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It's unclear what happened. Perhaps there was a nuclear apocalypse, the one event for which the Swiss (with their 100% nuclear shelter population coverage) are uniquely prepared. But that comes with nuclear winter and other side-effects I don't want to worry about. So let's go ahead and simply assume that everyone else got Raptured, or kidnapped by Aliens.

Besides Switzerland, the world is empty. Could Switzerland survive and thrive as a modern technological civilization? As of 2014, they had a population of 8,211,700, quite well educated, but unclear whether they can maintain a technological civilization on their own. Can they?

EDIT: Let's assume that the physical infrastructure in the rest of the world is left in place, subject to weathering and whatever other degradation the lack of human supervision and maintenance would likely cause.

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Other than the people who were raptured, is the actual infrastructure of the rest of humanity still there? – Avernium Jan 28 at 16:57
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Consider the effect of all the untended nuclear power plants all over the world going critical... the Swiss may end up having far less lebensraum than some of the more optimistic answers suggest. – Keith L Jan 29 at 2:20
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@KeithL: The nuclear power plants would all shut down well before going critical. Ever since Chernobyl humanity has been really paranoid about making those things failsafe... For some reason... – Joe Bloggs Jan 29 at 10:31
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not really related to the question, but a personal bug-bear of mine, "critical" is the natural state of a nuclear reactor in normal operation. Every currently operational reactor in the world is "critical". All it means is "(number of neutrons produced - number of neutrons absorbed by moderator and control rods) = number of neutrons absorbed by fuel", so the reaction continues at its current level. It's "super-critical" reactors you want to worry about, and then only if it's uncontrolled. – Joseph Rogers Jan 29 at 14:27
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@JoeBloggs Even Chernobyl, unattended, would have shut down safely. Though it was known ten years earlier to have the "stability problem" that surfaced that night, if its operators hadn't been busy doing stupid things with it and turning off the safety systems to run their experiments, it wouldn't have reached the "prompt critical" state and come to grief. – Brian Drummond Jan 29 at 19:39
up vote 23 down vote accepted

There is a possibility of survival after incredible suffering

Contrary to other opinion the Swiss are in a precarious position if the rest of the world goes away.

Here are several major issues.

  • Power Production The majority of their power is imported. This could be curbed by making the use of air conditioning in the Summer illegal and forcing the Swiss to rely on public transportation primarily. Perhaps doctors and other private individuals of stature could be allowed a fuel allowance. The Swiss have a zero regarding petroleum. They have zero identified oil reserves in the ground. They do very well with natural gas production and this could be leveraged long term. The real issue goes back to crude production. The Swiss have a good refinery infrastructure but no drilling. They consume 86,870,000 barrels of oil produced goods per year. Thats 4,777,850,000 gallons of oil used to make the products that the Swiss consume per year!! That means no; tires for cars, plastic containers, plastic product shells, plastic baggies, solvents for fixing/cleaning cars, solvents for almost all forms of manufacturing, lubrication for hydroelectric generators, rubbing alcohol for medical, ALL medical plastic goods like hoses and syringes, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, eye glasses, roofing material, wood preservatives, glycerine, coolant, ink, grease and the list goes on and on and on and on. Shortages of many of these goods will lead to a reduced quality of life and health issues which will lead to death for some as this dystopian reality moves through time.

  • Manufacturing is an issue. Not because they need TV's but because they need to keep their hydroelectric infrastructure in order. The metals required for creating turbines, chips and most any device that is smaller than the 1960's version will require rare earth metals. Those are mostly in China and Africa so they are off the table. Without the ability to repair their digital power grid and keep their hydroelectric power production up, they will be in the dark with limited power. 2% of total electric production in Switzerland is from solar, which also requires, you guessed it, rare earth metals, which we have already established, they have none of. A way to solve this problem could be to force all residents to turn in there high end electronic devices from iPhones to big screen TV's in order to recycle any rare earth metals within them to maintain the countries power grid. At the end of the day the Swiss reliance on 100% import of petroleum will have their manufacturing grind to a halt. This is a major problem.

