Bunker repurposed for a US ‘doomsday’ community. A study proposes that countries able to grow food for their populations, protect their borders from unwanted mass migration and maintain an electrical grid, are best placed to withstand severe shocks. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA
Damian Carrington Environment editor @dpcarrington Wed 28 Jul 2021 23.00 BST
New Zealand, Iceland, the UK, Tasmania and Ireland are the places best suited to survive a global collapse of society, according to a study.
The researchers said human civilisation was “in a perilous state” due to the highly interconnected and energy-intensive society that had developed and the environmental damage this had caused.
A collapse could arise from shocks, such as a severe financial crisis, the impacts of the climate crisis, destruction of nature, an even worse pandemic than Covid-19 or a combination of these, the scientists said.
To assess which nations would be most resilient to such a collapse, countries were ranked according to their ability to grow food for their population, protect their borders from unwanted mass migration, and maintain an electrical grid and some manufacturing ability. Islands in temperate regions and mostly with low population densities came out on top.
The researchers said their study highlighted the factors that nations must improve to increase resilience. They said that a globalised society that prized economic efficiency damaged resilience, and that spare capacity needed to exist in food and other vital sectors.
Billionaires have been reported to be buying land for bunkers in New Zealand in preparation for an apocalypse. “We weren’t surprised New Zealand was on our list,” said Prof Aled Jones, at the Global Sustainability Institute, at Anglia Ruskin University, in the UK.
Jones added: “We chose that you had to be able to protect borders and places had to be temperate. So with hindsight it’s quite obvious that large islands with complex societies on them already [make up the list].
“We were quite surprised the UK came out strongly. It is densely populated, has traditionally outsourced manufacturing, hasn’t been the quickest to develop renewable technology, and only produces 50% of its own food at the moment. But it has the potential to withstand shocks.”
The study, published in the journal Sustainability, said: “The globe-spanning, energy-intensive industrial civilisation that characterises the modern era represents an anomalous situation when it is considered against the majority of human history.”
The study also said, that due to environmental destruction, limited resources, and population growth: “The [academic] literature paints a picture of human civilisation that is in a perilous state, with large and growing risks developing in multiple spheres of the human endeavour.”
Places that did not suffer “the most egregious effects of societal collapses and are therefore able to maintain significant populations” have been described as “collapse lifeboats”, the study said.
New Zealand was found to have the greatest potential to survive relatively unscathed due to its geothermal and hydroelectric energy, abundant agricultural land and low human population density.
Jones said major global food losses, a financial crisis and a pandemic had all happened in recent years, and “we’ve been lucky that things haven’t all happened at the same time – there’s no real reason why they can’t all happen in the same year”.
He added: “As you start to see these events happening, I get more worried but I also hope we can learn more quickly than we have in the past that resilience is important. With everyone talking about ‘building back better’ from the pandemic, if we don’t lose that momentum I might be more optimistic than I have been in the past.”
He said the coronavirus pandemic had shown that governments could act quickly when needed. “It’s interesting how quickly we can close borders, and how quickly governments can make decisions to change things.”
But he added: “This drive for just-in-time, ever-more efficient, economies isn’t the thing you want to do for resilience. We need to build in some slack in the system, so that if there is a shock then you have the ability to respond because you’ve got spare capacity.
“We need to start thinking about resilience much more in global planning. But obviously, the ideal thing is that a quick collapse doesn’t happen.”