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Food without sun: price and life-saving potential

David Denkenberger (Civil and Architectural Engineering, Tennessee State University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA and Global Catastrophic Risk Institute, Nashville, Tennessee, USA and Alliance to Feed the Earth in Disasters (ALLFED), Nashville, Tennessee, USA)
Joshua Pearce (Department of Materials Science and Engineering and Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, Michigan, USA)
Andrew Ray Taylor (Alliance to Feed the Earth in Disasters (ALLFED), Nashville, Tennessee, USA)
Ryan Black (Electrical Engineering, Tennessee State University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA)


ISSN: 1463-6689

Article publication date: 20 August 2018

Issue publication date: 11 March 2019




The purpose of this study is to estimate the price and life-saving potential of alternate foods. The sun could be blocked by asteroid impact, supervolcanic eruption or nuclear winter caused by burning of cities during a nuclear war. The primary problem in these scenarios is loss of food production. Previous work has shown that alternate foods not dependent on sunlight, such as bacteria grown on natural gas and cellulose turned into sugar enzymatically, could feed everyone in these catastrophes, and preparation for these foods would save lives in a manner that is highly cost-effective.


This study estimates the price of alternate foods during a catastrophe in line with global trade and information sharing, but factors such as migration, loans, aid or conflict are not taken into consideration.


Without alternate foods, for a five-year winter, only approximately 10 per cent of the population would survive. The price of dry food would rise to approximately $100/kg, and the expenditure on this food would be approximately $100tn. If alternate foods were $8/kg, the surviving global population increases to approximately 70 per cent, saving >4billion lives.

Research limitations/implications

A nongovernmental mechanism for coordinating the investments of rich people may be possible. Identifying companies whose interests align with alternate food preparations may save lives at a negative cost.

Practical implications

The probability of loss of civilization and its impact on future generations would be lower in this scenario, and the total expenditure on food would be halved.


Preparation for alternate foods is a good investment even for wealthy people who would survive without alternate foods.



The authors would like to acknowledge helpful discussions with Steven Greidinger and Dave Kennedy.


Denkenberger, D., Pearce, J., Taylor, A.R. and Black, R. (2019), "Food without sun: price and life-saving potential", Foresight, Vol. 21 No. 1, pp. 118-129.



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