  • Agriculture, some seem to think, for some reason, that the Swiss have some great agriculture infrastructure. This is not true. Most countries with a small land mass that are highly developed begin to depreciate their agricultural infrastructure over time. Especially when it's cheeper to buy it than to grow it. If there is one thing about the Swiss where they stand above the world, it's there economic view almost everything. If they can buy their lettuce from Frances vast agricultural infrastructure (the French have a lot of land) then those farmers will who grow lettuce will start growing product they can profit from. Most of the basics for protein are imported. Fish, poultry, pork and beef are not a strong point of the Swiss. Nor are potatoes, corn, wheat and most fruit. This is a major problem and the Swiss would undergo a period of starvation until they figured this one out, which they probably would in one or two growing seasons. In the meantime there will be suffering and the overall health of the population will suffer.

  • Medical. Modern medicine requires manufacturing and because of the lack of petroleum this will be a challenge. No power, no resuscitation. No power, no health monitors, no CAT scans, no brain wave monitoring, no automated pulse monitoring. Petroleum based soaps and iodine based soaps for disinfectants will become a thing of the past and very quickly. Medicine will devolve into a 1920's remedy driven industry with severe shortages of anti-biotics, pain killers, insulin, etc.

  • Pharmaceutical. Pharmaceutical production will drop to nearly zero as petroleum products dwindle. With that goes antibiotics, sedatives for surgery (The Swiss will have surgery performed upon them without being knocked out, this is some dark ages stuff here.) Individuals relying upon a drug for their survival will not have that drug. Insulin is one that comes to mind. People will die as a result of not having the drugs they are dependant upon to survive. Additionally, people with simple infections will suffer a higher death rate. Individuals that require blood thinners will have a shorter life span. Individuals that require drugs to shrink their prostate will die horrible deaths as their bladders expand and burst because they are unable to discharge urine. Laxatives to plastic eyeglasses will become a commodity.

  • Natural Resources. Here is the complete list of natural resources according to the CIA World Factbook. Hydropower potential, timber and salt. That's it. That is a precarious position on a good day. The people will suffer and many will die as a result. At least in Iraq there is a strong agricultural infrastructure and production. This won't come down to anything but food.

  • Water Supply. Water will be available in reservoirs but the Swiss require a pumping infrastructure that requires petroleum fuels to operate pumps to get the water to where the people are. Due to the topography of Switzerland water must go up and down terrain that is difficult. Petroleum is the fuel necessary get the water to the locations where it can have an impact on the populace. Thinking that water will not be primary issues under the circumstances you enumerate is a non-starter. Water availability will be what drives personal health and well being of the population and without refined diesel in this case the water will be stuck in reservoirs. In order to fulfil the demand people will migrate to the water. This is happening already in central Asia and the results are horrific. As migratory populations seak water for survival the individuals will form groups for protection and these groups will clash over water. Additionally, as parts of the populace migrate to water their own fecal and urinary waste will begin to contaminate it. The results are almost always the same, E Coli, forms of salmonella, giardia and a slew of other water born illnesses will come into play increasing the death rate of water seekers as they contaminate the water they have found inadvertently.

Eventually a portion of the population will survive

Under extreme duress and lack of commodity consumables like medicine, food and water the society will begin to break down and governance will be an afterthought. Communication with the populace from the government will become more and more difficult. As the population seeks out other industrialized nations infrastructure they will encounter the same issues abroad in neighboring countries, a lack of petroleum products to restart manufacturing, lack of potable water, food crisis and all assortment of survival issues associated with a dystopian world crisis.

The 8 million people that will require basic staples such as rice and wheat will begin to seek food for survival from their neighbors. Government control will break down and the military will be unable to prevent looting and other fear driven group behavior. Neighbors will die as groups seek to build power to control limited resources.

The Swiss do not have a lot working in their favor. Other countries have a more favorable outlook especially if they have a method of mass protein creation as with cattle, poultry and pork. Wheat or rice production in a country is very favorable. France is much more well suited for this sort of situation but most of the above would still apply to them.

