Three events occurring in the last 24 hours in the news sent a shiver down my spine. First, in a press conference at the American geophysical Union Conference here in San Francisco yesterday, climatologists Alan Robock and Richard Turco announced findings that even a small (less than 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs) regional nuclear conflict between emergent nuclear states would trigger a global “nuclear winter” with disastrous consequences to global agriculture. Until now, the scientific consensus considered nuclear winter to be likely only with a global war waged with bombs in the megaton range.
Second, at the much-watched Holocaust denial conference in Iran, Iranian President Ahmadinejad proclaimed that Israel’s days “are numbered” and predicted that “…the Zionist Regime (would) soon be wiped out.” And third, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert admitted publically that Israel does in fact have the Bomb. Now it is hardly news that Israel has the bomb (arms control experts believe it’s arsenal is the 6th largest in the world), and hardly news that certain Iranians passionately wish Israel’s extinction. What is news is that everyone is now openly stating what until now was unsaid. Keeping Israel’s nukes speculative relieved Arab leaders of pressure from their citizens, and the silence of Iranian leaders on the subject of Israel helped avoid inflaming passions inside that country. Now everyone is passionate, fearful and more than a few of the affected populaces are agitating for action.
Add in growing instability in nuclear power Pakistan, an Iran seeking the bomb, and the US decision to provide nuclear know-how and materials to India despite its refusal to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and top off whole thing off with the nuclear winter news, and it is hard to decide which is rising faster — the likelihood of nuclear war or the magnitude of its global consequences. Half a century ago, upon hearing of the first successful nuclear test, Winston Churchill observed, “now the idiot children have the matches.” Fifty years later it seems there are now many more idiot children and more matches than ever — and no sign of adult supervision.