So there was a nuclear war between two superpowers, the USA and the Soviet Union in the late 2060s. The war lasts 4 and a half hours, and by the conclusion America, Canada, Russia, all of Europe, Populated sections of China, Japan and Korea were all turned into radioactive wastelands. 1,200 Megatons of nuclear weaponry were used in the war, and an atomic spark set by humanity quickly becomes a raging inferno.

In the countries involved, large, and I mean LARGE portions of their populations are killed. But, the war was mostly fought in the Northern Hemisphere, and my story needs the Southern Hemisphere equally as f**ked as the North. But, in this story no bomb hits down there. I know nuclear winter and summer would harm them in the short term, but I need something that will stop those southern countries from...you know, progress for 500 years. So, do any of you have an idea?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ How about Global Chaos? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Apr 17, 2018 at 0:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander: What is that $\endgroup$ Apr 17, 2018 at 0:52
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Ever read Nevil Shute's book On The Beach ? Pretty much the scenario you're looking for. Also adapted to a movie. $\endgroup$ Apr 17, 2018 at 1:06
  • $\begingroup$ Starting with a conclusion, and then figuring out how to get there is the Begging The Question fallacy. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Begging_the_question You should start with the beginning (massive nuclear war between US and Russia) and see where that takes you. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Apr 17, 2018 at 1:17
  • $\begingroup$ Does it have to be instantaneous destruction, or can it take a generation? $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Apr 17, 2018 at 1:19

4 Answers 4


So I should first explain why I think this is a very hard question to answer.

A complete nuclear war in the northern hemisphere would cause a lot of short term issues, but ultimately the southern hemisphere would benefit from this in the long term. Here's why.

Mineral Depletion
Australia holds around 30% of the world's Uranium reserves. It's essentially the Saudi Arabia of nuclear fuel. Ironically, it doesn't have a nuclear power program and probably never will due to public sentiment. Even more ironically, it could really use one right now, but I digress.

The point being that if power ever became a problem in this new world, the power sources needed in terms of nuclear fuel could easily be supplied from the Southern Hemisphere.

The same is true for Iron (large holdings in Australia), Copper (Peru produces the vast majority of the world's copper already), and even Coltan (most of it is in the Congo so smartphone building is still possible). There are massive natural gas reserves in the East Timor Sea, and oil in many places through the Southern Hemisphere. Most importantly, the vast majority of consumers of these resources are now all dead, so they will support a smaller population for a much longer time.

Food Production
Southern Africa, Australia AND South America are all natural food baskets, supporting agriculture to varying degrees. (Southern Africa most so of course.) Africa, Australia and New Zealand all have massive food export industries; New Zealand produces most of the powdered milk consumed on South Pacific islands and would continue to do so; Australia has a massive live export market for sheep and cattle but this would die off as many of the countries that buy live export domestic animals are now gone. There are very few foods that cannot be produced in the Southern Hemisphere, and certainly none that could be considered essential to life.

Technology and Learning
Education is actually Australia's 3rd largest export industry today (after minerals and agriculture). Australia has been directly responsible for many medical advances over the last 50 years and continues to punch well above its weight in other technical fields despite the challenges successive governments have had in maintaining a world class education system in a modern economy. It should also be noted that other Southern Hemisphere countries are starting to build their education capabilities and will continue to do so over the coming decades.

Lack of Ideological Conflict
There are some exceptions of course, but generally there are no countries in the Southern Hemisphere that really all out hate each other. There are certainly people who do, but that's easier to manage with no state sponsorship and a world destroying event changing public opinion to a more collegiate state. Generally speaking, Southern Hemisphere countries are going to find it much easier to get along in the long term and engage in healthy trade and information sharing for mutual benefit.

So what does all this mean? Well in the long term, you have technical knowledge, resources and state structures that would not only survive, but thrive if their countries were the only ones left in the world. Less competition for resources, more average self sufficiency among countries, and no critical shortages of anything that would make state actors upset and want to fight for an equitable share. Add to that no shortage of education and knowledge and you've got an enlightened, harmonious community.

But, they won't progress anytime soon.
They may not be as screwed as the Northern Hemisphere and their society may largely survive intact. That on its own doesn't mean that they will continue to progress in their technological capabilities or social development over a 500 year period. Let's look at some of the reasons why.

Short Term Impacts
No Internet, at least not for some time. All the DNS server infrastructure that manages the decentralised network traffic around the world is largely based in the Northern Hemisphere. A lot of copies of knowledge are going to be destroyed in this war, and not ALL of it will have a surviving copy on a Southern server somewhere. Even if it does, there's a lot of work involved in getting a Southern Hemisphere 'Internet' up and running, and it simply wouldn't be the priority of governments in the event of such chaos as one would expect from an event like this.

