Author Options:

When the worlds ends... Answered

I just learned that China's six biggest ports now ship 25 times more goods than the entire planet shipped just a generation ago.

A few logical steps later, I found myself wondering;

How long could [insert country of choice] last if all international transport (including materials transported via pipes) were suddenly shut off?

How far back down the scale of civilisation would your nation slide before it stabilised?

Which countries would fare worst? Best?



Well depending on so many things that could happen we need to narrow down what would be the cause first. Say a global EMP burts from the sun fries all electronics everywhere. This could cause what your describing in your proposal. Nothing moves from country to country, and even within the countrys.
Depending on the time of year it happend, (spring,summer,fall,winter) almost every country would have a MASSIVE die off. Even the countries that many think wouldn't be that bad like the USA. Look at the population density of any major city and tell me how much food could be grown to support that population in the city.

As an example look at New York with hurrican Sandy. If there was no help from the outside, no way to transport food, fuel, power, water, meds to Manhatten Island for just one month. How many people do you think would survive? My guess there would be 99.9% die off from natural and man-made causes. Now if the same situation without the same population and with farmable land I'd say a much lower die off. If you can't support yourself, and everyone else supporting them selves, then your set up to fail.

And this isn't even taking into accout human nature and the will to survive. Humans are know as the most deadly animal on the planet for a reason. We have brains that allow us to use tools. If you stop and think about it, you are capeable of doing anything to survive at all costs. There is no civlization when it comes to starvation. No rules. People will do whatever it takes. Scary to think about. If you want to see a glimps of it, see the movie called The Road.

Have a nice day!

I just watched the trailer for "The Road." I'd never heard of it before, but it looks like a great movie! Headed to eBay now. ;-)

It was never promoted like most movies now days. I think because it is such a dark subject that at the time they didn't think anyone would want to watch it. Now everyone is getting into shows like doomsday preppers and Hollywood can't figure it out. Let me know if you like it. :)

Just watched it last night. Dark, indeed! Interesting, too... but if I never hear the word "papa" again, I'm good with that. ;-)

Yea it does get to you don't it. I really didn't see that coming but that's part of what makes it good. Makes you think of things in a new light.

From the film Withnail and I:
If you're hanging on to a rising balloon, you're presented with a difficult decision — let go before it's too late or hang on and keep getting higher, posing the question: how long can you keep a grip on the rope?

People can understand your idea, but they will still be consumers tomorrow. So to answer the question, the the nations that consume most would be hit hardest and those statistics should be easy to find. And they'd slide back towards nations that consume much less.


I would say that I wouldn't want to be withing 500 miles of nearly anyone else if this happened.....enough said :-)

In the States, I wouldn't either. 8-/

humans are pretty much human everywhere, and after a few days of hunger....well you know :-)

True, but Americans humans with unfettered access to firearms (and nefarious intent) would have a dangerous advantage.

yes, and they are the ones normally considered law breakers :-)

Then it would all come down to natural resources. China and the US would do well. Things would get more expensive in the US, but there's almost nothing made outside of the US that couldn't be made inside of it. US and China have enough food, energy, and raw materials to keep from sliding too far back, though many things would get more expensive in the US, and in the short-term there would be technology shortages as the US infrastructure realigned.

I tried and failed to find a map of countries that import vs export food. That would tell you a lot about which countries would fall into chaos of food shortages.

If I read your question to mean "no travel across borders" then Europe would be devastated as well as any island nation. The individual countries are too small to have self-sustaining resources.

I suspect India, Brazil, Australia and Russia wouldn't do too badly. They're geographically big enough to have a lot of resources to call upon. (And in the case of Australia, not that many people to support and they're used to being at the end of the earth.) The success or failure of India, Brazil and Russia would depend more on culture and government than access to resources and ability.

A big thing would be pharmaceuticals. Only a few countries produce a broad range of them, the rest of the world imports them. It would take individual countries a lot longer to spin up factories and develop expertise to produce drugs than to open a neodymium mine. And when your healthcare system is falling apart it's hard to focus on bigger things.

