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How Nuclear War Fits with the Three E's

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  • Wed, Apr 08, 2015 - 04:16am

    #1
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    How Nuclear War Fits with the Three E's

How does the danger of nuclear war fit into our understanding of threats to the stability of our civilization?

  • Wed, Apr 08, 2015 - 11:57am

    #2

    HughK

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    How does nuclear war fit with the Three E’s?

Hi all,

As the crisis in Ukraine continues, I have been thinking more about the danger of nuclear war, something that it seems most of us were more aware of and concerned about during the Cold War.  I certainly remember being concerned about nuclear war when I was a kid in the 80's – especially after the TV film The Day After was released.  And I remember not really worrying much about nuclear war as a young adult in the 90's, a decade during which I think most of us breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Yet, even without the rising tensions between the US and Russia over Ukraine, shouldn't the threat of nuclear war still be a major concern for us all?  After all, the US and Russia have thousands of nuclear warheads each, and most of the other nuclear powers have hundreds.  (List here)   Even a regional nuclear war, between, say, Pakistan and India, has the possibility of sending our civilization into a collapse due to the potential for a nuclear winter afterwards, and I think there are few who dispute the fact that a full-scale nuclear war between two of the major nuclear powers would end our civilization and would also threaten the survival of our species.

On one level, nuclear war is a threat completely separate from the three E's.  But, on another level, the existence of nuclear weapons is simply one aspect of our fossil fuel powered industrial expansion.  If, or rather when, our civilization starts to experience significant contraction or collapse, it seems that the danger of a nuclear war would be higher, not lower, as the various nuclear powers feel all sorts of stress due to domestic and international factors. 

I don't have a copy with me, but I believe that in his book Collapse Jared Diamond wrote that collapsing societies often experience more warfare as elites fight over the shrinking pie of diminishing resources, and that this conflict often exacerbates the collapse.  Could it be that we are facing an even more critical stage of the nuclear age, in which American, Russian, and Chinese presidents have to deal with all sorts of problems precipitated by post-peak contraction?  

Our leaders express a great deal of concern about terrorism, yet almost nothing is said about addressing the danger of nuclear war.  Of course, there are explanations for this, but those explanations won't reduce the radiation count on the day after, when many of those same leaders will be deep underground, discussing the mineshaft gap.

For a while I have been wondering what the odds were of a nuclear war starting.  While that's probably impossible to calculate, these odds can only go up as the amount of time humans have nuclear weapons increases.  A Stanford engineering professor did try to calculate those odds, and I will include that in a separate post.

As a metaphor for the probability of nuclear war, imagine if three loaded guns, with the safety on, were left in three 5th grade classrooms in the same school for weeks, months and years, and a few students in each year were taught how to operate the gun, and told that it should never be used, but also that students in the other classrooms also had guns and just might use them. How long would it take before one of the guns was used?  It might be many weeks, months or years, but it seems almost inevitable that eventually the guns would be used. 
 
And perhaps our societies, with their ICBM's, are as children with guns.
 
I don't write any of this to be depressing, but simply to try to fit the possibility of nuclear war into the picture as we asses the fragile points of our civilization.  I don't spend my time fearing that the sky is going to fall, but I am aware that we, as a species, have a potential to draw this wild card from the deck of fate.
 
 
  • Wed, Apr 08, 2015 - 06:12pm

    #3

    Dogs_In_A_Pile

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    Need more info….

Hugh – an interesting question you've posed here.  I think you need to make a distinction between a classic, strategic exchange, a limited, tactical or theater/sub-theater level exchange and a rogue event.

From my experience, I would subjectively rank the likelihood of a rogue event as the highest, with a limited tactical exchange a distant second and a full on strategic exchange an even farther third.  A degenerating situation in the Ukraine notwithstanding.

As I have no control over the first or third scenarios, I don't get into the mental "what if" exercises.  A rogue event will be localized and as long as I'm not local, I won't be directly impacted to the point of immediate survival challenges.  I lose no sleep over whether or not I can ride out a full on exchange.