Bear in mind here that the internet is largely an American invention and much of the original infrastructure investment was exclusively from a country which no longer exists in this scenario.

Global markets have now literally disappeared in a bright flash, meaning that in the short term, the global economy and how different countries relate to it plunges into chaos until the situation described above becomes more apparent. Remember that many industrial ventures in the Southern Hemisphere are funded by Northern Hemisphere global companies, so foreign investment can't inject new capital into these Southern countries, adding to the economic chaos over the ensuing years.

Finally, there is the simple morale problem; many people in this day and age have friends and family all over the planet, many across the equator. This will be a massive drain on morale, and extremely fear inducing as well. Governments will need to put a massive effort into 'business as usual' messages, while still sorting out the fact that some people employed solely to cater for export markets are instantly out of work.

Ironically, while Southern Hemisphere countries will have massive access to raw materials, they won't have the manufacturing infrastructure to capitalise on it immediately. Australia (for example) used to have a thriving clothing industry that has effectively been shut down as we import all our clothing from China and Bangladesh. Many of those displaced workers supporting export markets will need to be retrained to domestic manufacturing tasks, but this again takes a massive investment in infrastructure that will probably (in the short term) need to be met by the State as private investors won't have capital anymore thanks to a global market.

Also, there will be a higher need for extreme engineering manufacturing; things like container ships to move around materials between the 3 major remaining continents and all the islands between them. Much of this has now been lost meaning transport ships get smaller again and countries revert to self sufficiency thinking as much as possible to cover off the risk of ships not being able to get trade goods around with the efficiency and magnitude of the past. Additionally, the risk to ships has just increased as they are more likely to want to stay in Southern Waters, making the Roaring 40s a legitimate trade route again. The losers in this problem are the smaller islands who would rely heavily on trade ships for supplies, but also on income (tourism).

Some industries (like GPS and communication satellites) simply cannot be supported or warranted with the number of people left in the world. Only around 12% of the world's population live in the Southern Hemisphere to begin with, so the sheer drop in scale of economies that relied on trade with Northern countries will impact some industries insofar as they are no longer commercially (or technologically in the short term) viable. The 12% of population remaining are also spread across 3 major continents and hundreds of islands, further limiting scale of industry. Certainly in the short to medium term, focus will be agriculture, reinstatement of domestic manufacturing industries, and THEN trade, research and technological advancement.

The aforementioned container ships are another example of an increasing scale that would simply become nonviable in this world. Also skyscraper architecture, biotechnology and maybe even epidemiology; our advances into medical science will take a back seat to keeping the existing population healthy on a much smaller budget.

The good news for the Southern Hemisphere is that after a generation, maybe two, societies in this world would stabilise. There would be far less war, less concern about climate change, and a network of countries that work together in a more collegiate manner than they do now, albeit because the survivors are now ALSO more self-sufficient than they are now.

The bad news is that they will find it MUCH harder to progress in terms of technology or even social structure because the focus over that time will be survival, not growth.

It's been a long time (several generations at least) since we've had to worry about something killing us when travelling, trading, or even just earning a living. This event would shift the focus back to that, while at the same time reducing the size of the global population by an order of magnitude. Both of these things are killers for growth and development, but not necessarily killers of society as a whole. So; if you want to destroy society, it might not happen. Limit development? Most definitely.


Fallout, the collapse of the food chain, and the world economy no longer existing should keep them down for a while, however 500 years might be difficult.

Fallout: Fallout is simply radioactive material thrown around after a nuclear explosion. You mention nuclear winter, so you already understand why this radioactive material will cover the planet and not just where the bombs fell. The vast amounts of dust and other material kicked up by all of the blasts will be full of radioactive material, especially if 'dirty' bombs are used by any side. Wind will blow the fallout around the world.

Although much of the radioactive material produced by nuclear fission will last only a few decades, 7 isotopes will stick around for anywhere between 200,000 and several million years. The southern hemisphere will deal with toxic dust for about a century as the unstable materials decay, and general health issues for a long time.

Ecosystem: Regardless of exactly how bad the war and resulting fallout/nuclear winter is, the world ecosystem will suffer. Plants will die as the Earth cools and darkens due to the dust, animals will die due to lack of food and radioactive dust that they don't know to avoid, rain will wash fallout into rivers, and even the the ocean will suffer as the fallout settles at the bottom and around estuaries. Crops will fail, livestock will die, food sources will be scarce, etc. The southern hemisphere is likely in for mass starvation.

Economy: As can be seen here, large chunks of southern hemisphere nations rely on exports. Worldwide, exports make up 28% of GDP, so (very) roughly we can say about a quarter of people worldwide are involved in the export business. So, almost overnight unemployment would skyrocket.

