With just hours to go before the 21st of December arrives in the author’s home country of Australia, one of the first places on the planet to see if the Mayan doomsday prophecy will be proven true or false, John Hallam, from People for Nuclear Disarmament, Human Survival Project, writes about the very real possibility there exists to destroy the planet in minutes unless those with weapons on hair-trigger alert are prepared to do something about it.

The world is ‘supposed’ to end tomorrow

The idea that this is so may well be based on a complete misinterpretation of the structure of the Mayan calendar, and there is absolutely no concrete evidence, 24 hours beforehand, of any approaching cataclysm, so hopefully we will all get to experience a Christmas and a new year.

Nonetheless it is well to reflect on the entirely real possibilities of human extinction that do exist, even in the absence of any particular evidence of any of them taking place tomorrow. These include obviously, large incoming asteroids, plagues possibly caused by bio-warfare, and – at a bit more of a stretch – self-replicating ‘grey goo’ produced by nanotechnology, and at an even bigger stretch, physics experiments that might possibly, maybe, cause the entire solar system to disappear in a bright flash.

Foremost amongst the threats that are all too real, almost boringly well-known, and that will remain on the agenda on the 22nd of December, is the fact that the United States and Russia each maintain over 1000 nuclear warheads each atop ICBMs that are able to be launched in, according to Russian authorities, ‘a few dozens of seconds’.

In 2009, Gareth Evans ICNND noted that:

“Nuclear weapons are the most inhumane weapons ever conceived, inherently indiscriminate in those they kill and maim, and with an impact deadly for decades. Their use, by anyone at any time, whether by accident, miscalculation or design, would be catastrophic. They are the only weapons ever invented that have the capacity to wholly destroy life on this planet, and the arsenals we now poses – combining their blast, radiation, and potential ‘nuclear winter’ effects – are able to do so many times over….”

The use of a number of thousands of nuclear weapons, targeted at cities, (which are the ‘default’ target of most nuclear weapons), would, according to the ‘Nuclear Winter’ research re-done in 2006 by Professors Toon and Robock of Rutgers University, not only kill a large portion of all humans in the ensuing firestorms, but would then inject up to 150 million tonnes of very black soot right into the upper stratosphere where it would blot out the sun for decades, creating a freezing twilight in which most remaining humans would starve and freeze to death.

The mechanisms to do this exist right now (and have been in place ever since the 1960s). A US-Russian nuclear ‘exchange’, an apocalypse for which both sides still drill regularly, would produce temperatures lower than, or similar to, the last ice – age. The ICBMs to do it remain in their silos, gyros spinning, able to be launched at the turning of keys and the inputting of a few numerical codes.

Every two years, the United Nations General Assembly, in a resolution that sprung from the efforts of the author of this press-release, calls on the US and Russia to lower the operational readiness of their strategic nuclear weapon systems. That resolution was adopted just three weeks ago by 164-4. The missiles remain on high alert as before.

A nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan, potentially the world’s most likely nuclear ‘flashpoint’, using up to 110 Hiroshima-sized warheads each, could still produce not only up to 150 million immediate casualties, but a global ‘nuclear autumn’ in which up to a billion could die from famine.

The world will hopefully not end tomorrow. But the (real) apocalypse remains on the agenda, in its silos, waiting for buttons to be pressed, numerical codes to be input, and keys to be turned.