Global Warming Vs. Nuclear Winter

Global warming got you down? Maybe a little apocalypse is the answer? (Uli Wiesmeier/Riser/­Getty Images)

In writing a recent article about nuclear winter, I ran across this outrageous statement quite a bit: "Couldn't we just cancel out global warming with nuclear winter?" The short answer? Yes. And you can also cure a hangnail with a meat cleaver, though it's probably not quite the fix you're looking for.

To be fair, no one is seriously advocating the use of thermonuclear weapons to save the environment. Most of the time, the suggestion is either a thoughtless joke or a shot at the theoretic (and therefore fallible) aspects of both global warming and nuclear winter. When it comes to understanding our atmosphere, there's a whole lot of room to wind up getting it wrong.

The bottom line is that, yes, scientists in a recent study theorize that the detonation of just 100 nuclear weapons in a regional conflict (such as between India and Pakistan) would cloak the globe in enough smoke to produce a three-year temperature drop of approximately 2.25 degrees F (1.25 degrees C). If you eject enough debris into the atmosphere, you could shield the surface from solar radiation and cut down on the heat.

Of course, there are ways to do this without killing millions or starting massive, city-destroying firestorms. In 2007, Wired blogger Brandon Keim spotlighted a proposal to unleash fleets of robot, cloud-seeding ships on the world's oceans. They'd simply blast seawater up into the atmosphere as a fine mist, creating the protective cloud cover.

Of course, we've all watched enough sci-fi to know what will happen if we create a fleet of robot super-ships: They'll either decide to kill all humans or pine for our understanding of love.

Treehugger offers a far simpler method of climate control: paint your roof white. This reflects solar radiation back up through the atmosphere, cutting down on cooling costs According to the Los Angeles Times, enough white roofs and roads in U.S. cities could offset 44 metric gigatons of greenhouse gases.

Ready to save the world? Read these choice articles: How Global Warming Works How Robot Armies Will Work Can China control the weather? What would nuclear winter be like?

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.