We do know how lucky we are in NZ

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EDITORIAL: We may have among the world’s most expensive supermarkets, and our national game will soon be sponsored by a multinational oil company, but at least we can take comfort from this. New Zealand is the best place to be when civilisation collapses.

Not all stories that identify New Zealand as the best place for this or that should be taken seriously. Even people in Christchurch were bewildered when TIME magazine named the city as one of the world’s greatest places of 2021.

The Remarkables in winter 2021. This isn’t a bad place to be when the world ends.
Debbie Jamieson/Stuff
The Remarkables in winter 2021. This isn’t a bad place to be when the world ends.

But New Zealand as the ark that survives the apocalypse? That is a view we can support.

The Global Sustainability Institute​ at the Anglia Ruskin University​ in the UK uses “de-complexification” as a way of describing the end of civilisation, including the collapse of supply chains, international agreements and global financial structures.

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The combination of ecological destruction, limited resources and population growth could trigger such a de-complexification, unfolding over years or decades, “or very rapidly, in the space of less than a year, with no warning of the coming disruption,” according to the institute’s website.

It warns that: “The effects could spread quickly due to the increasing hyper-connectivity and interdependency of the globalised economy.”

Is it if or when? A famous study from 1972, The Limits of Growth, was recently reviewed and found to be eerily accurate. The current data is said to tally with the original predictions, with economic growth ending in less than a decade from now and collapse following a decade later, at around 2040.

The conclusion is that such an end is still avoidable, but only just.

The group from the Global Sustainability Institute picked the five countries with the most favourable starting conditions to survive a global collapse. They considered energy and manufacturing infrastructure, land available for farming, population size and distance from other large population centres.

Only islands need apply. The other four countries were Iceland, the UK, Ireland and Australia, but specifically Tasmania.

In the end, New Zealand was “identified as having the greatest potential to survive relatively unscathed thanks to its ability to produce geothermal and hydroelectric energy, its abundant agricultural land, and its low population”.

You could say that the Global Sustainability Institute is only confirming what many already knew. New Zealand used to be the place that might survive a nuclear war. More recently it is the place where, as writer Mark O’Connell​ explained in the Guardian in 2018, “Silicon Valley billionaires are prepping for the Apocalypse”.

“If you’re interested in the end of the world, you’re interested in New Zealand,” O’Connell wrote. “If you’re interested in how our current cultural anxieties – climate catastrophe, decline of transatlantic political orders, resurgent nuclear terror – manifest themselves in apocalyptic visions, you’re interested in the place occupied by this distant archipelago of apparent peace and stability against the roiling unease of the day.”

An odd mix of pride and dread might follow from the Global Sustainability Institute’s report. We once resented the tyranny of distance and our place as the “last, loneliest, loveliest”, as Rudyard Kipling​ said after a visit to Auckland. Now we can see the benefits and advantages of being an island at the end of the world, set up for the end of the world.

And the funny thing is that after more than a year of the enforced isolation produced by Covid-19, that kind of apocalyptic scenario is all too easy to imagine.