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As stated in answers to my previous question: How many survivors would grow on earth years after a worldwide nuclear holocaust?

...even two countries like India & Pakistan bombing each other a few times means the unequivocal extinction of ALL humans on earth, with chances of survival virtually none. Is there any way for humans to survive such a hypothetical disaster? I am trying to create a situation where humanity in year 2020 has been reduced to population of roughly 1billion on earth, as a result of a nuclear apocalypse. And that population must be able to maintain it's population and grow, rather than become extinct as a species.

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    $\begingroup$ "unequivocal extinction of ALL humans on earth" - where this is coming from? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Mar 4, 2022 at 22:20
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    $\begingroup$ Yep. clarification needed as to why that would be the case. All the studies I've seen on the subject indicate that even in the event of full scale nuclear war at the height of the cold war in the 1980s when nuclear weapon numbers were at the their highest, humanity would not go extinct. Let alone a war between India and Pakistan. The death toll would be horrific but it would not be an ELE. $\endgroup$
    – Mon
    Mar 4, 2022 at 22:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Ash: Ah, Guy McPherson. Famous for his constantly wrong end-of-days predictiions. "In 2007, he predicted that due to peak oil there would be permanent blackouts in cities starting in 2012. In 2012, he predicted the likely extinction of humanity by 2030 due to climate-change and mass die-off by 2020 for those living in the interior of a large continent." (And anyway, massive nuclear accidents have already happened without any noticeable effect and even without the world at large noticing them.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Mar 5, 2022 at 0:09
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    $\begingroup$ India and Pakistan do not have enough nukes to cause human extinction. It is estimated that a nuclear war between them would lead to famine that will affect about 2 billion people. Perhaps, if both countries use all their nuclear arsenal and choose targets to maximise the after-war damage (i.e. release maximum possible amount of soot into the air) there will be more casualties. But if the distribution chains persist humanity will be able to recover as it did after the Black Death. Why are you insisting on 1 billion though? Is it some magic number necessary for your story? $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Mar 5, 2022 at 2:44
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    $\begingroup$ It does not matter if you cannot respond quickly. Do not worry about it. The studies I linked indeed mention climate change, massive ozone loss, and global famine. However, they do not predict mass extinction with any degree of certainty. Climate change will affect agriculture, but AFAIK it is only 30% reduction. So, at least 50% of humanity has a chance to survive if distribution chains are intact. In my answer, I said that the possibility of human extinction exists if we are talking about global all-out war as you depicted in your question. I am sorry if I was not clear enough. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Mar 5, 2022 at 3:33

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You'd need to bury the existing surface stockpiles of nuclear waste before, during or shortly after the conflict. The biggest threat to longterm human survival isn't the initial nuclear exchange, provided it's small enough and doesn't involve enhanced fallout Cobalt-60 weapons, the radiation and debris from a few conventional nukes will spread some way but it will also be relatively short lived and low intensity. The bigger threat is from the collapse of broader civilisation and in particular the disruption of maintenance for used nuclear fuel storage facilities at nuclear power plants. If the storage pools run dry then the rods will spontaneously combust in contact with oxygen and spread radioactive material and ionising radiation across the landscape, that material has to be buried for life on earth to continue.

Having said all of that you're not realistically getting 1 billion people out of any broad reaching collapse of the food distribution network alive. Based on data from historical famines and modern simulations it has been estimated that disrupting food supplies for a week would create a cascade failure scenario that would kill a minimum of 90% of the population of the world (with upper estimates of 99.5%, or one survivor per 200 people) within 3 months to a year.

A very limited exchange between countries that aren't major players in the international market nor near major trade routes, and that have little to nothing in the way of nuclear power generation might realistically slow the collapse of the world economy down enough to allow nuclear waste stocks to be secured effectively and let pockets of the world make the transition to local self-sufficiency so the overall final death toll is lowered.

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    $\begingroup$ Do you have links to the estimates you've mentioned? I would like to read them if it is possible. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Mar 5, 2022 at 2:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Otkin The first study I ever saw was in the National Geographic for April of 1991 in an article looking at food monocultures, they were looking at the collapse of specific single food crops rather than the broader implications. Jared Diamond's work The Collapse of Complex Societies is a more multidisciplinary look at the problem but the hard numbers come from a Scientific American issue, I haven't been able to find the specific article but it's something about the vulnerability of interdependent socioeconomic systems. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Mar 5, 2022 at 3:05
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    $\begingroup$ I see. I read another book by the same author. I will check the one you mention. If you happen to see some of the studies, please, post a link. I am a bit familiar with the topic and I would like to read a bit more. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Mar 5, 2022 at 3:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Otkin Yeah unfortunately a lot of Diamond's stuff suffers from him having a particular axe to grind on the day and picking his sources accordingly. I'll have a dig through my apocalypse library and see what is still current that I can find online. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Mar 5, 2022 at 3:16
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Bunkers, and luck, that or keep the number of nukes low.

