Electrical and Computer Engineering Publications

Feeding everyone if industry is disabled

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



Proceedings of the 6th International Disaster and Risk Conference: Integrative Risk Management - Towards Resilient Cities, IDRC Davos 2016

First Page


Last Page



A number of risks could cause widespread electrical failure, including a series of high-altitude electromagnetic pulses (HEMPs) caused by nuclear weapons, an extreme solar storm, and a coordinated cyber attack. Since modern industry depends on electricity, it is likely there would be a collapse of the functioning of industry and machines in these scenarios. As our current high agricultural productivity depends on industry (e.g. for fertilizers) it has been assumed that there would be mass starvation in these scenarios. We model the loss in current agricultural output due to losing industry. Then we analyze compensating strategies such as reducing edible food fed to animals and turned into biofuels, reducing food waste, burning wood in landfills for energy, phosphorus, and potassium, and planting a high fraction of legumes to fix nitrogen. We find that these techniques could feed everyone, and extracting calories from agricultural residues, fishing with wind-powered ships and expanding planted area could feed everyone several times over.

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