A NASA computer simulation shows that nuclear war could throws up a huge soot cloud that warms, rises, and blocks sunlight to cool the Earth. Now that’s the kind of climate change we like to see!
Except there’s also that pesky nuclear winter thing. You know, where the crops die for lack of sunlight and millions of people starve to death. Not to mention the huge amounts of mutating radiation and radioactive isotopes that cause widespread death and suffering for many years afterward. What’s more, all that crap in the upper atmosphere helps break down the ozone layer and let in even MORE cancer-causing radiation from the sun.
The original story from National Geographic News gets it mostly right and puts the “nuclear winter” caveat up high. Unfortunately, it has an eye-catching, idiotic headline:
Small Nuclear War Could Reverse Global Warming For Years? (National Geographic news, Feb 22)
Which spawned a ton of stupidly angled follow-ups, some from usually decent news sources:
A Small Nuclear War Would Stall Global Warming (Live Science, 2011 Feb 28)
Reuters picked up the story more than a week later, which is a sign of desperation for copy. Their version of the story doesn’t mention nuclear winter effects till near the end, which is news-speak for “that part is not important or background.” Actually, it IS important, and if you spent five minutes THINKING about the background info, you would realize that putting global warming in the lede and head is a totally cheap scrabble for readership:
NASA: Limited nuclear war could pause global warming (Reuters, 2011 Mar 03)
And it’s just a matter of time until a conservative news source like New American pitches the story as proof that government scientists are crazy:
Govt Scientists Propose Nuclear War to Curb Global Warming (New American, 2011 Mar 03)
Really, this research is about NASA flexing its computer modeling muscles. That nuclear war would be a devastatingly bad thing is decades-old news. The NEWS is that we have a much better ability to describe exactly how bad. Wired, thank goodness, got it right:
How One Nuclear Skirmish Could Wreck the Planet (Wired, 2011 Feb 25)
Yay Wired.com. Boo everyone else.