Join us on the 77th anniversary of Hiroshima to explore a chilling but fascinating topic: the latest science of nuclear winter, and how to reduce this risk by improving awareness of it. We'll be celebrating the heroes who discovered and spread the word about this shocking scientific prediction of nuclear winter: that firestorms set off by a major nuclear war would envelop the earth in soot and smoke blocking sunlight for years, sending global temperature plunging, ruining ecosystems and agriculture and killing billions through famine.
One panel will discuss the most up-to-date findings about nuclear winter; the other will explore the challenges involved in communicating this risk to politicians and the public, from the 1980s to today. The specter of nuclear war still hangs over us, and current geopolitics has made it as threatening as ever.
Panel 1 - The Science
The first conversation, moderated by physician-scientist and Future of Life Institute Director Dr. Emilia Javorsky, features nuclear winter pioneers Alan Robock, Brian Toon and Richard Turco. What have new cutting-edge climate models revealed about the climate impact in the aftermath of a nuclear war? What do new agricultural models predict about survival rates in various countries? And what about the impact of a nuclear war confined to one country or one continent?
Panel 2 - The Communication
The second discussion, chaired by MIT professor and Future of Life Institute president Max Tegmark, will feature nuclear winter pioneers John Birks and Georgiy Stenchikov as well as Ann Druyan, the Award-winning American documentary producer and director who co-wrote Cosmos with her late husband Carl Sagan. This panel focuses on the fascinating story of how nuclear winter was initially discovered and communicated to the public, and how the science helped persuade Reagan and Gorbachev to back down from the nuclear brink, despite attempts to silence the discovery.
About the Speakers
John W. Birks is the co-founder and former president of 2B Technologies, where he now works as Chief Scientist, directing research and development into new miniaturized air pollution monitors. Birks is Professor Emeritus and Department Chair of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Fellow Emeritus of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He is best known for quantifying the rates of several chemical reactions key to understanding ozone depletion in the Antarctic ozone hole, and his seminal work in 1981-82 with Paul Crutzen (Nobel Laureate, 1995) in developing the theory of nuclear winter.
Ann Druyan is an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning writer, producer and director specializing in science communication. She was the Creative Director of NASA’ s Voyager Record and co-wrote the 1980 television series Cosmos, with Carl Sagan, whom she married in 1981.
Alan Robock is a Distinguished Professor of climate science in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University. Robock has made significant contributions to our understanding of the environmental and humanitarian consequences of regional and global nuclear war. His areas of expertise include climate intervention (also called geoengineering), and the climatic effects of nuclear war and volcanic eruptions. Robock was a lead author of the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He is now Associate Editor of Reviews of Geophysics, the most highly-cited journal in the Earth Sciences, a fellow of the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society (AMS), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a recipient of the AMS Jule Charney Medal.
Georgiy Stenchikov completed his Ph.D. in the Numerical and Analytical Study of Weak Plasma Turbulence at Moscow Physical Technical Institute in 1977. Afterwards, he headed a department at the Russian Academy of Sciences, which used computational analysis to carry out crucial early research into the impact of humans on Earth's climate and environmental systems. In 1983, Stenchikov, along with his colleague Vladimir Alexandrov, used global climatic models to calculate the consequences of nuclear war. These efforts helped to support findings in the United States and influence political leadership in the Soviet Union to work on arms control. Since the end of the Cold War, Stenchikov has continued using climatic models to understand the consequences of nuclear war.
Owen Brian Toon is a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences, and a fellow at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. In 1969 he received an A.B. in physics at the University of California, Berkeley and, in 1975, a Ph.D. in physics at Cornell University under Carl Sagan. Toon focuses his research on cloud physics, atmospheric chemistry, radiative transfer, and comparing Earth with other planets. His work on the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs was pivotal to the discovery of nuclear winter; his contribution to the TTAPS paper involved applying his previous findings about the impact of volcanic dust clouds on the Martian climate. Toon is a fellow of the American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union, from whom he received the Roger Revelle Medal in 2011.
Richard Turco is an atmospheric scientist, and professor at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, and the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles. He was lead author of the 'TTAPS' paper published in 1983 in Science magazine which coined the term 'nuclear winter' and popularized the idea. The paper reported computer simulations of strong climatic anomalies — namely deep cooling of Earth’s surface — associated with the absorption of solar radiation by smoke generated in a putative large-scale nuclear exchange. Turco was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1986.
About the Hosts
Emilia Javorsky is a physician-scientist, entrepreneur, and advocate for the safe and beneficial use of emerging technologies. Dr. Javorsky is a director at the Future of Life Institute, a visiting scholar and mentor at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard Medical School, a Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum and a Forbes 30 Under 30 in Healthcare. She has authored a multitude of peer-reviewed publications and is an inventor on multiple patents.
Max Tegmark is a professor doing AI and physics research at MIT as part of the Institute for Artificial Intelligence & Fundamental Interactions and the Center for Brains, Minds and Machines. He advocates for positive use of technology as president of the Future of Life Institute. He is the author of over 250 publications as well as the New York Times bestsellers Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence and Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality. His most recent AI research focuses on intelligible intelligence as well as news bias detection with machine-learning.
This event is supported by and presented with Future of Life Institute, an independent nonprofit that works to reduce extreme risks from transformative technologies, as well as steer the development and use of these technologies to benefit life.