With the Coronavirus Pandemic, people have been buying various pandemic novels like Emily St John-Mandel's "Station 11". In this novel, a super-virus wipes out 99% of the human race. That's like the recent reboot of Planet of the Apes! Only 1 in 100 survive. https://www.vulture.com/2020/03/glass-house-station-eleven-emily-st-john-mandel.html A: What would be your political and population strategies? (We'll discuss technical challenges after.) 1. Law and order If a disaster wipes out the absolute majority of your population the survivors need to maintain law and order. Any surviving cops or authority figures need to get in charge and encourage belief in the system - belief in concepts like States and Nations for the benefit of all. The British started their colonisation of aboriginal lands with the first fleet and believed in the colony of New South Wales with just 1480 people - most of them convicts. How much more motivated would the survivors of an apocalyptic super-plague be? It's about supporting basic legal structures for the safety of all and the outlawing of warlord tyrants. To be honest, I’m not even sure the fall of a National government is as inevitable as it appears in most post-apocalyptic stories. Most national governments have brainstorming groups (like America’s DARPA) and security agencies planning survival of their own government and quick recovery plans for the nation for all manner of horrible crises. But assuming the National government fell, eventually local survivors would form villages with local Mayors, and these would look to trade and form regional security pacts, gradually building up to a State – and I imagine this more or less occurring across the country ASAP as the search for survivors and resources grew. In the western world we know the rule of law is a fragile thing. We know the benefits of democracy and checks and balances in government. As cynical as the modern world is about our politicians, in a real crisis we know we need law and order and an authority to call on to stop the descent into anarchy and warlords and mob violence. Without the distractions of Netflix and busy social lives, there is a lot more time for thinking. Collapses are long, boring affairs, with short bursts of extreme terror interspersed with months of boredom and general nagging anxiety. People will want to feel safe. They’ll want a local leader, an authority figure to report infractions to and decide matters. I imagine them quickly appointing a mayor. It’s one of the first steps on the road to recovery. And if it descends into warlords and tyranny, – even warlords hate total anarchy! Even if some crazy tyrant takes over somewhere, not all hope is lost. Even they want some sort of order. Think of warlords in Afghanistan, or Mexican drug cartels forming alliances. They want hot food and cold beer, and a means to achieve their ends. They can organise enormous lines of supply and have their chains of command, all the way down to administration and accounting divisions. Technical progress would be prioritised – even if the political progress came through painful revolutions later on. 2. Consolidate and concentrate your population into a few core towns Once law and order was established, the new government would take stock. The population has absolutely collapsed from 7.5 million people down to only 75,000. The loss of trained professionals is profound. How many doctors and nurses have survived - or were most wiped out in the pandemic? How many electricians and plumbers have made it? How many power station engineers? What does all of this mean? The government would need to assess all this. Now we get down to it. Many post-apocalyptic books and movies, like David Brin's "The Postman" (interesting book, apparently a terrible movie!) all focus on small villages. Indeed, "The Postman" moves from village to village looking for somewhere that has power tools operational and isn't strictly Medieval in technology. Why are they stuck so far down the technological ladder? Because the post-disaster village flattens out our ability to specialise. When the population is down to the village level, many people become general labourers. They're all trying to grow the food, maintain the homes, and weave stuff. When everyone has to master the basics, no one can specialise into the more technical trades. 3. Population means specialisation. The key to getting technical guilds of experts up and running is a decent population. Just as with computers, towns have a kind of "Moore's law" in which the more people you have living close together, the more you can get done. The basic rule of thumb? Every time you double a city's population you get an extra 30% for free. EG: 5,000 people in one town and 5,000 people in another separate town produce the GDP of 10,000 people. But if they were all together in the one town of 10,000 people, they get the productivity of 13,000 people. That's the work of an extra 3000 people 'for free'. You don't have to feed and clothe and house them. They're not real people. It's just the efficiency gains of living together in shared infrastructure. http://news.mit.edu/2013/why-innovation-thrives-in-cities-0604 4. So you can't get sentimental and try and save everything. Now imagine how important this would be in a post-disaster world where your population has crashed from 7.5 million down to 75 thousand! The future government would have to pick winning towns and ask people to move there. There might be a few towns out in the agricultural areas and a winning township picked in Sydney to salvage all those shopping centres and abandoned suburban homes. Indeed, just as we saw in the recent reboot of the Planet of the Apes trilogy, we might see people moving into semi fortified shopping centres to maintain walkability and mutual security. It depends how the government are going dealing with security issues and outlaws. You might appoint a few curators and guards for art galleries and museums - or even move the contents to be guarded in your new towns. But sentiment can't get in the way. A small townships within Sydney would win, and the rest would be salvaged. Solar panels and tech and tools and clothes would all be scavenged and stored and hopefully if stored right, no one would need to make new clothes for generations to come. B: So now the next question: how long for technological civilisation to recover after an all out nuclear war or high mortality pandemic? What would be your technical strategies? 5. Energy rationing, agriculture, and cycling culture. Given that I am optimistic that *some* form of governance would develop within a year of the disaster – how long to industrialise again? The first step would be prioritising fuel for agriculture. Petroleum has a one or two year shelf life at most. Fuel would be the new gold, enabling some initial agricultural output. While scavenging all the fuel you could find and transport, the farming town/s at Orange or Griffith would get their tinkerers to develop wood gas engines for harvesters and tractors. It's a primitive system but in a world of only 75,000 NSW citizens, trees would start to grow back and could be harvested for agricultural fuel. Most personal transport would go back to cycling and horse drawn carriages – for a while. Cycling and rickshaw culture would make a huge comeback. Bikes with trailers can move modest loads by good old fashioned pedal power, enabling some level of scavenging to begin. 6. Technical guilds. This is where the book World War Z has some interesting insights. (I hate zombies as a concept, but it’s a rich apocalypse genre). The book is quite different to the movie and follows the decade after the initial Zombie outbreak. The survivors fortify the Rocky Mountains, get organised, and simplify the economy so that former CEO’s and Hollywood celebrities have less status than a good plumber. In a similar way I imagine we would see various guilds quickly formed. There would be farming, scavenging, and technical guilds. At first, any decent carpenter or plumber or electrician would be treated like celebrities. They would be sent to retrieve solar panels and batteries, and make local small scale wind turbines and tools and gear for their workshops. Even rural areas would have heaps of useless cars scattered around that could be scrapped for various metals for years to come, let alone the bounty waiting for them in the abandoned cities. Eventually plans for the future would emerge. Scavenging would look to not just tools and resources, but the manuals that teach future generations how to make stuff work. With limited time for education and a requirement for as much labour as possible, young people would be educated maybe up to middle high school and then apprenticed to guilds to learn on the job. In some ways their next ‘industrial revolution’ would be much faster than the first industrial revolution, as we already know the laws of physics and chemistry and biology that make the modern world possible. The techs from the village would soon form scavenging parties that would collect and centralise the most important power systems to keep the power tools running. 7. Luxuries and toys. There are primitive solutions for batteries and even refrigeration, so that life in a post-apocalyptic town could soon learn how to build from scratch some of the comforts of the modern world. While there might be a generation or so of solar panels and batteries, as these start to wear down other more primitive locally made technologies can take over. Bit by bit society would build up again, in a more walkable, human based town plan. Energy would be more valuable and prioritised for the most important survival and salvaging efforts. Small scale wind turbines can be built. Finally, some regions will eventually rebuild hydro dams. The bottom line? I think we’d be more or less back to close to today’s technological capability, if not population and industrial output, within a generation or two. What do you think? For more detail, see Isaac Arthur: What do you think?