Report to Nobel Committee Says Nuclear Conflict Would Cause Famine

A Northampton-based physician told a gathering of Nobel award winners Wednesday that a side-effect of nuclear conflict could be famine in much of the world. Dr. Ira Helfand, who is affiliated with Cooley Dickinson Hospital,  presented his report in Chicago to the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Chicago. Dr. Helfand modeled the global effects of a theoretical nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan. He says such a conflict could cause a significant drop in food production as far away as the United States and China.

“Over the last year, we have been able to do two studies looking at corn production in the United States, and middle-season rice production in China, both of which showed declines greater than we had feared, and large enough to cause significant problems for human nutrition worldwide.”

The report builds on theories of “nuclear winter” in which smoke and particles form a nuclear conflagration blot out the sun. That would cause a worldwide temperature drop, and in turn affect growing seasons and precipitation. Helfand says the report is conservative, and he notes that the nuclear arsenals of India and Pakistan represent only one half of one percent of the world’s total nuclear weapons. He says ninety-five percent of the world’s nuclear warheads are in the hands of the United States and Russia, and a conflict between those two powers would cause even more dire environmental consequences. 

“Even if we reduce those arsenals to 300 warheads on each side, which is the most ambitious proposal for arms reductions currently being talked about, they would still retain the ability to generate this scenario twenty or thirty times over.”
Other speakers at the Chicago event included former US Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, and former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev. Helfand wrote the report on behalf of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
You can access the report here.