Researchers have found that New Zealand is one of the few island nations that can continue to produce enough food to feed its population in a nuclear winter.
In a new study, Professor Nick Wilson, from the University of Otago and independent researcher Dr Matt Boyd, from Adapt Research in New Zealand, say five island nations, including New Zealand, could be well placed to continue producing food despite reduced sunlight and Colder temperatures due to soot in the atmosphere after a nuclear war in the Northern Hemisphere. Australia (an island continent), Iceland, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands are likely to have strong food self-sufficiency, even in a harsh nuclear winter.
Their research has been published in the International Journal Risk analysis.
Professor Wilson says that while New Zealand was likely to continue to be able to produce enough food, its production and distribution remains threatened by the country’s heavy reliance on imported goods, such as refined fuel.
Researchers investigated the impact of scenarios of sudden sunlight reduction caused by nuclear war, super-volcanic eruptions, or asteroid impacts on agricultural production globally. They applied published crop models under “nuclear winter” conditions to 38 island nations, and combined this with other methods to estimate dietary calorie supply. They also assessed a range of resilience factors that might protect countries from the effects of nuclear winter.
Dr Boyd says that although some other countries are likely to be able to produce enough food, other factors, such as the collapse of industry and social performance, have called their resilience into question.
Professor Wilson says the findings are consistent with a study conducted in the 1980s on the impact of nuclear war on New Zealand, although the country’s resilience has since declined as its reliance on imported diesel and digital infrastructure has grown.
“Often highly dependent on imports of refined liquid fuels, islands such as New Zealand may lack energy self-sufficiency and be vulnerable to breakdowns and commodity shortages. While New Zealand can divert a high proportion of its dairy exports to supply the local market, it lacks The ability to manufacture many spare parts for farm and food processing machines.
Dr Boyd says the findings of the study reinforce the precarious situation many countries may find themselves in during a global catastrophe.
“New Zealand has the potential to sustain an industrial society through this kind of disaster, but it is not ‘plug and play’. A decent amount of strategic planning should happen over a long period of time, but that planning would have benefits in dealing with a range of wide range of extreme risks.
Dr Boyd says the findings show there is a need to analyze nuclear winter and other scenarios to reduce sudden sunshine as part of a comprehensive national risk assessment.
“We are not aware of any plan for this kind of global catastrophe, including whether rationing priorities 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 sudden sun limit scenarios do not slip through the cracks.”