Survival After An Extreme Global Event

It is the stuff of 1950s films, UK Government late 20th century leaflets, and today with threats of the use of nuclear weaponry by Putin in his war against Ukraine – how countries would be able to feed their populace in the event of a Nuclear Winter.

There are, according to the latest research, 5 island nations which could be able to provide its citizens with home produced food in the event of the global catastrophe of a nuclear conflict in the Northern Hemisphere: New Zealand, Australia, Iceland, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.

Professor Nick Wilson, from the University of Otago and independent researcher Dr Matt Boyd, from Adapt Research in New Zealand have calculated that although able to produce enough food, New Zealand’s reliance on imported oil would still threaten food production and distribution.

The researchers investigated the impact of abrupt sunlight reducing scenarios caused by nuclear war, super volcano eruptions or asteroid impacts on agricultural production globally. They applied published crop models under ‘nuclear winter’ conditions to 38 island nations, combining this with other methods to estimate the food calorie supply. They also assessed a range of resilience factors that might protect countries from the impacts of a nuclear winter.

Historical research into the effects of massive global events have been shedding more light on how those affected the lives of people in the past, The Laki Eruption of 1783 by Geoff Hellman: Part 5

Locations and timing of the first appearance of the Laki haze in June 1783 in the Northern Hemisphere ( Thordarson & Self (2003))

In the event of a global disaster today, Dr Boyd says although some other nations would likely be able to produce enough food, other factors, such as the collapse of industry and social functioning placed their resilience in doubt.

Professor Wilson says the findings are consistent with a 1980s study on the impact of nuclear war on New Zealand, although the country’s resilience has declined since then as its dependence on  imported diesel and digital infrastructure has grown.

“Islands such as New Zealand are often very dependent on imports of refined liquid fuel, may lack energy self-sufficiency and are susceptible to breakdowns and shortages of critical commodities. While New Zealand could divert a high proportion of its dairy exports to supply the local market, it lacks the ability to manufacture many replacement parts for farm and food processing machinery.”

view of a countryside
Photo by josiah farrow on

Dr Boyd says the findings of the study reinforce the precarious position many countries would find themselves in during a global catastrophe.

“New Zealand has the potential to preserve an industrial society through this kind of catastrophe, but it is not ‘plug-and-play’. A decent amount of strategic planning needs to happen and across a long period of time, but this planning would have benefits in dealing with a wide range of extreme risks.”

Dr Boyd says the findings show there is a need to analyse nuclear winter and other abrupt sunlight reducing scenarios as part of a comprehensive national risk assessment.

“We are not aware of any plan for this kind of global catastrophe, including whether priorities for rationing have been considered.

“With the Government expected to release New Zealand’s first National Security Strategy this year it is important that the catastrophic risks associated with abrupt sunlight reducing scenarios do not slip through the cracks.”

Click on this link to access, Island refuges for surviving nuclear winter and other abrupt sunlight-reducing catastrophes, published in the journal Risk Analysis.

Fiona Grahame

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