Study: Which countries will survive a collapse best?
Will civilization as we know it end in the next 100 years? Will there be any functional places left? These questions may sound like dystopian fiction. But if recent headlines on extreme weather, climate change, the ongoing pandemic, and failing global supply chains ask you, you’re not alone.
Today, two British academics, Aled Jones, director of the Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England, and his co-author, Nick King, believe they have answers. Their analysis, published in July in the journal Sustainability, aims to identify the best places to continue when or if others collapse. They call these lucky places ânodes of enduring complexityâ.
The winner, the tech billionaires who already own bunkers there will be happy to know, is New Zealand. The finalists are Tasmania, Ireland, Iceland, Great Britain, the United States and Canada.
The findings have been met with skepticism by other academics who study topics such as climate change and the collapse of civilization. Some categorically disagreed with the list, saying it placed too much emphasis on the advantages of the islands and did not properly account for variables such as military might.
And some have said the whole exercise was misguided: If climate change is allowed to disrupt civilization to this degree, no country will have reason to celebrate.
Professor Jones, Ph.D. in cosmology – the branch of astronomy focused on the origins of the universe – has a broad interest in how to make global food systems and global financial systems more resilient. He says he’s also intrigued by the ways in which collapse in one part of the world, whether caused by an extreme weather event or otherwise, can lead to collapse in another part.
It is not certain that climate change will bring about the end of civilization, he said, but it is on the way to creating a “global shock”.
“We will be lucky if we can resist it,” he added.
The underlying assumption of his model is that when many countries collapse at the same time, those best configured for self-sufficiency are most likely to continue to function.
For his study, he drew on the University of Notre Dame’s Global Adaptation Initiative, which ranks 181 countries each year based on their readiness to successfully adapt to climate change. (Norway tops the Initiative Country Index; New Zealand comes in second.)
He then added three more measures: Does the country have enough land to grow food for its people? if he has the energetic capacity to âkeep the lights onâ, as he said in an interview; and if the country is isolated enough to prevent others from crossing its borders, while its neighbors are collapsing.
New Zealand comes out on top in Professor Jones’ analysis because it appears ready for the climate changes created by climate change. It has a lot of renewable energy capacity, it can produce its own food, and it’s an island, which means it scores well on the isolation factor, he said.
Tasmania, an Australian island state about 150 miles south of the continent, came in second, Professor Jones said, as it has the infrastructure to adapt to climate change and is agriculturally productive.
Linda Shi, a professor in Cornell University’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning which focuses on urban climate adaptation and social justice, said she appreciated the study’s authors thinking long-term. and were trying to pull together complex information in their analysis of how countries might fare once temperatures rose four degrees Celsius.
Extreme weather conditions
But she takes issue with several aspects of the list, starting with Tasmania. âIf you’re going to include Tasmania but don’t care that the rest of Australia goes down, there is definitely a part of a huge country like China that would find a way to protect its people,â he said. she declared.
Professor Shi is also concerned that the model’s underlying data set – the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative – is so strongly correlated with per capita income. She is not convinced that just because a nation is rich it will be resilient. Nor is she convinced that physical isolation keeps dangers away.
“Nuclear ships and warheads can get to New Zealand,” she said.
Professor Shi also suggested that any model that ignores governance or military power is incomplete.
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Ireland has done well mainly because of its agricultural and renewable energy capacity and its isolation, Professor Jones said. Irish press headlines last week seemed excited about the list.
The top-ranked countries should not be celebrating, said Joseph Tainter, who wrote a seminal text on the collapse of society and is sometimes credited with spawning the academic sub-discipline.
While praising the study’s ambition, he said the authors failed to properly account for the amount of fossil fuels a nation needs to feed itself.
âWithout fossil fuels, agriculture would come back to oxen and human labor,â said Dr Tainter. “In an event of decomplexification” – the academic term for when it all goes wrong – “90 percent of a country’s population would become farmers, as was the case in the past.”
Rather than operating at current levels of complexity, Dr Tainter said that even a country that survived would face “societal, economic and technological simplification”.
Iceland ranks well, Professor Jones said, due to its agricultural and renewable energy capabilities as well as its isolation. Moreover, even if the climate changes, it should not lead to a major change in the functioning of the society of the country.
Justin Mankin, a geography professor at Dartmouth, disagreed.
âThe spatial pattern of extreme weather events caused by global warming and other hazards will no doubt profoundly affect places like the UK, New Zealand, Iceland and Tasmania,â he said. .
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He even surprised Professor Jones.
âWe always blame the UK for not doing enough on climate change,â he said. But being an island gave him a huge boost in his ability to survive an apocalypse, he said.
He insisted that he was not biased just because he lives there.
United States and Canada
The United States and Canada tied for sixth. One factor holding them back, Professor Jones said, is their shared land border. His model assumes that it would be more difficult for a country to maintain stability if masses of desperate people could run across a border.
Professor Shi pointed out that this flawed premise risks fueling xenophobic impulses.
Professor Jones acknowledges that the idea that mass migration is bad for a country is “a very simplistic idea”, but it is a way to assess whether it is likely to have enough food while its neighbors struggle.
Andrew Pershing, director of climate science at Climate Central, an organization of scientists and journalists specializing in reporting on climate change, said that instead of focusing on how a country could best cope with a collapse global, scientists should focus on how to avoid this collapse. .
Yes, global temperatures have already risen by just over a degree Celsius, he said. But the catastrophic three-degree rise around which Mr. Jones’ model is built is not inevitable.
âWe have the tools to limit the warming to something close to 1.5 degrees Celsius,â he said. “Rather than thinking about the lifeboats, I’m more interested in what we can do to prevent the ship from sinking.”
Professor Jones says people can misinterpret his intentions. He is not suggesting that people with the means to do so start buying bunkers in New Zealand or Iceland, he said. Rather, he wants other countries to explore ways to improve their resilience.