The Seasteading Institute December 2013 Newsletter
When the history of seasteading is written, 2013 may be remembered as much more than a footnote. Not only did we celebrate the five-year anniversary of the Institute’s founding, but we also took advantage of momentum within our movement to advance a practical plan for opening up the next frontier.
We have our entire community to thank for supporting our progress thus far, especially those who gave to our Indiegogo campaign. Several hundred supporters gave over $27,000 to fully fund DeltaSync’s report – a concept that could serve as the basis for the world’s first Floating City. We are excited to release DeltaSync’s final report, which you can read about below. This crucial component of our plans was made possible through the hundreds of contributions, generously matched by the Thiel Foundation. With an innovative yet realistic design in hand, we can now begin aligning the interests of groups and individuals who can actualize a seastead.
Meanwhile, we have seen a steady rise in interest among people seeking to become pioneers on a floating city. Our Floating-City.org survey just surpassed 1,000 responses, and collects new ones from prospective pioneers daily.
However, we cannot merely sit back, expecting this interest to automatically yield success – The Seasteading Institute can only remain a strong organizing force for efforts like these with renewed support from dedicated seasteading enthusiasts. This year, we’ve raised close to $205,000 of the $250,000 maximum that can get matched by the Thiel Foundation. We only have two weeks left to close the gap, so we’re asking you to please make a generous tax-deductible gift today, sending us into the New Year with the strongest possible chance of getting our plans through to the next phase.
Randolph Hencken, Executive Director
Table of Contents
- DeltaSync Floating City Concept Report Now Complete
- Media Mentions – Business Insider Dispels Seasteading Misconceptions, BBC.com Invites Our Vision of the Ocean Future, Plus Joe Quirk on FreeTalkLive and Interviews with European Web Mags
- Board Meeting Held
- Center for Applied Rationality Workshops
- Conference Highlights: Algae Biofuel
- Holiday Brunch Brings Seasteading and Ephemerisle Communities Together
In commissioning the Dutch water architecture firm DeltaSync to develop a design and feasibility study for our Floating City Project, our goal was to obtain a concept capable of both meeting a realistic price point for the expected residents and attracting interest through its novelty and aesthetic appeal. In publishing their results, we are pleased to now have confirmation of our intuition, at least by first approximation. Their detailed report (download here) contains the methodology, calculations and renderings that can serve as the basis for a cost-effective option for modular, floating habitats. The report, excel spreadsheets and summary are permanently housed on our website.
The basic module in DeltaSync’s concept is a square, 50 x 50 meter platform, which is estimated to cost roughly $15 million, including moorings and building structures. In the concept, three-story buildings would cover 80% of the space, putting the price per square foot of issuable space at roughly $504. The remaining 20% of the square platforms would be reserved for walking space, open areas and greenery. A secondary pentagonal model with 50 meter sides would enable attractive branching, with similar cost per square foot. In DeltaSync’s vision, 11 modules would be interconnected to form a small village, intended for a population of 225-300 residents. Some units would be residential, while others would be commercial or used as hotel accommodations. The projected cost for this larger city was therefore estimated at just over $167 million.This cost is substantially lower than our estimates of real estate aboard a semi-submersible “oil rig” style platform, on account of it being designed for protected waters rather than the open ocean.
DeltaSync found steel-reinforced concrete, molded into sturdy boxes, or “caissons,” to be the most cost-effective material. While more in-depth engineering research is required, the preliminary analysis suggests that concrete platforms in the 50 x 50 meter dimensions strike the best balance between cost, movability, and stability in the waves of a representative region. The Gulf of Fonseca, bordering three Central American nations, was used as a test case for the suitability of the design for protected, territorial waters – this location was selected based loosely on the criteria we used for selecting host nations, such as proximity to cities and existing infrastructure, and location within an attractive climate, outside the path of hurricanes. However, site selection for this study should not be interpreted as suggesting that we have an agreement to develop a floating city in the Gulf of Fonseca.
Among the more exciting findings of DeltaSync’s report was that the platforms could be completely solar-powered, and that this could in fact be more cost-effective than using only diesel generators. This result held even after including the costs of battery storage and distribution via micro-grid. Another interesting feature of their concept is a scaleable method of financing a breakwater, which could eventually surround the city and allow it to move out to the open ocean. Mobility of the individual modules is also key from the perspective of guaranteeing autonomy for the city – in the event that the relationship with a particular host nation no longer suits either party, the platforms could detach from their moorings and float to a different location. Modularity and mobility also enable dynamic geography and empower citizens of the city to rearrange into more desirable configurations as the population grows and evolves.
