The lucky country can count on one more piece of good fortune, with researchers finding Australia – followed by neighbour New Zealand – best placed to survive a nuclear winter and help reboot a collapsed human civilisation.
The study published in the journal Risk Analysis describes Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu as the island countries most capable of producing enough food for their populations after an “abrupt sunlight‐reducing catastrophe” such as a nuclear war, super volcano or asteroid strike.
There would “likely be pockets of survivors around the planet in even the most severe” scenario, the researchers write – with those in the most resilient nations standing the best chance of avoiding a pre-industrial collapse.
The authors compared 38 island countries on 13 factors they said could predict success as a post-apocalyptic survival state, including food production, energy self-sufficiency, manufacturing and the disaster’s effect on climate. Australia and New Zealand – both robust agricultural producers and tucked away from the likely sites of northern hemisphere nuclear fallout – topped the tables, with Australia performing best overall.
“Australia’s food supply buffer is gigantic,” the study concludes, “with potential to feed many tens of millions of extra people.”
Australia’s relatively good infrastructure, vast energy surplus, high health security and defence budget all aided in pushing it to the top of the table. Australia did have one major factor working against it, however: its relatively close military ties with the UK and US made it more likely to become a target in a nuclear war.
In this area, New Zealand displayed some advantages, the authors said, with its longstanding nuclear-free status. Its resilience in the event of an abrupt drop in global temperature prompted by a period of darkness (everywhere in New Zealand is relatively close to the ocean, cushioning it from extreme temperature plunges) would also help.
“We have this super efficient food export economy that could feed New Zealanders multiple times over just from exports,” said one of the study’s authors, Prof Nick Wilson from the University of Otago, Wellington. Even in the worst-case scenario – a 61% reduction in crops during a prolonged nuclear winter – New Zealanders would still have enough to eat, he added.
Despite New Zealand’s abundance of food and its high ranking on social cohesion metrics, a shutdown of global trade could precipitate social collapse by degrees, Wilson added.
“I am concerned about a false security for New Zealand,” Wilson said. The country no longer had any facility refining fuel and is intensely dependent on imports for the diesel, pesticides and machinery needed to sustain its dominant agricultural sector.
Other island countries would be able to produce enough food in such a crisis, Wilson and co-author Dr Matt Boyd wrote, but the likely collapse of industry and social cohesion put their resilience in doubt. China, Russia and the United States could see food production fall up to 97% under nuclear winter models and would be forced to rely on new food production technologies.