Where the Swiss will fail

  • Potable Water

  • Grain Production

A portion of the population will survive but the likelihood of a large portion of the population surviving is very low. Even with outside help in today's world populations suffer great duress. The Swiss will have themselves and their very modern world will work against them as this infrastructure requires a global economy to endure the crisis. Precious metals in manufacturing, petroleum for water pumping and lubrication of hydroelectric generators, shortages of pharmaceuticals and potable water contamination will lead to millions of deaths and great suffering for those unlucky enough to survive.

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re: agriculture. Bring the people to the food. You don't need to rebuild a system that supplies a densely-populated Switzerland. You can spread people out to be near farms / stockpiles. Europe has a very good rail network, so moving people around this way is probably the cheapest option (in fuel). Starvation and death is probable if a year's harvest is lost everywhere outside Switzerland, though. – Peter Cordes Jan 29 at 6:22
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It sounds like you're considering the case where the Swiss try to survive using just their own land area. It's different from post-war Germany, France, and Japan because there is a huge amount of otherwise-unused land area for the population to spread out to. I admit I'm not familiar with the post-war history in those areas, so I don't really know what you're talking about. Is it still relevant even when there are undamaged farms (probably still with animals that can be slaughtered for meat) all over the countryside outside Switzerland? If yes, then I'll read up on it. :P – Peter Cordes Jan 29 at 8:17
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Lack of potable water? You can basically drink from any lake here. And more of the power comes from hydro and nuke. – Carlos Jan 29 at 9:20
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use of air conditioning in the Summer illegal and forcing the Swiss to rely on public transportation primarily — The Swiss hardly use any air conditioning, and already rely on public transportation heavily. Switzerland is a very modern country. – gerrit Jan 29 at 11:28
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@gerrit I can confirm that. I lived in Switzerland for 5 years during which I used public transportation for 90% of my transportation needs and my bicycle for another 9%. And I don't recall coming across a building which had air conditioning. – kasperd Jan 29 at 14:10

Short answer:

Yes

Long answer:

Yes, Easily.

Switzerland has considerable reserves in case of worldwide non-swiss rapture (or because if their neighbours decide to screw them they've got no other alternatives), so they're OK in the short term. However: They don't produce all of their own power (they make roughly 50% of it) and they don't produce all their own food (importing roughly 45% of it). Oh no, this is an issue!

Except it isn't. Now you've got a resourceful people with a large stockpile of materials and some generation capacity of their own in an unparalleled position to expand outwards into the unsullied fertile fields and pre-developed industrial spaces of their former neighbours. Not only that but they've got enough in the way of rifles and military supplies to immediately mobilise exploitation, hunting or resupply parties to restart critical foreign power infrastructure/get more food. The Swiss are golden in this new world!

In terms of brain drain: They still have access to a lot of information, and there's a large enough population to ensure that things, skills and knowledge that need to be preserved will be.

Eventually New Switzerland will be a peaceful utopia where everyone's clocks run in perfect time.

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Or a dystopia... – XandarTheZenon Jan 28 at 17:46
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... because everyone's clock runs in perfect time ;-) – Cort Ammon Jan 28 at 18:29
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The last sentence seems especially ominous because your (ostensibly random) avatar has slight hints of both the Swiss flag and a swastika. – Russell Borogove Jan 28 at 19:55
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@Russell Uniting the world under the Swiss flag is a big plus! – corsiKa Jan 28 at 21:37
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@Burki: Good to know! Regardless of it's mythy status; they aren't trying to live without their neighbours in this scenario. In fact they're just nicking all their neighbours stuff. :D – Joe Bloggs Jan 29 at 10:39

Outlook: very, very good

The main question here is how much damage society takes while adapting to the new situation. In other words, how long can people keep things running while ensuring continued availability of important high-tech goods?

Switzerland, especially with its surroundings in place, is in a good position for agriculture. Also, the Swiss are peaceful, educated, and endorse federalism; it seems rather unlikely that they'll start a war about the rest of the world right away.

This leaves two main concerns:

  • Energy: Switzerland is heavily dependent on imported fossil fuels.
  • Maintaining technology: The world's industrial production is down and critical demand needs to be filled before certain goods become a bottleneck.

