Stop Darkness at Noon -- Save Life

Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios


Delivered at International Round Table Conference of Religious Leaders and Experts on “New Dangers to the Sacred Gift of Life: Our Tasks” in Moscow, February 11-13, 1985

Let me express first my gratitude to God that this round table conference on New Threats to life can be held and that I can be here today. We live in a world where there is no security for any human beings. It is just possible that, even while we are sitting here, peacefully talking to each other about how to avoid a nuclear catastrophe, the mushroom clouds can appear in some part of the world spilling disaster over all of us, no matter where we live. That is the kind of world we live in. This is not just rhetoric. This is the plain, brutal fact. Our minds boggle at this possibility. So we refuse to believe it, even when the evidence is mounting. I am grateful to God that this round table can be held, and I hope and trust in God that the evidence will be made available here in a lucid form, and that it will help many people to become aware of the dimensions and scale of the peril that faces the sacred gift of life, and to begin to do something about it.

It is in such a perilous world that I add my own humble, warm greetings to all of you who have taken the trouble to come here. I am grateful to His Holiness Patriarch Pimen, to His Eminence Metropolitan philaret, to Dr. Alexei Buevsky, and to all the others who have taken the trouble to call us together.

I have not been in a position to take part in the preparatory process for this round table, but I would like to apologize to you for all the inadequacies of the preparation, for the very short notice given to some participants, and for the insufficient expertise and preparatory materials available to us here.

Sufficient evidence, however, has been available since the end of 1983. And the evidence was scientifically produced, and scientifically verified by others. It was in 1983 (Oct 31--Nov 1) when we had the scientific conference on The World After Nuclear War in Washington DC, the capital city of the USA. One hundred high ranking scientists from all over the world met there to assess together their own work of two years on the biological, physical, and climatological consequences of differing magnitudes. Six months before that (April 25–26), an epoch-making conference on The Long-term Worldwide biological Consequences of Nuclear War had been held at Cambridge, Massachusetts with forty scientists present. Among them were such luminaries as Paul Ehrlich of Stanford, Carl Sagan of Cornell, and Stephen Gould of Harvard. This conference appointed an expert committee who prepared the basic document that was discussed at the October/ November meeting in Washington. This was published in Science (23 Dec. 1983. Vol. 222: No. 463) as a Christmas gift to humanity. Besides the basic document signed by the preparatory committee of twenty scientists (including Norman Myers of Oxford and Rafael Herrera of Venezuela, besides 18 from North America), there was another significant paper in the same issue by Carl Sagan and four Californian scientists which describes the method of study used, and the result in greater technical detail. I hope you have these papers before you.

An original study by Carl Sagan was verified, I understand, by soviet scientists at the Computing Centre of the USSR Academy of sciences using the BESM-6 machine and the GEA mathematical model. This was of course based on a 5000 megaton (12% of our present stockpiles) explosion scenario. The soviet scientists, I understand, came to the following conclusion based on Carl Sagan’s primary data:

  1. Nuclear winter would envelop the earth, irrespective of the location of the nuclear explosions.

  2. During the first month after the explosions, the air in the layer close to the soil would grow colder by 15 to 20 degrees centigrade on the average.

  3. This would lead to change in global air circulation as well as wind velocity and direction.

  4. Sources of drinking water would freeze in many areas, and ecological chains would break. Crops would perish.

  5. Living beings on the land surface -- humans, animals, plants, and micro-organisms would die out.

  6. Gradually, as all phytoplankton is destroyed, life would also perish in the ocean.

Scientists would admit that all scientific predictions, and especially when such complicated forecasts and estimates of wind direction and volume of matter consumed are involved, may go wrong by a certain factor. In fact it has been argued by other scientists like Edward Teller that certain factors like the amount of water-vapour present in the atmosphere have not been taken into account in the calculations. Of course, the model used for the scientific predictions were developed for other purposes like weather prediction and computing the possible effects of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. But, despite all imprecise elements in the calculations, the overall impact of the study should shake our foundations.

As our experts will no doubt tell us in greater detail, even a very limited nuclear war, involving only 100 megatons of exploding power will have disastrous long-term and short term consequences. Our present arsenals have 12,000 megatons of primary strategic and theatre weapons and possibly a total of more than 20,000 megatons including the 30,000 lower yield tactical warheads and munitions.