The tactical exchange is of some concern, because that typically is modeled in a degenerating conditions scenario.  Whatever those conditions might be caused by.  The cause of deteriorating conditions would be more concern to me than the use of tactical nukes in dealing with them.  Once the line is crossed though…….

I think you have overstated the environmental impact of a regional exchange.  The potential candidates for a regional exchange don't have enough weapons to loft enough dust – even assuming every strike was a surface or near surface burst.  You'd probably only see a handful of NUDETs from either side anyway.  It would make for some spectacular sunsets though.

In short, while you can rarely assign a zero percent probability to anything, whatever the probability of occurrence is for the events you postulate, I am less worried about them occurring than I am concerned over whether or not we are beyond the last frost in Virginia.  It's time to get the ghost peppers outside and in the ground.
 

  • Wed, Apr 08, 2015 - 09:13pm

    #5
    Cornelius999

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    Guys, Channel 4’s recent

Guys, Channel 4's recent documentary about end of world scenarios rated NW as no.1 danger.  I agree. The expert consensus doomsday clock has just been reset to 3 minutes to midnight.  The Cold War setting. It's going to get worse. One analyst's opinion was that we've only got this far by luck!

Maybe, two weeks ago I wouldn't have thought a full on NW likely. Then I read " JFK and the Unspeakable " 2013.  Circa 1963 the US military elite wanted to nuke the USSR before they could build up their arsenal.  Deaths of 140m Russians and millions of Americans was described as " political risk".  JFK walked out of the room muttering " And we call ourselves the human race!"

I can't remember who on this site insisted to us that the elite, from his personal housepartys for them, knew them to be to be ruthless and calculating. I had some doubts. No longer a luxoury I care to indulge.  Edmund Burke said it was folly to underestimate bad men.

I believe the pressure of diminishing resources will have elites adding NW and Population Control, and getting an answer they find compelling.  And this time there may not be a Kennedy or a Kruchouve in the right place at the right time.

The book also is a rivetting masterclass in the origins (1947 by George Kennan, who later called it his worst idea ever) and operation of the the Deep State, featuring a famed organization which is not the FBI.

Fingers Crossed

 

 

  • Wed, Apr 08, 2015 - 09:13pm

    #4

    HughK

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    Tending our own garden…

[quote=Dogs_In_A_Pile]

I think you have overstated the environmental impact of a regional exchange.  The potential candidates for a regional exchange don't have enough weapons to loft enough dust – even assuming every strike was a surface or near surface burst.  You'd probably only see a handful of NUDETs from either side anyway.  It would make for some spectacular sunsets though.

In short, while you can rarely assign a zero percent probability to anything, whatever the probability of occurrence is for the events you postulate, I am less worried about them occurring than I am concerned over whether or not we are beyond the last frost in Virginia.  It's time to get the ghost peppers outside and in the ground.
[/quote]

Hi Dogs,

First off, I agree with the order of your priorities, and maybe cultivating our own garden is the best response in all cases.  I still don't have a garden, but I have spent part of the day reading about nitrogen fixing trees and pond design in case I'm lucky enough to have one some day.

Nonetheless, at least one advantage of considering the possibility of either a regional or a global and strategic nuclear war is that it is one way to counter some of the mainstream's narrative regarding global security.  That lamestream narrative places terrorism at pretty much the top of the list, maybe rivaled now by Putin the devious puppet master, pariah or what have you.  

However, back in the land of reality, even nuclear terrorism – God forbid – does not compare to the danger of a tactical or strategic nuclear exchange war.  So, I'm definitely more concerned about the strategic air commands and governments of the US, Russia, and China (and the other nuclear powers…) than I am of ISIS.

Another use of considering the possibility of nuclear war is that it helps us describe and map the landscape of potential threats and instabilities, so as a social sciences buff, I think this is important.

And, while it may be somewhat quixotic, sharing awareness of the danger of nuclear war also makes it more likely that more of us will support arms reduction.  Even if we are approaching the twilight of the modern age of citizenship, we all still have potential to change the world for the better, and the consequences may be quite high if we don't.

