ONA got it wrong

In 1980, it seems that Australia’s main intelligence analysis agency, the Office of National Assessments, prepared an assessment of the consequences of a US-Soviet nuclear war for Australia. It’s just been declassified, and Philip Dorling summarizes the conclusions in the Fairfax dailies.

Most of the conclusions, at least as summarized by Dorling, don’t seem particularly surprising – we would not all die from the radioactive fallout as depicted in On The Beach. Nor were, in the judgement of the writers, Australia’s cities likely to be targeted by the Soviets.

However, there is one conclusion they got stunningly wrong in the light of more recent evidence. Dorling quotes the report as follows:

Serious changes in world climate are not expected following any type of nuclear war, although they cannot be definitely excluded.

While the authors did not have modern computerized climate modeling techniques available to them, we do – and the results indicate something entirely different. Robock, Oman, and Stenchikov used a standard climate model to examine the effects of the soot that would be injected into the stratosphere by a couple of different nuclear conflict scenarios. They found that a large-scale nuclear conflict would result in surface temperature drops of 7-8 degrees – and even after a decade temperatures would be 4-5 degrees below normal. Global precipitation would drop by 45%. Even a more limited “regional” nuclear conflict would cause crop-destroying climate change around the world for years afterwards.

It’s only one paper, admittedly, but I haven’t been able to find any follow-up papers seriously questioning their conclusions.

Australia wouldn’t have avoided direct, catastrophic damage should there have been a nuclear war between the superpowers, and on the best modern evidence it appears that we won’t avoid direct, catastrophic damage should nuclear weapons be used in substantial numbers in any of the potential flashpoints around the world.

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One Response to ONA got it wrong

  1. David Irving (no relation) says:

    This could be win-win, Robert. The 7 degree temperature drop from a limited nuclear war just about balances the 6 degree rise we’re almost certainly committed to, and has the additional benefit of getting rid of that pesky excess population the world has. /Modest Proposal

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