The American study has several scenarios with variables in the megaton yield of 100 (megatons attack on urban-industrial targets), a 300MT southern hemisphere war, a 1000MT interchange, a 3000MT exchange with another 3000MT counterforce response, a 10,000MT massive war, and even a 25,000MT future war. The results would vary, depending upon whether the explosions are at or near the ground surface, on urban or forest areas, in high atmosphere or stratosphere, and so on. The vertical optical depth or thickness of the nuclear smoke-cloud produced by the explosion is another important variable. The dust mass (total tonnage), range of dust size, and amount of water present are other variables. Fire area, fire plume heights, fire duration, radiation emission, dust and smoke injection rates, temperature perturbations and solar energy fluxes, meteorological perturbations, inter-hemispheric transport, pyrotoxine generation, ozone depletion in the stratosphere, snow-fall and rain, perturbations in planetary wave amplitudes which may be critical for the transport of the nuclear debris, and other variables were taken into account, though accurate predictions on several of these variables are extremely difficult.

Despite some uncertainty factors, the main thrust is quite clear. I shall state the conclusions cautiously and carefully:

  1. A relatively large (5000-megaton) nuclear explosion anywhere around the globe would have major climatological effects that would endanger life in general on our planet.

  2. A “limited” nuclear war concentrated on urban and industrial centres, with a 100-megaton yield in explosion will also, besides burning out several hundred cities, is dangerous to life and health of all people everywhere.

  3. A one-megaton warhead, bursting in the air, will lead to total destruction in about 250 square kilometers of urban area. Even one-tenth of a megaton airburst can level out and burn out an area of about 50 square kilometers.

  4. The major climatological factor, referred to as nuclear winter, comes from the emission and pumping of nuclear debris, dust and smoke into the stratosphere (i.e. the layer above the troposphere or lower atmosphere), where the air is comparatively stable and non-turbulent. The dust can remain there for long period of time and shut out the sunlight substantially. There will be significant surface darkening on the earth for considerable periods of time. Temperatures, even in summer can go below freezing point in the temperate zones. This in turn will lead to large perturbations in global wind patterns. Crops would certainly be damaged and famines would result. Epidemics are also possible. Chlorophyll activity on the earth can be dangerously lowered. Large numbers of living beings will die including plants, trees and bacteria. The long-term effects of these are hard to predict.

  5. The nuclear debris injected into the stratosphere will soon be exchanged from hemisphere to hemisphere. Soon after nuclear exchange in the northern hemisphere the climate in the southern hemisphere would also be substantially affected to the point of seriously endangering life all over the earth.

  6. The effects of radioactive fall-out and pyrogenic toxin and consequent air pollution will affect all life on earth, even if the nuclear war is limited in megatonnage and location.

  7. A limited nuclear war can kill close to a billion people or more. Half as many at least would be severely injured, disfigured and disabled. During the course of the first year after a limited nuclear war, the survivors of a nuclear war, irrespective of where they live, including non-human beings may face death and extinction, as the total eco-balance is disrupted. This eco-consequence can be more devastating in its effect than the climatological aspect we call the nuclear winter.

Some Questions

1. Given these cautious conclusions, why do we allow anyone to go on manufacturing nuclear weapons? Are the peoples of the world so powerless and impotent vis-à-vis their governments, some of which seem to be either blind or insane? Why do the people allow themselves to be so deceived as to accept the false argument that reduction of arsenals is more necessary than a freeze and therefore let us concentrate on reduction and forget the freeze? Let us be clear: we need freeze, reduction and total elimination. We should have them in that order. So let us have freeze now, reduction soon, and total elimination in the near future. The people of the world should say this clearly.

2. The leading nuclear powers have a major responsibility in this regard. The government of the Soviet Union has already affirmed its support for an immediate freeze, a negotiated reduction ensuring equal security for all and a final elimination fairly soon. So has the Delhi declaration of the six nation non-aligned summit. Is it a matter of false pride that keeps the USA, UK, France, China and others from joining the other socialist countries and the non-aligned world in a determined joint initiative? Or is it the power of those who make profit from the arms race and the arms trade? Or is it also the fact that democratic political institutions in market economy countries are financed by the corporations and defense contractors? Whatever it is, the heaviest share of the responsibility now devolves on the peoples of nuclear countries and non-nuclear countries. If the peoples can understand the situation, things can change.

3. What are the public media in all our nations doing in this regard? Can we as religious organizations put some pressure on the media? To do that effectively, religious organizations will have to develop some competence in this regard. Why do we not, as religious organizations, mobilize our own scientists and social thinkers to give priority attention to these matters? Can we help the media in our countries serve the real needs of our people and help them understand reality as it is?

4. We have, in our last Round Table Conference, clearly affirmed our strong opposition to the so-called Strategic Defence Initiative (wrongly known as “Star Wars”), and we reaffirm our clear position against this initiative, for at least the following seven reasons:

  1. It is not primarily a defence initiative, its basic purpose is aggression and world domination, the word “defence” in the SDI serves only to mislead.