As far as the risk of a regional exchange, in which a relatively small number of bombs were used (say less than 10 between India and Pakistan) leading to a nuclear winter, I don't know of any study that attempts to estimate the aerosol effect.  But, here is a link to Nuclear Darkness, where Steven Starr, the guy who runs the site, claims that 100 weapons used in a regional India-Pakistan conflict would have a major cooling effect.*

Now it's time to wash some dishes.  I wrote a little summary of one of Martin Hellman's papers for a friend recently, and  I will try to post part of that tomorrow.

Hugh

*Note that Figure 5 of the study that Starr linked does not seem to correspond to the global temperature map on that page of his site, so I have emailed him to get more info on that.  Edit:  He responded and the correct source is Climatic consequences of regional nuclear conflicts.

  • Mon, Apr 27, 2015 - 01:40am

    #6
    SPAM_badoky

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    How Nuclear War Fits With The Three E’s

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  • Thu, May 14, 2015 - 08:27am

    #7
    solarsurfer

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    Nuclear war

I live in Tornado alley.  So nukes are kind of like Tornados.  Not so bad as long as they don't happen in your back yard. I saw Kurt Vonnegut in person once and he answered a question regarding the likelihood of nuclear war.  He was of the opinion that in a major exchange, they just tear up too much real estate so he didn't think that would happen.  Now as for smaller Nuclear weapons, One would have to believe that some major tactical advantage could be gained by their use.  Which is likely in some major conventional assaults for defensive use.  This may be why we have not had a war like that since ww2 between the Major Powers that would be capable of such actions.  China was at one time a potential target from the Korean and Viet Nam conflicts but I guess in those actions tactical nukes would not have been a real convincer and nobody wanted to risk anything bigger.  Iran is pretty much an attempt at a grab for oil.  So maybe tunneling tactical nuclear bunker busters might be considered in some strategy.  As far as I can tell It seems as though the U.S. would settle for some influence on policy, perhaps the use of the petro-dollar.  But a nuclear war is not needed for a weather anomaly.  Scientific American published an article right after Sadam set the Kuwaiti oil fields on fire that said we had 6 months to put that mess out or there would be a large cloud floating around that for a couple of years could produce a moving localized cooling effect.  We will never know for sure because we put that mess out pretty fast, but that year the sunrises were noticeably a darker orange and friend of mine that was there for the first fight in the sand box has breathing problems now. He doesn't smoke.  Some of the first concepts about Nuclear winter were derived from the first Mars lander's data during sandstorms.  Carl Sagan was working on that crew so I give him some credit for coming up with an idea that would work for self deterrence besides Mutually Assured Destruction.  The number I heard tossed around for a nuclear war was a 1000 megaton total exchange.

That was just before they started scrapping the Titan 2 missiles.  They were about 10 megatons a piece.

Now with increased accuracy smaller bombs could be used for most targets, even hardened ones.  Of course from a civilian standpoint things could be very bad from just one major EMP strike of about 1 or two megatons.  As far as anybody knows no freaky little crazy country has H-bombs yet and fission only bombs are not big enough for a one strike grid destroyer.  So The economic stuff has a chance to be our biggest problem.  Not so big for the Amish.

  • Mon, May 18, 2015 - 10:33pm

    #8
    Belmontl

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    Nuclear winter

While on one hand –Good Reality Testing– (e.g.both increasing our capacity for Awareness/Consciousness — see Spiral Dymanics Levels (individual/cultural) for 1example — this is a Blind Spot to vast majority–AND what we attend to– the many "pixels"/factors to "see" the bigger picture)  is critical to good decision making, dwelling on what we have little to no control of , can be detrimental to our Health (mental, physically, spirtual) and life draining, not affirming. Like the ending line in the Serenity prayer…."& knowing the difference", I attempt to hold an evolutionary perceptive (13.8 billion year) and view Reality and the Dialetic of Process as a tension between Good News/Bad News.. That drives the spiral of development, where the leading edge (5-10% of population) creates a Tipping Point, by pushing the Ever increasing boundaries of thinking/consciousness to greater/more inclusive levels to solve the "problems" created at lower levels, only to create their own problems…and thus an endless unfolding… 

