Abstract

Subfreezing temperatures, low light levels, and high doses of ionizing and ultraviolet radiation extending for many months after a large-scale nuclear war could destroy the biological support systems of civilization, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. Productivity in natural and agricultural ecosystems could be severely restricted for a year or more. Postwar survivors would face starvation as well as freezing conditions in the dark and be exposed to near-lethal doses of radiation. If, as now seems possible, the Southern Hemisphere were affected also, global disruption of the biosphere could ensue. In any event, there would be severe consequences, even in the areas not affected directly, because of the interdependence of the world economy. In either case the extinction of a large fraction of the Earth's animals, plants, and microorganisms seems possible. The population size of Homo sapiens conceivably could be reduced to prehistoric levels or below, and extinction of the human species itself cannot be excluded.