  2. As a defence strategy, the experts are nearly unanimous that it cannot be an effective means of defence in an all-out nuclear war.

  3. It is so expensive a proposition that in a world of so much poverty and want there would be no justification for it, even if it were half expensive.

  4. The majority of the people of even the USA in whose interests SDI is being developed, are avowedly opposed to it.

  5. It is a gross violation of existing Anti-Ballistic Missile and other international treaties on which world peace is dependent.

  6. Once the system is set in place it may not at all easy to dislodge them from space and dispose of them without serious peril to humanity.

  7. Space being only 100 to 200 miles away, these weapons become uncomfortably close to every human being on earth, and thus imperils the lives of all people everywhere.

In spite of all these cogent reason which render the SDI both futile and foolish, research and development take place in countries at a fast space. We had agreement, at our last Round Table, between American space experts, on the draft of a treaty to ban weapons in space. Why is it that governments cannot agree?

The new threats to peace, since our last Round Table, are more in the nature of fresh information about the consequences of a nuclear war, than many actually new threats. The physicians of the world had already drawn our attention to the impossibility of providing sufficient care to the survivors of a nuclear war. The new scientific evidence shows that the world after even a limited nuclear war can only be hell. Let me repeat, we must, as reasonable beings, stop the nuclear arms race. We must, as humanity, obtain a freeze on the research, development, manufacture and deployment of all nuclear weapons. We must as reasonable human beings immediately reduce our nuclear stockpiles by negotiated agreement and by unilateral actions. We must very soon eliminate nuclear weapons all together from the face of the earth. Humanity must build a world without nuclear weapons before this century is over. To help reach that goal is the urgent task of all religious organizations.

Metropolitan Philaret has already specified the main theme: New Dangers to the Sacred Gift of Life: Our Tasks.

We deal with this theme under three sub-themes:

  1. Recent scientific Data on the Disastrous Effects of Nuclear War:

  2. A Strategy for Reducing Threats to Peace in the world Today; and

  3. The Tasks of Religious Circles and other public Forces.

Our time is limited. We will need to work in plenary most of the time, but will also need to do some drafting. We should now in this session decide what documents we need to produce, and possibly also appoint a Drafting Committee which can take notes from the beginning.

I would propose to you the following documents:

  1. Communiqué giving the basic details of our meeting

  2. A Statement (somewhat longer) of the content of the main theme and sub-themes based on the presentations and discussions; and

  3. Possibly some letters to the nuclear powers, to the non-aligned movement, and to others as we may decide.

The drafts will have to be ready by Tuesday (tomorrow) night, so that we can adopt them on Wednesday morning. This means hard work for our Drafting Committee as well as for our translators and typists.

The congenial and friendly atmosphere of the publications Department and the genial assistance of His Eminence Archbishop Pitirim, we know, will facilitate our work. We all will have a long day today. Some of you have just arrived over long distances, and it is unfair to make you work so hard the first day. But we are under pressure of time.

Once again, on behalf of the working Presidium and my own behalf, let me extend to you a most cordial and hearty welcome, and three days of pleasant and fruitful work together.

We want to express a special word of thanks to our secular experts who are willing to share their knowledge and experience with us. Without their sustained help, we cannot, as religious organizations, make much headway. We know that they cooperate with us so readily and willingly because the peril is common for all humanity, and all of us have to work together to save the sacred gift of life.

The dangers facing humanity today are daunting, formidable and unprecedented. The hopes are small, sometimes even feeble, but always precious. We have the United Nations as a forum for national governments to meet and confer. Let us cherish and support it. We have the Gromyko-Schultz Geneva agreement to open comprehensive negotiations for reduction of nuclear weapons. That is indeed a very precious hope. We have the six-nation Non- aligned Movement Summit and its Delhi Declaration which shows that non- nuclear governments are now actively concerned about nuclear war and its consequences. Let us lend our support to it, so that governments can exert some pressure on other governments.

But above all these things, to me, are the stirrings of the divine through the movements of the human spirit. The divine power working through the human spirit is more powerful than the 50,000, or more megatons of explosive power in our nuclear arsenals. The peoples of the world are astir. They will not tolerate Star Wars and the pursuit of the nuclear arms race when they become fully aware. To contribute to that awareness and stirring among the people is the sacred task of religious organizations today. Let us dedicate ourselves afresh to our goal -- to save the sacred gift of the life from nuclear catastrophe. Trusting in the divine Sprit, let us get to work.