Add to this the panic, rioting, looting, fear, and general chaos that would occur after a nuclear war, it is safe to say most economies would simply collapse. Once the nuclear fallout begins to spread south, food becomes scarce, and even more people start dying, many societies will also collapse.

However, since these nations were spared most, if not all, of the impact from the war, their local infrastructure and military should still be intact. Unfortunately, this means that they likely won't be able to stay down for the 500 years you want. Although many will die in the chaos and ensuing starvation, they only really need to work on gaining control over the panicked nation rather than rebuilding from scratch.

In short, it's unlikely that the southern hemisphere can be as devastated as the north unless a good number of bombs fall on them too. Since infrastructure and the governments are mostly intact, at least some of these nations will be able to get control fairly quickly. Rationing and martial law to alleviate the starvation and chaos, and stability and progress should soon follow. People will still be dying of cancer at 50 and these countries may look like North Korea, but they won't completely collapse like their pals in the north.

  • $\begingroup$ Nuclear Submarines and portable launch systems mean nukes don't have to be launched from nations that actually own them. Counter battery is a pretty major part of a nuclear exchange. Those nations could be bombed bombed to retaliate/prempt launches from such systems deployed there by both sides. $\endgroup$
    – TCAT117
    Apr 17, 2018 at 1:06
  • $\begingroup$ Fallout has a big problem being a lasting problem: To be a serious threat long down the road the initial levels must have been very lethal. How the survivors cope with it requires that there be survivors. $\endgroup$ Apr 17, 2018 at 3:18

In the case of a war like you're describing it won't simply be nuclear bombs being thrown around, there will be chemical and biological weapons as well.

Nuclear weapons would damage the ozone layer, causing the already severly damaged ecosystem to the north to suffer further from UV damage as well as fallout for decades to come. This will destabilize the environment in the Southern Hemisphere, as not only will they have a nuclear winter, limiting food supply, but plants and animals all along the equator will suffer agonizing sunburns. Many young plants will simply die in the fields, spreading starvation throughout the south, from the massive influx of refugees, lost growing seasons, and the loss of food from the northern hemisphere.

Chemical weapons will be used, and while they'll mainly be in the northern hemisphere, some of the chemicals will reach the south by air and sea, as well as flying off course or used against targets in that hemisphere. In cities and regions that narrowly avoided nuclear annihilation, rain and wind will make them uninhabitable thanks to fallout and these chemicals worsening the refugee problems, and forcing vital supplies and resources to be abandoned. With the chemicals in the rivers and oceans, many coastal cities and islands will find themselves having to deal with a loss of fisheries, and the fact that the water in their harbours and coastline is now toxic to the touch. Affected rivers will destroy crops and kill hundreds of thousands if not millions as their water supply becomes undrinkable.

Biological weapons are even worse. The hordes of refugees will bring all kinds of diseases South, many natural, some unnatural. With the famine along the edge of the uninhabitable zone, and the restricted diet everywhere else, these will spread like wildfire throughout the world. As the diseases worsen insects will spread them further, and depending on the biological weapons birds and animals could spread the disease as well. Countries already have anthrax as a way to attack agriculture, having a disease that can spread by other means and is unknown isn't a stretch. Imagine one that lives in birds, when they dedicate in a field of wheat or corn a virus begins attacking the plant, spreading rapidly and when eaten it hibernates until its released somewhere else. Agriculture would collapse and there goes civilization.

Between the refugees, the damage done all along the edge of the war zone, and the chemical and biological weapons, most countries will collapse. A few might have a more stable collapse where the government can set up safe zones, but they'll be small.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If the countries which went to war had a Mutually Assured Destruction ethos, then perhaps some of their bioweapons don't target people but attack domestic animals or crops? If Country X releases a wheat-killer or a rice-killer then the population the surviving countries can support will plummet. Famine from nuclear winter morphs smoothly into famine because all the crops keep dying. The ultimate crop killer is the Death of Grass scenario, as seen in the book by John Christopher. $\endgroup$
    – DrBob
    Apr 17, 2018 at 16:24

From what I know, the resulting ice age following an all-out nuclear war between what seems to be almost all of the nuclear nations would pretty much kill everyone(it would be way worse than the last ice age when half the planet was frozen over). The resulting famine would probably just kill almost everyone, and it would probably take a very long time for the survivors to get back to where they were. Maybe 500 years, but I'm not sure. I think it might even be longer than that before we start getting significantly past where we were due to population loss from famine and the Ice age, the loss of most of our knowledge, and probably more than I'm not considering. HOWEVER, you could handwave that away with more advanced hydroponics, which maybe could achieve what you're going for. Far fewer people die, and due to the larger population, it takes longer to stabilize essentials such as food production, heating, etc(This is an Ice age). I think this would achieve what you are going for.

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