If civilization collapses as a result of climate change or a more lethal pandemic the place with the best chance of surviving relatively intact is New Zealand, a new study concludes. However, if your response to this information is to try buying land there, instead of maybe trying to help prevent collapse in the first place, you may be too late.
Many civilizations have fallen before as a result of war, internal conflict, or over-exploitation of their resources. Nick King and Professor Aled Jones, both of Anglia Ruskin University, describe this as “de-complexification” in their study published in the journal Sustainability, where a multi-faceted society becomes reduced to survival mode, and explored the dangers of this occurring on a global scale.
King and Jones made a shortlist of five nations that, on preliminary inspection, looked best placed to serve as “collapse lifeboats” should such an event occur. In their paper, they compare these five: Australia, Iceland, Ireland, New Zealand, and the UK.
The shortlist countries were chosen because they are islands, so more likely to be able to isolate themselves from more general collapse, and large enough to maintain a complex society if they lose the opportunity to trade. Northern Australia aside, they also have sufficiently temperate climates that a rise in global temperature of 4ºC (7.2ºF) will not make their summers unbearable, and the surrounding oceans buffer against extremes in temperature and rainfall.
New Zealand was found to have what King and Jones call “The greatest potential to form a ‘node of persisting complexity'”, and others might describe as “not turning into a post-apocalyptic hellscape”. Iceland and Ireland also show promise, as does Tasmania, although the rest of Australia is not so lucky. “The United Kingdom presents a more complex picture and potentially has less favorable characteristics overall,” the paper reports. Only growing half its food is one problem.
Many of the world's super-rich have apparently reached similar conclusions, buying property in New Zealand reportedly as an insurance policy. This has contributed to skyrocketing house prices, leading to a ban on non-residents buying existing homes.
The report identifies one major flaw in these nation's resilience: only the UK has a substantial amount of oil. All the others would need to find alternative ways to run their transport fleets should global collapse make imports unreliable. Iceland is already onto this, with the second-highest proportion of electric vehicles in the world, but the others, particularly Tasmania, lag behind.
“Significant changes are possible in the coming years and decades. The impact of climate change, including increased frequency and intensity of drought and flooding, extreme temperatures, and greater population movement, could dictate the severity of these changes,” Jones said in a statement. “As well as demonstrating which countries we believe are best suited to managing such a collapse – which undoubtedly would be a profound, life-altering experience – our study aims to highlight actions to address the interlinked factors of climate change, agricultural capacity, domestic energy, manufacturing capacity, and the over-reliance on complexity, are necessary to improve the resilience of nations that do not have the most favorable starting conditions.”
Ideally, it might be hoped a surviving civilization, even one with a small fraction of the global population, might preserve the knowledge, Foundation-like, to restore the world from chaos. However, there's one thing King and Jones don't appear to have reckoned with: the fact two of their five potential lifeboats are highly volcanic, and have been the site of two of the most catastrophic eruptions in human history.