Since the rest of the world is still there, getting energy simply means grabbing the deserted refineries and means of transportation that are still there. This is too easy; with barely over one in a thousand people still there, the available and often still functional power sources are gigantic.

The ability to produce all technology again will take time, but there's a lot of it still present that will be grabbed and used. Until that runs out, the Swiss economy will adapt to focus on the most important things.

Being a very modern and free economy, I couldn't think of a country better suited to this adaptation than Switzerland. There will be a time of low availability of some goods, but overall, I don't see any major obstacles.

Note that current technology is spending a lot on advancement that could be spent on survival. Producing any half-baked version of past products is sufficient to keep things running, and doesn't require the huge amounts of research, development, marketing, and so forth that current competition requires. You don't need a 32", color-perfect, above-HD display to do daily work. Nor do you need to travel around by plane at every whim, or eat imported luxury foods, or heat every room in every building to summer temperatures. If space, resources, and mad dictators are out of the equation, survival isn't that hard.

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Might want to mention they're peaceful because everyone has a glock in their pocket and was a part of the military at some point. (I'm exaggerating a little, but not a lot.) – XandarTheZenon Jan 28 at 17:45
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Everybody has his one rifle locked away at all times. – TaW Jan 28 at 21:32
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Peaceful and educated? Have you ever been to switzerland? They import practically everyone they need for the brainier jobs, and it took Napoleon Bonaparte to force them to stop constantly killing each other. Even today it takes force to make them agree on anything. The only thing they are really good at is helping other people steal anything that isn't nailed down. – Burki Jan 29 at 8:15
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I've been to Switzerland a few times, know people who worked there, even have relatives there, and my general impression is that of a modern, open, capitalistic, peaceful country. I see employing people from around the world as a good thing, haven't lived in Napoleon's times, and a gun here and there among such people seems a good safety precaution. I'm not saying Switzerland is perfect, but I'd rank them around the top for this kind of situation. – Vandroiy Jan 29 at 12:19
    
@Vandroiy I lived in switzerland for 15 years, and my impression is pretty much the exact opposite of yours. – Burki Jan 29 at 13:11

I think the answers above are missing one crucial point: You state that nearly all people on earth dissappeared but that the physical infrastructure remained "intact". The problem with that are all the nuclear power plants, that are left unattended. After a very short period without maintenance, the poor swiss will see funky explosions all around their mountainous haven. enter image description here

Even if only some of them blow up, the living conditions in Europe will be not suitable for a restart of the civilization.

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All nuclear power station around western Europe are build to shut down quickly if left unattended. It takes both knowledge and will to make one explode. – MakorDal Jan 29 at 8:36
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@MakorDal No, it doesn't. An unattended nuclear power station will shut down, but it will still require cooling as fissile fuels are still present. This cooling requires electricity; when this fails, power plants will overheat and cause a loss-of-coolant incident, which is quite serious. – gerrit Jan 29 at 11:35
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This suggests that although backup power generators exist, a reactor cannot wind down enough in the time available on backup power to prevent release of radioactive material, so the reactors would quite likely be problematic: reddit.com/r/AskEngineers/comments/3j0mh7/… – Whelkaholism Jan 29 at 13:40
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The nuke plants don't explode, they just do a super-Fukushima when the cooling systems fail (perhaps because the backup generators ran out of fuel.) Cancer causing but it won't wipe out the Swiss. – Loren Pechtel Jan 29 at 22:26
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A modern nuclear plant RELIES on (heavy) water to work. If the water is gone (it boils if the temperature is too high, or there is a leak) then the reaction stops. Not because of safety this or that but because of physics (roughly speaking, the water slows down neutrons which then can react and create fast neutrons which need to be slowed down which ... etc.). If they do not slow down, they do not react, full stop. So yes, there can be spills of radioactive material but this is not going to be a nuclear explosion (it is impossible). Chernobyl was a chemical explosion. – WoJ Jan 30 at 19:46

You don't say who exactly was taken. Are Swiss people outside of Switzerland spared? Are people inside Switzerland who aren't Swiss spared?

