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Recipe For Nuclear Winter

By Tim Murray

10 December, 2011

“If you like mushrooms, you'll love mushroom clouds!          
  Nuclear winter is a cool summer treat...And its easy to make....
  Just follow Chris Clugston's recipe, let me show you how!”

Has the prospect of global temperature rises between two and six degrees centigrade got you down?

Are you like me? Do you hate hot humid summers that never end? Do you toss and turn in the night, soaked in sweat, not finding relief, even in the darkest basement or under the shade of the biggest tree? Don't worry, for the world might well be in for a cooling trend. The kind that comes after the planet is enveloped in a canopy of ash and debris following a thermo-nuclear war. You see, nuclear winter, the bogeyman you thought had gone into permanent retirement when the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet empire bit the dust, is still on the menu.

For those who lost the recipe, let me tell you how we can rustle up some nuclear winter in time for dinner. It's quick, it's easy, and you don't have to be a professional chef to pull it off. Just follow Chris Clugston's Scarcity> Conflict Cook Book. (cf. “Scarcity”)

The first ingredient is a hopeless economic dependence on natural non-renewable resources (NNRs). That's easily found, especially in North America, Europe and the emerging economies of China and India. Secondly, it is important that there not be enough NNRs to satisfy the growing appetites of all those nations which demand them. Again, no problem there. Seventeen remaining global NNR reserves will be exhausted within 25 years. We are talking about trifling things like antimony, arsenic, barite, cadmium, fluorspar, gold, iron ore, lead, manganese, molybdenum, niobium, rhenium, silver, strontium, tin, zinc and zirconium. Those kind of things we can do without---that is, unless we live in an industrial civilization. And then there is boron, magnesium, mercury , phosphate rock, the platinum group metals, selenium and vanadium---which will be exhausted within 41 to 61 years. And beyond that, bromine, cement, lime, potash, rare earth minerals, salt and soda ash will be not be economically available.

But wait, I know what you're thinkin'. We are an exceptional species. We are ingenious. Our brains are designed to work around limits. We will think of something. After all, we always have, haven't we? We can develop “renewable energy”. Sorry to rain our your parade, but Dawn Stover said it best:

“Renewable energy sounds so much more natural and believable than a perpetual-motion machine, but there's one big problem: Unless you're planning to live without electricity and motorized transportation, you need more than just wind, water, sunlight, and plants for energy. You need raw materials, real estate, and other things that will run out one day. You need stuff that has to be mined, drilled, transported, and bulldozed -- not simply harvested or farmed...” Geothermal, wind, hydro power and biomass? “All of these technologies also require electricity transmission from rural areas to population centers. Wilderness is not renewable once roads and power-line corridors fragment it. And while proponents would have you believe that a renewable energy project churns out free electricity forever, the life expectancy of a solar panel or wind turbine is actually shorter than that of a conventional power plant. Even dams are typically designed to last only about 50 years. So what, exactly, makes renewable energy different from coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power?

Renewable technologies are often less damaging to the climate and create fewer toxic wastes than conventional energy sources. But meeting the world's total energy demands in 2030 with renewable energy alone would take an estimated 3.8 million wind turbines (each with twice the capacity of today's largest machines), 720,000 wave devices, 5,350 geothermal plants, 900 hydroelectric plants, 490,000 tidal turbines, 1.7 billion rooftop photovoltaic systems, 40,000 solar photovoltaic plants, and 49,000 concentrated solar power systems. That's a heckuva lot of neodymium.

Unfortunately, "renewable energy" is a meaningless term with no established standards. Like an emperor parading around without clothes, it gets a free pass, because nobody dares to confront an inconvenient truth: None of our current energy technologies are truly renewable, at least not in the way they are currently being deployed. We haven't discovered any form of energy that is completely clean and recyclable, and the notion that such an energy source can ever be found is a mirage.” http://thebulletin.org/web-edition/columnists/dawn-stover/the-myth-of-renewable-energy

Sorry Peak Oilers but I guess it isn't all about oil---or energy---after all. We need all those other 69 natural non-renewable resources that Chris Clugston inventoried---unless you think that solar panels, turbines, and drills etc can be made from mud and straw.

