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Nuclear Winter

Entry updated 15 May 2012. Tagged: Theme.

The possibility that smoke and dust from a large nuclear exchange (as in most models of World War Three) might bring about drastic Climate Change was advanced by scientists in 1982; Carl Sagan was part of a team which conducted computer modelling of atmospheric effects and published the admonitory paper "Nuclear Winter: Global Consequences of Multiple Nuclear Explosions" (23 December 1983 Science). Sagan also co-authored The Cold and the Dark: The World After Nuclear War (1984; vt The Nuclear Winter: The Cold and the Dark 1985) with Paul R Erlich, Donald Kennedy and Walter Orr Roberts. The proposal proved controversial and has been regularly attacked and defended ever since, not always from a purely scientific standpoint.

Nuclear winter was foreshadowed in sf: Poul Anderson's Post-Holocaust story "Tomorrow's Children" (March 1947 Astounding), written with F N Waldrop, remarks on the cooling effects of a recent nuclear war and speculates that this may even trigger a new ice age.

While at its most fashionable, the concept made its way into various sf stories including Stefano Benni's Terra! (1983; trans Annapaola Cancogni 1985), Thomas H Block's and Nelson DeMille's Airship Nine (1984), Ben Bova's "Nuclear Autumn" (Summer 1985 Far Frontiers), Frederik Pohl's "Fermi and Frost" (January 1985 Asimov's), Whitley Strieber's Young Adult Wolf of Shadows (1985), and D G Compton's and John Gribbin's Ragnarok (1991).

In Comics, Frank Miller imagines a "Coldbringer" bomb specifically designed to trigger nuclear winter in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (books #1-#4 1986; graph 1986), where Batman is well briefed on this Weapon's potential but the hapless Superman – though diverting it from its primary target – fails to avert wintry Disaster. [DRL]

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