Is it an option to move the borders? Because a nation could always conquer its neighbors to get access to more materials.

"US and China have enough food, energy, and raw materials to keep from sliding too far back"

As far as oil is concerned, the U.S., China, Japan, India and Germany are the top 5 countries to import oil. Based on U.S. Energy stats, 18.83 million barrels are used a day in the U.S. and 11.36 million barrels of that is imported, which calculates to 60%. China imports about 55% of their oil (and their dependance is growing) and India is apparently at 70%. So, for the purposes of this discussion, unless you planned to use less, there isn't enough being produced in the U.S. to meet your current demand...

Current demand? No. But the question is how far down the progress tree would the country fall before it stabilized. I believe that the US has enough domestic production to survive with litte effect other than high fuel prices and increased efficiency. 

My research shows that the US currently imports 42% of its oil.  Domestic ethanol could make up about 10% of that, leaving 32%. While that's still a lot to make up, it could still be covered by basic conservation. Americans are incredibly wasteful with their fuel consumption. Per capita, the US uses 170% more petroleum than Japan. [source]  And Japan is about as hyper-industrialized as you'll find, so there is a lot of room for more efficient use in the US without falling down the technological tree.

Also several of the industries that use lots of oil (International travel and shipping spring to mind) would be defunct, saving that fuel for other uses.

True, given enough notice, the US could make most things, but I said "suddenly". What if all that imported food, fuel and technology was just switched off?

The US has enough food and fuel to feed and power its self, though there would be some belt-tightening for fuel. Not necessarily a bad thing.

My Bay/Bruckheimer movie synopsis would go like this:
- The same day: Fuel and steel prices quadruple. Alternative energy stocks surge. Stocks for electronics companies and big box stores fall.

- Day 2: Alternative energy stocks drop again as everyone realizes solar panels and electric cars are reliant on foreign-made materials. State of emergency is declared for the nation. This mostly involves letting the national guard quell any riots, and the government propping up fuel prices even more. The President gives a pep talk that's generally well received.

- Day 3: There's a bit of unrest as people horde electronics and toys. The price of gold and other precious metals has gone through the roof. Jewelry is seen as a good investment.

- Day 4: Banana riots.

- Day 5: UPS and FedEx start layoffs. But they can get jobs as guards at WalMart and Good Guys, which have nearly empty shelves, though still have people fighting over leftovers.

- Day 12: Today's business closures: Sony USA. Dell, HP.

- Day 15: The secondary market for electronics has gone crazy. Specific models of TVs, mobile phones, and laptops known for their durability are being sold for 100x their retail price.

- Day 20: Alcoa announces the reopening of a number of mines for rare earth and bauxite.

- Day 40: Food prices spike. Not only are high fuel prices to blame, but a fair bit of grain production has been diverted to biofuel and bioplastic manufacturing. "Locavore" movement gains ground.

- Day 70: A new nationwide franchise opens that just fixes electronics.

- Day 85: A new business starts selling houses and pop-up businesses prefabbed from shipping containers. (Though most of the steel is recycled since the price of steel is several times it's previous record high.)

- Day 90: The last US Airline enters bankruptcy. The government collects the remnants of the old airlines and creates a new state-run airline (ala Amtrak). Initial reviews are generally positive.

- Day 120: The first new factories open, though all they produce is molded plastic. Similar factories are being built all over the midwest next door to bioplastic plants. Assembly plants are being constructed in freshly vacated Big Box stores.

-Day 130: Breaking your company provided laptop or mobile phone will now get you fired at all remaining Fortune 500 companies.

- Day 145: Universities announce fast-track program to (re)train people in the technical and manufacturing fields lost when the borders closed.

- Day 150: Unemployment hits it's peak of 16.5%

- Day 220: Failure to recycle is criminalized nationwide.

- Day 360: A vigil is held for those who have relatives and loved ones overseas. The general consensus is that everyone needs to get on with their life.

