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16 Nov 2017
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New Developments in International Waters

As developers in New York City continue to design new buildings that are environmentally friendly and produce less greenhouse emissions, other innovators have decided to use international waters as a building ground. The Seasteading Institute, founded by engineer and political economic theorist, Patri Friedman, and technology entrepreneur and investor, Peter Thiel, is implementing start-up societies in international waters.

What is seasteading? The term was coined in 1998 by the engineer Wayne Gramlich who defined it as “Home-steading on the High Seas”[1] – essentially cities that float. The Seasteading Institute, made of a diverse team of biologists, engineers, researchers and maritime attorneys, sets out to create these cities to “host profitable aquaculture farms, floating healthcare, medical research islands, and sustainable energy powerhouses.”[2] Why the sea? To create a new dynamic in society where there is a separation between government and land. After centuries of war regarding land, advocates argue that by taking out one variable (land), then the other (conflict) will dissipate.

The idea of seasteading gained traction over the years, which led to the current collaboration between the Seasteading Institute and French Polynesia to create the first prototype. Not only is the idea innovative, but they will be funding parts of the project through an initial coin offering. The Seasteading Institute signed a Memorandum of Understanding with French Polynesia to develop a floating city off Tahiti and are expected to begin development in early 2018. For the city to be in a special economic zone, the memorandum set out the following requirements:

  • Conduct a study of the economic impact [the] endeavor would have on French Polynesians,
  • Prepare an environmental framework report and integration plan to require that [the] floating islands are a positive contribution to the environment, and
  • Conduct legal research and prepare a legal framework for the innovative Seazone, a legal regime incorporating the best practices of over 4000 Special Economic Zones around the world. [3]

These floating cities need to be designed in shallow calm waters that are safe with “seafaring culture”.[4] Governments also need to be willing to relinquish a certain amount of autonomy for these cities to be in special economic zones. The idea of seasteading is to incentivize innovation and combat climate change (particularly rising sea levels). Will seasteading be the future of development? We will have to wait and see how the first floating city off Tahiti evolves. Experts believe it can be a viable solution on a small scale, but it is unrealistic to expect a mass exodus of people moving from land to sea in the near future.

[1] Quirk, J. (Aug, 23, 2017) “Milestones of Seasteading.” The Seasteading Institute. Available at: https://www.seasteading.org/2017/08/milestones-of-seasteading/. Accessed on Nov. 15, 2017.

[2]The Seasteading Institute. “About”. Available at: https://www.seasteading.org/about/. Accessed on Nov. 15, 2017.

[3] The Seasteading Institute. “Floating City Project.” Available at: https://www.seasteading.org/floating-city-project/. Accessed on Nov. 15, 2017.

[4] Op. Cit. n1.

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