New Zealand, a Place to Survive a Societal Collapse

A study identified New Zealand as the best place for society to survive of a general collapse. Ireland, Australia, Iceland are other countries with the highest potentials.

With risks of systemic instabilities caused by ecological destruction, climate change, pandemics, and ever-more complex global interdependencies, the theory of a societal collapse have been growing in recent years.

And in light of a “perilous state” of human civilization, two researchers from the Global Sustainability Institute in Cambridge tried to identify places offering the best conditions for society to survive a global and uncontrolled collapse of civilization.

As a result, New Zealand appears to have the greatest potential to sustain some form of human society, before Australia (Tasmania), Ireland and Iceland.

New Zealand benefits from a temperate climate with abundant precipitations, a high ratio of arable land available per capita and great potential for indigenous renewable energy supply.

New Zealand enjoys extensive arable lands isolated from areas with large population
New Zealand enjoys extensive arable lands isolated from areas with large population

Islands, best places to survive a global collapse

Iceland may be at sub-polar latitudes, the North Atlantic Gulf stream however gives a climate similar to more southern lands. Although Australia has multiple climatic conditions in the country subject to global warming, the conditions in the island of Tasmania could increasingly be recognised as “Australia’s local refuge”.

The United Kingdom enjoys a surprisingly high rank but the authors consider it presents a more complex picture because of a complicated energy mix and a high population density.

New Zealand tops the list thanks to abundant geothermal and hydroelectric resources while the five best ranked countries are currently all net importers of liquid hydrocarbon fuels.

A “crucial common feature” among those countries is that they are all “islands, island archipelagos or island continents located at temperate latitudes with strong Oceanic climatic”.

These locations are also less likely to suffer from variability of temperature in climate change scenarios, unlike tropical and subtropical regions.

Volcanoes and water streams would be great resources of renewable energy for New Zealand's self-sufficiency
Volcanoes and water streams would be great resources of renewable energy for New Zealand’s self-sufficiency | Tongariro National Park, New Zealand

The capacity to be self-sufficient

The study shortlisted a few places that were more likely to comprise “favourable starting conditions” and be less vulnerable of environmental challenges.

From a list of the 20 countries least vulnerable to climate change, where Norway is the most prone to adapt to climate disruptions, researchers shortlisted 5 countries (New Zealand, Ireland, Iceland, Australia, United Kingdom) for their “favourable starting conditions” to maintain some form of society.

According to the authors, the de-complexification of the world, meaning a societal collapse, would be less difficult in areas where nodes of persisting complexity”, i.e. some sort of society, could remain possible.

Those favourable starting conditions were based on factors like the capacity to be self-sufficient in energy supply or manufacturing capacity. Being somehow isolated also limits large-scale migrations from external populations and reduces disruption in carrying capacity.

Carrying capacity is a concept that defines the maximum population size an environment can sustainably support in ecology, agriculture and fisheries. In fact, the extent of arable land in a country appears to be crucial as food imports would be impossible in the hypothesis of a societal collapse.

The study based its calculations on estimates where 2.2 hectares (0.022 square kilometre or 0.008 square mile) per capita is necessary to completely sustain an industrialized Western lifestyle, although 100 to 2,000 square meters (10,000 to 21,500 sq ft) are sufficient to provide enough calories to one person with a vegetarian diet.

With the concept of nodes of persisting complexity, the researchers hope to bring more understanding of the features improving nations’ resilience capacities.

Read more about New Zealand


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