Thermonuclear Apocalypse ~ or ~ Why we’re not out of the radioactive water yet

Since I can remember I’ve had recurring dreams about the “Dying Day”. As soon as I could talk I would give detail descriptions about my nightly escapades in this hellish scene to my worried Mum who no doubt wondered if she had given birth the reincarnation of Nostradamus or even possibly the Anti-Christ. These apocalyptic dreams would come and go in bouts throughout my childhood leaving me a bit obsessed with the Cold War and post-apocalyptic sci-fi themes. This could also explain why I became so enthralled in the thrashing guitars and doom-mongering lyrics of Megadeth but this post isn’t about psycho-analysing my childhood it’s actually my argument as to why we should still be wary of nuclear war.

The other night I had a dream that terrified and illuminated me all at the same time. I was walking along the Dunstable Downs overlooking the town below when the sky filled with a light that outshone the sun. Moments later an intense heat filled the air followed by the loudest explosion I’ve ever heard. As the light faded a towering mushroom cloud rose like a colossus over the town below as everything below it burned, seconds later I woke up. It felt so real I had to check the news to make sure my home town hadn’t been wiped off the map, of course it hadn’t but it got me thinking about the threat of nuclear warfare.

Since the Berlin Wall crumbled and signified the end of the USSR the threat of nuclear holocaust has diminished from most folks minds with the threat of asteroid collisions, global pandemics, irreversible climate change and terrorism taking the headlines. Nuclear War seemed so passé, relegated to the meandering of crazy survivalists and nutty homeless guys with cardboard box signs. But did the threat ever really go away? After all only a relatively small number of warheads and missile silos were decommissioned and countries such as North Korea and China have not been subject to the scrutiny that the USA and Russia have been regarding nuclear proliferation.

One of my favourite film franchises is the Terminator series. If you ignore the whole time travel paradox and focus on the crux of the story which is machines taking over the world then it starts to share some fascinating similarities with real life events. While the notion of computers becoming self-aware is, as far as we know, a while off yet machines are nonetheless infiltrating our everyday lives. Sure we still find it incredibly difficult to emulate the way a human moves in the confines of a robot but we already have real-life early terminator models in the form of unmanned drones. Our every move is tracked and logged by Facebook and Google and what’s more we are fully embracing this Orwellian style Big Brother business because very few of us want to be left behind when it comes to social innovations. With machines taking over more and more of our lives is it only a matter of time until we are at the mercy of our creations?

Some may argue that we are already there. The vast number of humans alive today is only really testament to our ability to use technology creatively to support our ever-increasing numbers. People living in towns and cities are at the complete mercy of technology in order to survive. Computers manage the road, rail and air networks while supermarkets, for many the only source of food are supplied through a vast and elaborate computer network that calculates stock levels and decides how to restock by calculating supply and demand. These are delivered by giant modern trucks whose engines are managed by complex computer algorithms and these engines in turn run on diesel, which can now only be extracted and refined through modern technology. If a powerful solar flare was to knock out the works power grids we’d be catapulted back to pre-industrial times and millions would starve.

The scenario described above illustrates how dependant we already are on technology to survive and with ever more of our life support systems being managed by networked computers is not a very big stretch to imagine a world where nations put their defence systems in the safe hands of machine intelligence. Once that happens who’s to say they won’t look at how humans have decimated the natural world and decide that we are in fact the enemy?

Take another scenario and imagine a scene 15-20 years from now when oil is running low, world financial markets are increasingly unstable (yes even more than they are today) and the human population is reaching breaking. International relationships will be more strained than they ever have been as nations compete for limited resources, many of these nations will have a nuclear option acting they claim as a deterrent when in fact it only makes them a larger target. Under these pressures it only takes one crackpot General or a benign miscommunication for the first missiles to be launched and once they are it’s curtains for everybody.

With the worlds current nuclear elite holding firmly onto their warheads and many more nations including in unstable regions such as Iran exploring the nuclear option we are far from being out of the radioactive water yet. Even today nuclear missiles are targeting capital cities, military complexes and domestic infrastructure. I don’t pretend to be a prophet and I don’t claim my dreams are a warning about future events but on top of a failing world economy and the threats from terrorism, climate change, plagues, asteroid collisions and invasions from little green men I just wanted to give you something else to worry about!

Have a nice day!