So the people outside of Switzerland suddenly disappear, what will happen.

Well the first thing is there will be a load of "accidents". Cars that have lost their drivers while travelling at high speed are going to end up in pileups blocking up the highways. Airplanes are going to fall out of the sky sooner or later (sooner if there is no autopilot, later if there is one).

Lots of industrial processes may also fail in nasty ways. Generally when assessing risk "every human suddenly disappeared" is not a reasonable risk.

Railways typically use "dead mans switch" type controls and trains are fairly widely separated. So the railways will be less badly obstructed than the roads. A road-rail truck will likely be able to navigate the railways fairly easily but there aren't enough of those around to move more than a handful of people. Getting actual trains through will require doing something about the empty trains and doing something to take control of the points.

IMO with large number of accidents and no firefighters fire is likely to be a big problem. Especially if it happens during a hot dry summer.

With no humans to maintain it I would expect the power grid across Europe to start going into emergency modes and dropping loads off pretty quickly until it collapses completely. I am not a power engineer so I don't know how quickly it will go down but I would be very surprised if it was still operational by a few days after the initial event. The Swiss may be able to disconnect their grid from the rest of Europe but if they do then they would probably have to put in place a harsh level of rationing.

The internet will likely start disappearing a day or two after the power grid does as each datacenter runs out of fuel for it's backup generators.

Also lots of people just disappeared in a way science cannot explain. If the rapture is based on nationality then lots of people will see this happening. If it was based on location than less people will see it directly but the combination of a few people seeing it directly and many more people seeing the indirect results is going to lead to news spreading.

That is going to strike fear into peoples hearts. You have Switzerland which appears to be safe or relatively safe and the land outside where everyone just suddenly disappeared. With no idea what the hell just happened I would expect people to be very reluctant to venture outside of Switzerland.

Eventually a shortage of food and parts will force the Swiss to send people outside Switzerland to scout for resources. Likely at least some places will have avoided the fires and will have stocks of canned food that can be plundered.

I think severe technological regression is inevitable. Yes stuff is written down but often the devil is in the details and the details often only exist in people's heads. The supply chain for high tech products is complex and tangled around the world.

Another problem will be fuel degrading. Petrol that has been stored too long just doesn't work right in engines. I'm not sure if diesel fares better.

Likely some people will survive but their society will likely look nothing like ours.

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In the short term, they're fine. Things would be pretty great. Starvation wouldn't be a problem -- just the canned goods left in supermarkets across Europe & Asia would probably be over a year's worth of food for the Swiss

They'd resettle resource-rich areas, starting with those near Switzerland. Getting to key resources like petroleum & food wouldn't be hard with cars, trains, motorcycles, planes, etc. now free on practically every street corner

The Swiss new world colonizers would find fortunes worth of food, oil, art, technology & pharmaceuticals. Their only survival risk would actually be themselves. Some of them would also find tanks & nerve gas & even H-bombs. That's the danger: If even a relatively few Swiss became lawless warlords and started gathering up abandoned weapons systems, things could get pretty bad & crazy after all

So all in all, I'd say they'd probably be able to do really well, but there would also be a chance that some maniac would find an unattended missile silo and ruin everybody's day

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over a year is a severe underestimate. They can easily keep eating those canned goods until they perish, for decades if needed. – gerrit Jan 29 at 11:33
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@gerrit Say 1 year's food supplies in cans for 1 billion people. 1000/8 = 125 years. Rust happens first. – Yakk Jan 29 at 14:10
  • Natural resources: luckily Switzerland is the home of a number of the world's leading commodity companies (Glencore, Trafigura). So the expertise is there to know where all the stuff is, how to get it out of the ground, and how to transport it.

  • Power: most of the country is run on hydro and nuclear. Should be fine even with a slight decrease due to missing shipments.

  • Tech knowledge: still got ETH and EPFL, highly regarded technical universities.

  • Economics: highly integrated with Europe and the world, with lots of people living near a border, it would cause big problems. Anything import or export related, which is just about everything, would be affected. A lot of people would need to find something new to do.