Although to be honest, 1 billion people is still quite a lot to survive a nuclear apocalypse. Between two powers that don't have very many nukes, like your example with India and Pakistan which only have an estimated ~100 nukes between them, I could see 1 billion people surviving, bunkers or not. Probably not in India or Pakistan, but there are a lot of people spread out in the world. It's hard to kill that many people over such a large area. It's going to be rough for a bit as the nuclear winter that follows a minor nuclear war would cause famines, somewhere, but 1 billion people could survive if they are far enough away, and the number of nukes deployed are small.

However, if there was nuclear war between, I don't know, Russia and the US, no way anyone is surviving that many nukes on the planet. There aren't enough bunkers for 1 billion people. A few thousand maybe, likely wealthy people and key world leaders' offices. Rebuilding is maybe possible, but I think it's unlikely. You would have to have food for a long time in your bunker, and then have the knowledge and manpower to rebuild society after you leave said bunker. Human pockets would emerge from their bunkers, at most a few hundred at a time. A few thousand humans spread over the vastness of the world, it's hard to say if humanity would be able to make it back to our current day population. (All of this assuming that literally nobody outside or at least no major centers of humanity survive, which it's likely that a few cities survive, like somewhere in New Zealand, Greenland, Iceland, or any small area that is both far from any major nuclear targets and not a target itself could have a chance to survive, assuming they find a way to produce enough food for themselves for a long time).

Nukes are hard to survive, and the consequences after the bombs have stopped falling even harder to survive, but humanity is persistent. We have made it this far. Even reducing our population to a few hundred thousand, we can likely bounce back from. So, to answer the question of 'how humanity will survive nuclear war' is not that hard. Just don't kill all of us at once and don't fire thousands of nukes at each other.

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Disintegration ray

In the initial hours after the exchange, the NATO allies revealed that the extent of their preparations had been larger than the public had been led to believe. This was due primarily to their possession of a working "disintegration ray", which works using a number of vibrating plates comparable to a few jackhammers in intensity, and a network of highly sensitive listening devices placed in the earth. By real-time AI modelling of the reflected and refracted sounds, the network focuses the waveforms into displacements in the shape of line segments that can be moved through distant stone. This breaks almost any kind of stone into blocks that can be extracted and used as ready-made building materials, leaving behind a sturdy and reliable tunnel.

The technology had been kept secret (yes, even from Elon Musk) for several reasons. NATO preferred that any Mine Shaft Gap be in their favor. The devices had other military applications: for example, China had taken over twelve years to build the Fuzhou-Taipei Tunnel prior to their pacification of Formosa Province, which this device might have shortened to a couple of months. It was also too suggestive of the advanced antipersonnel applications for LRAD devices that were being pursued by both sides prior to the war. Nonetheless, NATO had managed to build an impressive array of bunker facilities, sited to take maximum advantage of wind farms being constructed across Europe.

After the exchange, NATO simply evacuated its people to the extensive underground facilities, which were used in "vertical farming" to generate food and oxygen for the population in nearly closed loop ecosystems. Water and fertilizer used in these facilities was directly recycled, together with treated sewage, maintaining a low but sustainable standard of living. Of course, many people had to face severe cancer risks from work outside the facilities - research, scavenging resources, hunting down enemy survivors, etc. But in a world of a thousand Holocausts, six billion dead, the population had lost its expectation of long and happy life, and indeed, some of its desire to survive at all.

Historians noted with some irony that the survival of isolated preserves for cold biomes underground eventually led to the preservation of many species that would otherwise have been lost to the ongoing runaway continuation of global warming after the brief years of nuclear winter had passed.

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DNA-Checksums

It is far beyond our current genetics knowledge (or at least the unclassified parts) but it is theoretically possible to enhance our existing DNA with the biological equivalent of computer check-sum anti-noise algorithms With these enhancements, our descendants would be highly resistant to radiant poisoning and cancer caused by post-war radiation. They would still be susceptible to the poisonous characteristics of nuclear byproducts and to the inevitable supply-shortages, nuclear winter and famine, but at least part of the threat would be decreased.

Arguably, those decedents would no longer be homo-sapiens, so it wouldn't be "humanity" that was saved, but at least approximately human beings might survive to wander the irradiated world.

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  • $\begingroup$ DNA has checksums. That's why it's a double helix. $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Sep 1, 2022 at 22:53

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