredictable and catastrophic consequences.

And yet, while it is widely accepted that a full nuclear war might mean the end of civilization at least in the Northern Hemisphere, claims that nuclear war might imply a reversion of the human population to prehistoric levels, or even the extinction of the human species, have, among some policymakers at least, been dismissed as alarmist or, worse, irrelevant. Popular works that stress this theme, such as Nevil Shute's On the Beach, and Jonathan Schell's The Fate

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