"Things are getting Beter and better, worse and worse, faster and faster"… I have "faith" in the whole/Tao/Reality…for despite 5 great extinctions, wars, 2 previous nuclear bombing, etc… Strangely we are here…thus prepare for the best…and the worse…labuild community/skills… Midwife the new emergent…and relax… And enjoy the wild ride coming…as we sit atop the evolutionary pryamind 

  • Tue, May 19, 2015 - 01:53am

    #9
    TechGuy

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    Even a EMP attack may be

Even a EMP attack may be sufficient for a worldwide dieoff. The issue isn't the number of megatons, but the 440+ nuclear reactors and their large spent fuel pools which contain more than +250K tons of spent fuel An EMP attack could disable the grid for an extended period, leading to lose of cooling in the spent fuel pools. Once the water boils off and exposes the tips of the fuel rods, they will catch fire and unleash their death. A large spent fuel pool can reder an area close to the state of NY unhabitable. 

As far as growning your own food, the land you plan to cultivate will need to be protected from contamination. That would be covering your fields with plastic or something non-permable to prevent fallout and contaiminated water from contaminating your fields. The Half-life of Cs-137 is about 30 years. I may take hundred years or more before decays to a safe level, without protection. Greenhouses are an option, but you need a lot of space to grow sufficient food, and you also need a source of contaminated free water. You can't simply run a water filter since contaminates can form soluble compounds that can't be filter using a standard commerical filteration system. It may take several years before you can uncover your fields to plant crops. depending on how long for all of the fallout from the spent fuel pools to settle out of the air.

FWIW: A Nuclear "winter" isn't the issue. is contamination for the air, water, and soil that is them most troubling problem caused by the  failed nuclear power plants. Ideally you want to live very distant to any nuclear power plant, preferably upwind, since particles can reach high altitudes and be carrier very long distances. The ash cloud from the St Mt. Helens eruption in 1980 traveled over 500 miles.

In my opinion, the odds or a major nuclear war is almost certain to happen. As resources become constrained, we will see ever increasing belligerent gov't rise. Consider that during the crisises of the 20th century (economic failures that triggered world wars).  We had Japan, Russia, Germany, Spain, Italy, and other states fall under military keynesianism. Japan, Germany, and Italy initiated military campiagns to obtain resources beyond their borders. Its unlikely the same nations will once again return to  military keynesianism, but its likely that others, including China, the United States, and Russia would, once a global economic crisis unfolds. Gov'ts will not simply give up, They are more likely to return to the old tactics of nationalism, driven by charismatic leadership to motivate the masses into doing something unspeakable.

 

  • Tue, May 19, 2015 - 04:51am

    #10
    Belmontl

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    suicide — now or later

so like the two great existential writers  Camus and Sartre.. do we commit suicide now or later?

 

Both Sartre and Camus were active in the French Resistance and both won the Nobel Prize for literature. Camus's brilliant novel, The Stranger, superbly delineates the existential themes of absurdity, anguish, despair, and alienation, but Camus always denied that he was an existentialist. He claimed instead that the world was so absurd that the philosopher should logically contemplate suicide. The alternative, for Camus, was to dismiss the world and lead an active, heroic life. The hero of ordinary life is the person who resolutely shoulders the responsibilities that life imposes, knowing full well that all is futile and meaningless, an attitude that is exemplified in the essay "The Myth of Sisyphus." In Greek mythology Sisyphus was a rogue-hero who delighted in tricking the gods. When death (Thanatos) came for him Sisyphus tied him up and no one died until Zeus intervened. Sisyphus was then taken to Hades but won a temporary leave so that he could return to the world to punish his wife for not giving him a proper burial. Actually, Sisyphus had instructed her to throw his body into the street so that he had an excuse for returning. Once free of Hades he refused to return and finally died of old age. The gods were so furious that, through all eternity, they required Sisyphus to roll a huge stone up a hill only to have it plunge back down once it reached the crest. The divine plan was to keep Sisyphus too busy to plan another escape but Camus uses the case to illustrate the absurdity of all human existence and concludes, "One must imagine Sisyphus happy" in the act of doing.

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