After this it's all cleanup. While it would take a good decade or two to fully recover, there would be a lot of breakthroughs in materials science and renewable energy that otherwise wouldn't have happened. In my imagination it seems like the long-term effects in the US would be net positive.

Outside the US: It would be a great opportunity for indigenous popular culture (Movies, TV, music, books) to develop its own voice and not be lead around by the US.

I could probably make up a similar story (but with a much less happy ending) for Japan, but I don't really know enough about the imports and exports of most countries to make a guess for them.

Initial chaos followed by the reorganization of the economy and drastic changes in the systems of production over some period of time? Since this would essentially be a total trade embargo, I'd say whatever happens to a country under such an embargo during a similar time frame.

I don't think civilization per se would slide backwards if this happened in a developed country, just standards of living - at least until it recovered enough to substitute or do without goods it used to import. (Of course, if you define civilization as based strictly or mostly on standards of living, it's a distinction without a difference.)

I do have to differ somewhat from Grathio - it wouldn't come down *entirely* to natural resources; available labor as well as physical and human capital would also be crucial to the recovery (or lack thereof) of a state in this situation.

Since so many food products (and gasolina) are hecho en Mexico, I think this country would fare better than many.

On a natural disaster scale, Baja California (Mulege, in particular) has seen more than it's fair share of devastating hurricanes.  The biggest difference I've noticed is that the people rally to help each other instead of  waiting for government help/intervention that would almost-never come anyway.  

No bitchin',  pissin', moanin'  or cryin' for help.  They just get to work and clean up the mess!    

I admire them.

Please, mine's fairing badly enough at the moment, don't make me think.

To take the no borders thing - alright...

To take the no ports, very, very badly.

Interesting side discussion, we have a massive cable trading power and carrying internet with the mainland, where does that fall in to this?

Whoever plays tug of war and reels in the cable first to melt for scrap wins. That's what the poachers do to the wires in the streetlights.

Things go downhill pretty fast. Just look at us after Hurricane Sandy which disrupted gasoline shipments. Hoarding becomes evident and affects the entire economy and normal life.Events such as 9/11 and the East Coast power grid blackout soon after caused the NYC to go into lockdown mode. If there wasn't any kind of government/police intervention afterwards, it would have been "Lord of the Flies".

@ caitlinsdad: I feel like your last sentence is applicable in every situation. :P

Switzerland would probably be the quickest to feel the effects of a lack of trade. They rely heavily on imported goods. Their farming industry is small and they cannot sustain their population on what they produce, and make most of their wealth through banking and assurances. This could be true for a number of European countries as the EU has been the largest importer of food. The U.S. is the largest importing country, but much of the goods they import from China for example aren't essential to sustain life (i.e machinery, toys, sporting goods, furniture, footwear and clothes etc).

China, Germany and other top exporters would most certainly feel some effects to a lack of trade. China produces and exports billions of dollars worth of goods, (mainly through cheap labor), and if their buyers were removed, they would have no need to produce these goods and would have millions of people without work. And no work equals no money, and no money equals no ability to buy food, pay taxes etc.

I think Canada would be fine after some adjustment. We have good agriculture production and could increase our yield to account for any lack of imported foods. I would estimate that 90% of all the food that I buy is raised or grown in Canada. We also have a much smaller population than the U.S., so we wouldn't need to produce as much to sustain ourselves. Our cities and towns are predominately powered by our own hydro electric dams (and we export our surplus to many northern U.S. states), and we produce an abundance of natural gas and coal as well. Canada also has a huge oil industry, and supplies the U.S. with more oil than any other country (despite the fact that most Americans believe their oil comes from the middle east). So we wouldn't have a lack of fuel, if anything, we'd have an abundance, since we have the second largest oil reserve in the world, behind Saudi Arabia. I suspect that most of what we import is consumer goods that are made cheaper in other countries (namely China), but could revive our production of those goods here if we had to.

(Ha, it seems discussion of the end of civilisation is a filter-tripper...)