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Global Warming is Nuclear War

Longview, Washington. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

The average global surface temperature rose by 1°C during the 110 years between 1910 and 2020.

During the 50 years between 1910 and 1960, the average global temperature rose by 0.25°C, an average rate-of-increase of 0.005°C/year. Another 0.25°C of biosphere heating occurred during the 25 years between 1960 and 1985, a rate-of-rise of 0.010°C/year. During the 20 year span between 1985 and 2005 another 0.25°C of temperature was added, a rate-of-rise of 0.0125°C/year. During the 15 year span from 2005 to 2020 another 0.25°C of temperature rise occurred, with an average rate-of-rise of 0.0167°C/year.

While the average temperature rise of 0.25°C was the same for each of the four intervals, the first (between 1910 and 1960) required 45.5% of the 110 years between 1910 and 2020; the second (between 1960 and 1985) only required 22.7% of the 110 years; the third (between 1985 and 2005) required the smaller fraction of 18.2% of the 110 years; and the most recent period (between 2005 and 2020) took the smallest fraction of 13.6% of the 110 years.

Given that a 1°C rise of the temperature of Earth’s Biosphere (EB) is the equivalent of it absorbing, as heat, the energy yield of 109 billion Hiroshima atomic bomb explosions, we could imagine the EB being bombarded by an average of 1 billion Hiroshima bombs per year between 1910 and 2020 (within 109 year-long intervals). If that yearly bombardment were done uniformly, it could represent 2 Hiroshima bomb explosions per square kilometer of the Earth’s surface once during the year; or it could represent one Hiroshima bomb explosion per day in each 186 km^2 patch of the Earth’s surface, for a worldwide bombing rate of 2.74 million/day. Global warming is very serious!

Let’s refine this analogy so it reflects the acceleration of global warming since 1910.

The 27.25 billion Hiroshima bomb equivalents of heating that occurred between 1910 and 1960 would represent a bombing rate of 545 million/year; or 1.5 million/day spaced out at one daily explosion per 342 km^2 patch of the Earth’s surface.

The 27.25 billion Hiroshima bomb equivalents of heating that occurred between 1960 and 1985 would represent a bombing rate of 1.09 billion/year; or 3 million/day spaced out at one daily explosion per 171 km^2 patch of the Earth’s surface.

The 27.25 billion Hiroshima bomb equivalents of heating that occurred between 1985 and 2005 would represent a bombing rate of 1.36 billion/year; or 3.73 million/day spaced out at one daily explosion per 137 km^2 patch of the Earth’s surface.

The 27.25 billion Hiroshima bomb equivalents of heating that occurred between 2005 and 2020 would represent a bombing rate of 1.82 billion/year; or 5 million/day spaced out at one daily explosion per 103 km^2 patch of the Earth’s surface.

The heating rate for the 1°C temperature rise of the EB since 1910, averaged on a yearly basis, was 5.725×10^24 Joules/110years, or 5.2×10^22 Joules/year, or 1.65×10^15 Watts of continuous heating. This rate of heat storage by the EB (into the oceans) is only 0.827% of the continuous “heat glow” given off as infrared radiation by the EB (mainly at the Earth’s surface), which is 1.994×10^17 Watts at a temperature of 288.16°K (Kelvin degrees; an absolute temperature of 288.16°K = 15°C+273.16°C; absolute zero temperature occurs at -273.16°C).

If we were to imagine impulsively infusing the EB with the same amount of energy, by a regular series of “heat explosions” each of energy release equivalent to the Hiroshima bomb, then the 1 billion explosions per year (the 109 year average) would have to occur at a rate of 31.7 per second.

Atomic bombs release their energy explosively within 1 microsecond, representing a radiated power of 5.25×10^19 Watts for an energy release equivalent to the Hiroshima bomb yield (5.25×10^13 Joules). In this hypothetical exercise, I am lumping all the atomic bomb explosive yield into heat, but in real atomic explosions energy is released in a variety of forms: heat, nuclear radiation (gamma rays, energetic neutrons, X-rays, radioactive material) and blast pressure. The energy forms emitted by atomic bomb explosions ultimately heat the materials they impact and migrate through, and this is why I lump all of the bomb yield as heat.

An explosion sphere with a 56.4 centimeter diameter (22.2 inches) radiating heat at 5.25×10^19 Watts during a burst time of 1 microsecond would present a 1m^2 surface area at a temperature of 5,516,325°K = 5,516,051°C. Imagine 32 of these popping into existence at random points around the world during every second of the day and night since 109 years ago. We would certainly consider that form of global warming a crisis deserving our attention.

Because the invisible low temperature heat glow style of global warming that we actually experience does not rudely punctuate our lives with random blasts of such intense X-ray conveyed heat that any human standing nearby would simultaneously be vaporized while the molecules of that vapor were atomized and those atoms stripped of all of their electrons down to the atomic cores, we ignore it. But the heating effect on the biosphere is energetically equivalent to what we are causing with our greenhouse gas and pollution emissions.

Thermodynamically, we have greenhouse gas-bombed out of existence the pristine biosphere and its habitable climate that first cradled and nurtured the infancy of our species 2000 centuries ago, and then fed and protected the development and growth of that fragile chimera we call “civilization,” which our potentates have been proudly boasting about for at least 8,000 years. And we’re still bombing, now at an ever increasing rate.

All of the numbers quoted here come out of the results described in my report “A Simple Model of Global Warming” that I produced to help me understand quantitatively the interplay of the major physical effects that produces global warming. I invite both the scientists and the poets among you to consider it.