New Zealand is one of the few island nations that can continue to produce enough food to feed its population through a nuclear winter, researchers have found.
In new research, Professor Nick Wilson of the University of Otago and independent researcher Dr Matt Boyd of Adapt Research in New Zealand say five island nations, including New Zealand, may be well placed to continue producing food despite declining solar light and lower temperatures caused by soot in the atmosphere after a nuclear war in the northern hemisphere. Australia (an island continent), Iceland, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands are also likely to have reliable food self-sufficiency, even in an extreme nuclear winter.
Their research is published in an international journal Risk analysis.
Professor Wilson says that while New Zealand is likely to be able to produce enough food, its production and distribution is still under threat due to the country’s extreme dependence on imported goods such as refined fuel.
The researchers examined the impact of scenarios of a drastic reduction in sunlight caused by a nuclear war, a supervolcano eruption or an asteroid impact on agricultural production around the world. They applied published ‘nuclear winter’ crop models to 38 island nations, combining this with other methods to estimate the caloric value of food. They also assessed a number of resilience factors that could protect countries from the effects of a nuclear winter.
Dr. Boyd says that while some other countries would probably be able to produce enough food, other factors, such as the collapse of industry and social functioning, have called their sustainability into question.
Prof Wilson says the findings are consistent with research from the 1980s on the impact of nuclear war on New Zealand, although since then the country’s resilience has declined as its reliance on imported diesel and digital infrastructure has grown.
“Islands like New Zealand are often highly dependent on imports of refined liquid fuels, can be short on energy supplies and vulnerable to breakdowns and shortages of critical commodities. While New Zealand can divert a large proportion of its dairy exports to supply the local market, it lacks the capacity to produce many spare parts for agricultural and food machinery.’
Dr Boyd says the study’s findings confirm the precarious position many countries would find themselves in during a global catastrophe.
“New Zealand has the potential to sustain an industrial society through such a disaster, but it’s not plug and play. There needs to be some decent strategic planning over a long period of time, but that planning will have advantages in dealing with a wide range of extreme risks.”
Dr. Boyd says the findings show the need to analyze nuclear winter and other scenarios of drastic reductions in sunlight as part of a comprehensive national risk assessment.
“We are not aware of any plan for this kind of global disaster, 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 scenarios of drastically reduced sunlight are not overlooked.”