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Hey America, don't nuke climate refugees

24 Jul 2019 | News Roundup

No, really. Ira Helfand, an MD active in two anti-nuclear-weapon groups that both won Nobel Peace Prizes, writes in a CNN Op Ed that “Climate change and the danger of nuclear war are closely related” because “large areas of the planet will be unable to support their human population” causing “forced migrations on a scale unknown in human history, and an enormously increased risk of conflict”, possibly nuclear war, causing “further catastrophic climate disruption and widespread global famine.” Not that we should put any stock in this bizarre scenario, but isn’t it a bit silly to worry that after a massive nuclear war it would also be a bit hotter?

Obviously Helfand doesn’t buy the nuclear deterrence argument or the one about the historical pattern that treaties tend to bind law-abiding democracies and not rogue tyrannies. So be it. It’s an old argument and, if everything that can be said has been said, there’s always a new generation of people who feel that they need to say it. But the tie-in to climate suggests, if anything, that warming alarmism has jumped the shark.

It’s not entirely obvious in what way a wave of refugees would trigger a nuclear war. Would the United States drop atomic bombs on people swarming across the Atlantic from Africa? And if so who would shoot back? Are people going to use “the bomb” to force others to send refugees or to stop them from sending them? Are nations that have disintegrated to the point that their people are fleeing en masse going to develop a strategic plan to force other equally devastated regions to accept them?

These questions may seem frivolous, even callous. But if he can make the argument we can question it, and they are the implications of this claim on the possibly overly generous assumption that it has implications.

Leaving all these questions aside, there’s also the supposed issue of a post-apocalyptic world being rendered uncomfortable by the further contribution of a nuclear exchange to global warming. To ask precisely what mechanism would accelerate this warming might seem to be answering a fool according to his folly. But we all know from previous peace movement scares that the result of large-scale nuclear war would be “nuclear winter” so if warming-induced mass migration triggered nuclear war it would have the silver lining of cooling the planet. Unless of course the “peace movement,” more properly the unilateral disarmament movement, were using bogus science for political leverage back in the 1980s.

Or because we’re back in the “everything climate change does is bad, and everything bad is climate change” substitute for thought. But if only a few bombs are used, it’s hard to grasp what’s meant to happen to the planet. And if thousands are detonated, in a world already on the brink of human extinction, what sort of problem would it be even if radiation did make it a few degrees hotter?

Apart from that, a sparkling contribution to the discussion.

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