Alan Robock, distinguished professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences, has never been one to shy away from controversy. But if you ask him, there really is no controversy when it comes to the science behind his two primary areas of study: nuclear winter and climate change.
In the case of nuclear winter, Robock’s most recent research interest, he sounds the alarm in Huffington Post blogs, New York Times op-eds, Newsweek profiles, and innumerable speeches in such locations as London, Mexico City, the Vatican, and beyond that the fires ignited by a nuclear war would be so dense they could block out the sun. The result, he says, would be temperatures below freezing in the summertime, the death of plants and the prevention of agriculture, and almost certain death by famine for much of humanity.
Even a “small” nuclear war using just 100 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs—less than half the combined arsenals of India and Pakistan—could be disastrous in terms of climate change, he says.
That’s why, for this scientist, dabbling in politics is practically inevitable (in fact, he’s spoken to President Obama’s scientific and nuclear advisors about this concern), even if his recommendation that the nine nuclear countries give up their weapons seems no easy task.
Robock’s other well-known research, centered on the impact of humans on climate change, currently focuses on climate engineering and, specifically, how scientists may be able to reverse global warming by creating clouds the way a volcanic eruption might.
Still, without political will, climate change remains a formidable foe. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t light at the end of the tunnel. Robock believes that these two issues—both nuclear winter and climate change—are each created by humans and solvable by humans, and he remains optimistic that with a little bit of education, we can change our behavior to make the world a safer place.
Editor’s Note: this article originally appeared in Explorations Spring 2016 – a publication of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.