We know that the turbulent climate system can kill, and that human-driven global warming is jolting the climate in fresh ways that are worsening risks, as accumulating scientific reports make ever clearer.
It's far less appreciated that climate science can be deadly, as well - or at least it's almost certain that a particular Russian climate scientist, Vladimir Aleksandrov, was killed in March, 1985, after speaking at an international conference of mayors from nuclear-free zones gathered in Cordoba, Spain. (He disappeared completely, with no body ever turning up, making suicide or robbery a highly unlikely outcome.)
Aleksandrov, as charming as he was brilliant, had become a leading international spokesman warning the world that a nuclear war, by incinerating vast amounts of fuels in cities, could create a protracted and deadly chill - a "nuclear winter."
But the nuclear winter hypothesis itself had become a weapon of sorts as the nuclear superpowers jostled, and the computing technology underpinning the science had become a top target of espionage efforts.
Starting in 1984, at Science Digest magazine, I'd spent months reporting and writing about nuclear winter and the supercomputer-driven climate models that made simulations of this phenomenon - and global warming - possible. I was also reporting on the strategic tussle over supercomputing power between the Reagan administration and Soviet Union.
So it was natural that American colleagues of Aleksandrov called me (and other reporters) pressing us to investigate the disappearance of their colleague and friend, who'd spent so much time in the United States that he had obtained an Oregon driver's license (while working on supercomputers at Oregon State University).
Please explore my 1986 article, in which I distilled dozens of interviews and other reporting to reconstruct the arc of Aleksandrov's life. But it was an arc cut brutally short, with no clear ending and intelligence agencies of the West and East both leaking hints the other was at fault.
I journeyed on through my decades on the climate, conservation and sustainability beat. But the Cold War ebbed - at least for a time - and I left Aleksandrov's story behind except for an occasional look back, as when I contributed to a Retro Report package on this climate cold case and the wider nuclear winter saga in 2016.
Then, in 2018, I received an email from a young British filmmaker with Russian roots, Nikolai Galitzine, who said he was developing a documentary on nuclear winter and Aleksandrov. We've stayed in touch ever since and Galitzine has dug far, far deeper and wider than I ever did, interviewing dozens of old and new sources - even spending time in Moscow with Aleksandrov's sole surviving relative, his daughter Olga, just weeks before Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.
Russia's brutal and unrelenting attack on its neighbor has rekindled concerns about nuclear war, as I've explored here in recent weeks.
It has also resulted in at least one instance in which a Russian climate scientist has been threatened for his views on policy. Oleg Anisimov, an Arctic researcher, drew attacks from a Putin-aligned politician after apologizing for the invasion of Ukraine to colleagues during a February meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The member of the Duma, Viktor Vodolatsky, was quoted in Russian media as saying Anisimov should be "deprived of all ranks and sent into oblivion."
Galitzine is still on the trail of the truth, currently in Madrid after spending time amid the Easter throngs in Cordoba seeking new hints to the disappearance, posting dozens of flyers and filming the spots where Aleksandrov was last seen.
For the latest on this tragic vanishing, join my special live Sustain What conversation with Galitzine Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. U.S. EDT / 8:00 p.m. CEST on Facebook, LinkedIn or right here on YouTube:
I'll add highlights here when we're done and would love your thoughts on this chilling, and still unresolved, tragedy.
Putin's Ukraine Escalation Prompts Fresh Urgency on "Nuclear Winter" and U.S. Nuclear Posture - In the Cold War, scientists found fires from a nuclear war could loft so much smoke high into the rainless stratosphere that solar dimming could spawn famine. Lately, the science has strengthened. - my recent Sustain What update on nuclear winter
Prophet of Doom - the Facebook page for Galitzine's film project.