But back to Clugston's Cook Book. We have the first of our ingredients----the non-renewable resources which are in terminal decline, and the second, which is the fact that there won't be enough of them to go around to satisfy everybody---particularly the industrial giants---and the ones like America which is rapidly losing its stature. The third ingredient is import dependency, or in Clugston's parlance, “potential geopolitical supply constraints”. This is the most active and critical ingredient in the whole mix. It is not so much that dwindling supplies of non-renewable resources will not be domestically available, but that many of them that will still be available are found in the most inconvenient places---for the United States at least. Politically unstable or unfriendly places.

For starters, about 80% of the world's proven oil resources are located in the Middle East. And then there is the stuff that is used in essential infrastructure. 83% of abrasives come from China. 72% of boron reserves are found in Turkey. 75% of proven Chromium reserves are found in South Africa and Kazakhstan. 84% of clay imports come from Brazil. Half the cobalt is located in the Congo. 40% of the copper comes from Chile. China is the third largest producer of gypsum, Iran the third. China is the world's leading steel producer and accounts for 40% of global lead mine production, 40% of proven global molybdenum reserves, 65% of the world's silicon, and together with Indonesia, they produce 40% of the world's tin. 40% of the world's vanadium is produced by China and South Africa, 68% of US zinc ore imports come from Peru and 52% of titanium sponge metal imports come from Khazakhstan.

Then there are the NNRs that the United States imports to support industrial agriculture. 72% of its boron comes from Turkey. 50% of proven manganese reserves come from South Africa and the Ukraine. 100% of its phosphate rock is imported from Morocco. And to make your computer, IPhone and tech toys, 51% of US antimony comes from China, plus 86% of its arsenic, 58% of its beryilium from the Ukraine, and half the proven indium reserves are found in China. In fact, of the NNRs which the United States requires to make high tech electronic devices, 28 of them are imported from potentially volatile or unreliable sources. And 17 of those imported 28 NNRs supply more than 79% of American requirements. (cf. Scarcity, Humanity's Final Chapter, pp. 52-57)

This roll-call of vulnerability is by no means exhaustive. But you get the picture. Without the United States Navy to impose its power and police the seaways, it is unlikely that you could drive your car to the local shopping centre to buy your latest gadget or load up on groceries. You know, that car with the “End the Iraq War” bumper sticker on it. (Never mind. Dump the car, live off the grid and wear a Ghandian loin cloth if that fits the image you want to project. But spare me your hypocrisy. You aren't baling out of the industrial system or your dependence on the violence it's built on.)

What happens when somebody threatens to deprive a fading superpower with a trillion dollar military budget of its supply of essential NNRs? What did Japan do when the United States cut off 90% of its oil in 1941? In the last century, resource wars claimed the lives of over 100 million people, but in this century, the arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons can destroy our species, and a good many innocent bystanders as well.

So in case you didn't make notes, here again is the formula for our demise, a recipe for nuclear winter in a nutshell:

Take 69 non-renewable natural resources that have already peaked, any one of which can cripple our industrial economy and for which no conceivable alternatives can collectively be found.

Add accelerating scarcity of those resources.

Throw in a pinch of dependence by militarily lethal powers on foreign imports from unstable and/or potentially hostile regions....

And PRESTO---- you have a nuclear exchange, which according to Paul Ehrlich, need only be a limited one between say, India and Pakistan, to finish off humanity.

Nuclear winter would ensue and I suspect, the hospitality industry on the Gold Coast or the beaches of Florida or the Algarve would have its worst season on record. Damn, there goes your tan. You worked hard for your vacation, and as a North American, it was your entitlement. Life is so unfair.

And here you were worried about climate change. I guess Matthew 6:34 was right after all. Don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself. And all of humanity apparently.

Think positive thoughts. Put on a happy face. Something will turn up. It always has, has it not? Cassandras are such a drag.... Oh, I am such a downer. No wonder the girls don't ask me out.

Tim Murray is an environmental writer and activist in British Columbia




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