With global warming becoming an increasingly urgent problem and much of the world having been under lockdown for months due to the coronavirus pandemic, many people are thinking about alternative ways of living in the future. This rocky period in human history has pushed forward the once very fringe idea of “seasteading” – living out on the open ocean.
What is Seasteading?
Just as it sounds, seasteading is living life out on the sea. We’re not talking about living in a houseboat, however. No, seasteading is the building of floating homes and entire communities out on the open water. (1)
Chad Elwartowski, software engineer, bitcoin trader, and the current leader in the seasteading movement, began his second attempt at building one of these homes off the coast of Panama in May. The ultimate goal is to build entire independent cities out on the water, free from the confines of traditional government restrictions on movement the way land-dwelling nations are. The COVID-19 pandemic has bolstered the seasteading libretarian fringe group pushing for this new way of life.
“Coronavirus is an opportunity to show the world that what we’re building is actually going to be very useful in the future,” he said in a recent video. (1)
In April of 2019, Elwartowski and his girlfriend attempted to build and live in a seasteading home off the coast of Thailand, only to be chased out by the Thai government. The home was seen by the nation as a threat and the couple narrowly escaped being thrown in prison for life or worse. After a few weeks of fleeing Thai patrol boats, they eventually made it to Singapore. From there, they moved to Panama where they re-launched their company.
COVID-19 Has Increased Support
Groups like Seasteading have seen a surge in interest and support since the lockdowns began, as there are many conspiracists and people who believe the lockdowns are just a way for governments to have more control over their citizens.
This anti-government sentiment is what the Seasteading Institute was founded on in San Francisco back in 2008. Started by Google software engineer Patri Friedman and financially supported by PayPal founder Peter Thiel, the company’s goal statement was:
“to establish permanent, autonomous ocean communities to enable experimentation and innovation with diverse social, political, and legal systems” (1)
Essentially, these Silicon Valley tech guys believed that governments and their regulations stifle innovation. They have dreams of building a society where that never happens. The citizens of these envisioned communities would have freedom of movement. If they didn’t like the way one community was being governed, they could simply pack up and go move to another. No visas or any of the complexities involved with moving to another land country.
Difficulty Getting Off the Ground
Theil’s donations only stretched so far, and Friedman only got so far as hosting a sort of river boat festival reminiscent of Burning Man. Though he has since moved towards focusing on land-based communities, the Seasteading helm has been taken up by Joe Quirk, who is an author and self-proclaimed “seavangelist”.
Quirk believes that water communities can help to heal all of humanity. He even wrote a book that talks of how floating cities can “restore the environment, enrich the poor, cure the sick, and liberate humanity from politicians”. (1)
In January 2017, however, after years of planning, feasibility studies, and government negotiations, he and his team reached an agreement with French Polynesia. They were to build their floating nation in the 5 million square kilometers of sea owned by the island country. There was a misunderstanding of purpose however and what each group would do for the other. The French Polynesian government was looking for them to address environmental concerns and the threat of rising sea levels. The Seasteading Institute was, of course, more interested in building a nation with complete autonomy.
The local people were not supportive of the project and eventually, it came to a halt. Marc Collins Chen, former minister of tourism of French Polynesia who founded the company Blue Frontiers along with Quirk, has since realized that these floating nations need to work with host countries more, and in order to have support, they need to pay taxes.
“I realised that the real future for these sorts of projects has to be closer to cities,” he explains. “They have to be an extension of an existing city’s infrastructure, they need to be run by the mayor, and they have to pay their taxes – as opposed to being enclaves for the wealthy.” (1)
Collins Chen has now moved to New York to build a new company focused on creating these floating cities, called Oceanix City. He believes that these floating cities could be a way to accommodate growth without disturbing the already struggling ecosystems on land. Using drag-and-drop building, you can add, move, and takeaway sections whenever you need. The cities could be powered by water and solar and essentially become self-sustaining.
United Nations Support
UN-Habitat, the sustainable development branch of the United Nations, hosted a discussion about the Oceanix City project in April 2019. Maimunah Mohd Sharif, UN-Habitat executive director, says that floating cities could be one of the potential solutions to current housing and climate issues facing countries around the world.
A Distant Dream
Actually having floating cities ready to live in is not something that will happen soon. Currently a factory where the city’s structures will be built is under construction in Panama. The main feature of the factory will be a giant 3D printer that will print both the floating homes with underwater rooms wrapped in eco-restorative 3D printed coral reef. The cost will be between $200,000 and $800,000 per home.
Current CEO Grant Romundt says the focus is making homes that are a safe place for people to be during times such as the coronavirus pandemic.
“They should be a safe place to escape to and be totally energy independent, with solar panels on the roof, water desalination on board, waste collection by drone, and aeroponic systems to grow your own food.” (1)
He says they are building holiday homes that will be registered as boats under the Panama flag, but as time goes on he believes they will morph into actual real, independent cities. The best part, he claims, is that if these seasteads fail, the people can just disassemble and go away. It would be as if they were never there at all.
What do you think? Would you move to an independent floating nation?