  • Food: The biggest danger is dying from heart disease. Without foreign food, all that's left is rosti, fondue, and sausages. Foreign chefs will become celebrities. Farmers will know where the best land is.

  • Government: The country is already governed by local democracies. Different communities can respond in their own ways to the new normal.

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About food: Even the potatos for Rösti are mostly imported, as is almost everything apart from milk and cheese. About power: Most hydro plants pump water uphill at night with imported electricity from mostly french nuclear plants. natural resources: Glencore et.al. have their fiscal headquarters in switzerland, but are run from everywhere. Government: the local "democracies" will quickly start to wage wars among themselves. – Burki Jan 29 at 10:10
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Potatoes grow everywhere and there's a load of farmland that literally has potatoes in it, now with no owner, in the surrounding countries. You just need some people who know how a farm works. The need for power is a lot less when you're not making stuff for the rest of the world. And there are nuclear plants in Switzerland as well. Quite a few of Glencore's actual working staff are in CH, it's not just a mailbox. They are actually organising mining and shipping, not just moving money around. – Carlos Jan 29 at 12:42
    
The point is that while potatoes indeed grow everywhere, they hardly do anywhere in switzerland, contrary to what your post suggests. – Burki Jan 29 at 13:10
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You forgot chocolate. They will instantly need to mount expeditions to the nearest sustainable source of the cocoa bean, and establish the twin colonies of Lindtsylvania and New Toblerland. – Brian Drummond Jan 29 at 19:48
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Knowing about lubricants isn't the issue. having them is. That's my only point. – Citizen Jan 29 at 21:20

No. Things would be fine for a while but their 8 million population simply isn't enough to maintain a high tech civilization and in time things will run down. The problem is one of specialization. There are a lot of things that society does that are represented by far less than 1 per 8 million people. Those things will pretty much cease to exist.

The Swiss will survive but not at a 21st century tech level.

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Agreed. There are no CPU fabs in Switzerland, and probably no one who knows how to build or run one. There are no heavy hydraulic presses. There's no expertise in undersea cables. And so on and so forth. It probably needs a billion people to maintain sufficient diversity of skills for our current tech level. – Mike Scott Jan 31 at 10:25

No government, only warlords

First things first. As soon as Swiss army realizes what just happened, they dispatch units to secure the world's nuclear weapons. From the military point of view this is absolutely top importance. Naturally they start with surveying French locations.

But something very strange begins to happen along the way with strict hierarchy of military commanders. Colonels and majors that lead these missions walked on a predefined narrow career paths for all their lives. As they see all the empty world, they begin to realize more and more possibilities; they have their own ideas; their desires wake up. Should they give all the enormous world's wealth and all the power to those moronic generals back home?

Several units return from France de facto as nuclear-armed warbands. Having nukes, now they need population to scavenge goods for them. So they kindly request Swiss government to yield all the power to them. After a couple nuclear mushrooms appear here and there, the government steps down; but most of the Swiss people get their own ideas too. They all get the idea that sitting in Switzerland means they could be soon either nuked or enslaved; and anyway more people here = less food, less oil. So mass migration starts, the first wave with small aircraft, the second with cars, the third on bikes, the fourth-and by far largest-on foot.

The warbands get their small share of population and resources and go off to secure the remaining world's nukes. Naturally now with a lot of empty land, without very large cities, and with all those overheated nuclear plants' cores starting to pop up everywhere, the nuclear war is no longer taboo. The warbands start to nuke each other on a small scale.

So people spread throughout whats left of Europe and Asia, in groups of 50-100. They don't have to manufacture or grow anything, they live on all the stocks left for years and years. There is no motivation to get together into any peaceful townships, so the warbands are the only forms of "polities" left in existence. After century or two the whole mess develops into feudalism; some more centuries and there is hope that technical civilization will somehow return.

But not the industrial revolution. This path is closed. There is no more easily available hydrocarbons, which were in fact accumulated energy of billions of years of sunlight. I don't know how this civilization would transform later. Medicine and biotechnology maybe?...

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