One thing I’ve wondered about with The Hunger Games is what became of the rest of the world. The books imply that Panem is the last refuge of humanity, but being in the first person from the perspective of someone who amounts to an uneducated peasant, I’m not sure we should accept that so quickly. Katniss could have been given bad information, or even correct information but misunderstood it. She’s not stupid, but I can’t imagine her education was much good by current standards.
What is known for certain is that there was a cataclysm that caused a severe depopulation event and a near total breakdown of the then-current social order, that took quite some time to rebuild from. Now, let’s see what we can extrapolate from clear textual evidence, that depends as little as possible on Katniss’ poor education happening to have been correct.
First, the aircraft. Seriously, the aircraft. The only aircraft that seem to be used routinely fly low enough, and are fragile enough, to be engaged with a bow and arrow. Granted, it’s probably one of the best bow and arrow combos in history, wielded by one of the best archers in history, but still. There’s only so far that technology can go. And this is a military aircraft. A ground attack aircraft at that, meant to fly right into enemy guns to do its job.
A problem with the air that would prevent traditional aircraft from flying would likely make life as we know it impossible. But- current aircraft are nearly all fueled with a petroleum derivative. Petroleum supplies run low, we’ll have to make some choices. If we’ve come up with some sort of electromagnetic lift or antigrav system, even if it’s low altitude only- giving up our airplanes might make sense. Fragility of the militaries ground attack aircraft might be explained by the new flight technology having severe weight limits- aircraft sturdy enough for the ground attack role are just too heavy to get in the air.
So I’m thinking Panem is in a post-Peak Oil world. It’s the easiest way to explain the aircraft.
But- what about biofuel? This could be a way around Peak Oil, but biofuel sources are also food sources. If climate change goes unchecked for a couple centuries, the amount of arable land, and the productivity of that land, could take a nosedive. There just might not be enough space for fuel supplies and food supplies, even with a severely reduced population. So I think it’s fairly safe to assume severe climate change. This is backed up by mentions of Panems geography having changed- sea level rise can do a lot. While we only know that through Katniss, it does make sense if there isn’t enough arable land to grow fuel crops.
So, where does this leave us? Earth, with reduced land areas, vastly reduced food supplies, and reduced fuel supplies- oh, and we also use petroleum for things like plastic production. This would likely have provoked resource wars, IIRC there was mention of wars being part of the fall of humanity.
Now, we’ve got some basis to look at what the rest of the world might look like.
If the implication that Panem is all that is left of humanity is true, I think we can rule out war as the primary depopulator. While wars likely occured, and they would likely have been the most horrific wars humanity has ever seen, I just don’t see it as the primary cause of near extinction. For North America to survive sufficiently intact to rebuild and even remember what they used to call their part of the world(even the uneducated peasantry knowing this), and EVERYONE else dead? Not happening. Too many nuke targets for North America to survive while every Amazonian and African tribe, ever isolated Pacific Island, all the Bedouin, the people out in Sibera, the Inuit, etc etc all die.
In this case, the only real option I could see would be a massive impact event or perhaps a volcanic eruption, at least on the scale of the Toba event, happening somewhere in the vicinity of central Asia. This could wipe out a billion+ in the first shot. Any survivors in the region wouldn’t last long. Local resources wrecked beyond repair, and even if they could get supplies overseas, the Americas would keep everything at home in a desperate attempt to survive.
North America, with the cataclysm centered in Asia buying us a little time combined with the technology base we’ve got here, might be able to save a small population to rebuild from. I’m not sure how South America would be taken out, but an impact event or volcano in Central Asia is really the only way to kill everyone other than North America.
If it was the wars, which the books seemed to mostly imply, there are people out there. As I mentioned above, there’s no way North America would survive a war that took out literally everyone else. We’re just too target rich. But why no contact?
Well, I’ve already hypothesized a bit on the aircraft technology. If we’re looking at serious weight limits, we may also be looking at sharply limited range. Transoceanic flights might not be remotely possible, much less anything resembling routine.
Ships? We’re at peak oil, and Panem still uses coal for power generation. Nuclear power exists, but there’s no mention of a district involved in it other than 13, and they are isolationist in the extreme. We’ve knocked out three of the major forms of ship propulsion right here. They need that all for uses ashore. Left with galleys and sailing ships to get overseas. Given the climate change, weather patterns and currents might make transoceanic trips using these technologies incredibly treacherous, moreso than it was in centuries past.
Radio/telephone? Actual lines could have been destroyed in the war or failed due to lack of maintenance during recovery. If my exploration of the difficulties of sea travel is anywhere near accurate, replacing them now would be a hideously expensive and risky operation.
Radio is hard to imagine disappearing though. The technology clearly exists- unless there’s some weird dust lingering in the air that harshly limits range, I’d expect some contact. Panem might not allow it, but I’d be surprised if Beetee at least, of the major characters, had no idea. There’s some chance that other surviving societies simply haven’t rebuilt their radio technology, but I’m finding it hard to believe that it would die out entirely. Beetee I’d expect to have at least heard rumors. Then again, if he knows the difficulties of actually getting help, he might have just never brought it up.
S0- Either a massive impact event or volcanic eruption that left Panem the final refuge of humanity, or, a cataclysmic war that left Panem isolated from other societies. Not entirely sure which is more likely, I might undertake a second reading to look closely at the textual clues.
I’ll consider things Suzanne Collins says if I run across anything relevant to this topic, but I want to make my exploration of this question focused on what she actually put into the books. Any outside source will be considered advisory at best.