This concept represents a sizable component of our Floating City Project, and a major step towards actualizing the first seastead. However, there is still research to be done, both verifying the findings in DeltaSync’s report and honing the assumptions off of which the design is based. Again, we want to thank our supporters who gave to the Indiegogo campaign – some of you will be receiving hard copies of the report shortly. Regardless of whether or not you gave, we welcome your feedback at !
Press accounts of seasteading are sometimes quick to judgment and sparse on accuracy – apparently journalists cannot resist attention-grabbing headlines that belie a much more nuanced reality. We were therefore pleased to be contacted by Dylan Love, a curious reporter at Business Insider who sought to actually understand what seasteading is all about before formulating his opinion. The piece was titled, “Clearing Up 3 Big Misconceptions About Seasteading,” and translated an interview with Randolph Hencken into some key points about seasteading that are most frequently misrepresented in the media (hint: it’s not all about tax havens or libertarianism).
Another article about seasteading had appeared in Business Insider just a few days earlier, comparing seasteaders to the Pilgrims of yore. Don’t miss the Buzzfeed-esque series of captioned images at the end.
It is easy to complain about the problems with the status quo, but it takes guts to propose an imaginative alternative. The German web magazine Sensa Nostra has carved a niche highlighting such stories, and recently gave Randolph Hencken the opportunity to explain our mission and vision for advancing the Blue Frontier. Hencken describes the structural problems with governance that drew him to seasteading, but quickly moves beyond criticism to the possibilities for new technology and innovation in governance. Inspired by an optimistic vision of the future, Hencken notes, we become willing to confront a unique set of challenges. We do this incrementally, and with an eye towards pragmatism, hence our Floating City Project and other efforts to spur sustainable business models on the blue frontier.
A Hungarian publication, HVG, also took note of our project, and transcribed an interview with Hencken, bringing what we hope is a welcome message to Hungary.
Joe Quirk, author of the forthcoming seasteading book, was interviewed by Mark Edge on the popular radio show Free Talk Live. The two discussed topics ranging from our Indiegogo campaign, to the Floating City Project more generally, to the question of how seasteading can peacefully settle disputes, even among multiple competing interpretations of the same governmental system (i.e., “a constitutional republic as it was intended by the Founding Fathers of the United States of America”).
Lastly, The Seasteading Institute was invited to contribute to BBC.com with an article on the future of ocean cities. In the piece, Staff Writer Charlie Deist notes how optimistic visions have given way to dystopian predictions in recent decades, with climate change, sea-level rise, and negative depictions in media (i.e., Kevin Costner’s famous flop, Water World). These create all the more need for positive thinking and action by groups and individuals who understand the benefits the ocean can offer humanity.
Last week was our semi-annual Board meeting, where we reviewed the Institute’s strategy and focus of its major initiatives. We took input from Board members on how we can continue to be effective in enabling a sustainable seasteading movement, and received positive feedback on the work we’ve completed towards The Floating City Project. Patri Friedman was appointed treasurer in lieu of Eric Jacobus, who will be stepping down as Operations Manager at the end of this month. We are eager to exceed the expectations of the Board oard, and those of the entire seasteading community. We welcome your input on our current strategy at .
(This item is included on behalf our colleagues at the Center for Applied Rationality, whose methods many in our community find highly useful.)
Want to hack your own cognition? The Center for Applied Rationality teaches techniques for improving your decision-making, based on cognitive science research, decision theory, and lots of our own experimentation.
Come join us at one of our upcoming workshops:
- Melbourne, Australia (Friday, Feb. 21 – Monday, Feb. 24)
- Berkeley, CA (Friday, March 21 – Monday, Mar. 24)
- New York, NY (Friday, April 11 – Monday, April 14)
For a sample of what we teach, check out a previous workshop schedule, our “Rationality Habits” checklist, or personal accounts from some of our alumni:
- “Delivers an enormous amount of value.” -Josh Kaufman, author of The Personal MBA (Read more at Josh’s website.)
- “One of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” –Ben Kuhn, Harvard math ’15 (Read more at Ben’s website.)
- Read other alumni testimonials here.
We select 25 people to attend each workshop. No official requirements, but we’re looking for people who are intellectually curious, warm, and passionate about something important. Our recent picks include scientists from MIT and Berkeley, college students, engineers from Google and Facebook, founders of Y-combinator startups, a high school Spanish teacher, a police officer, a nurse, a social worker, professional writers, and many others. Workshop admission costs $3,900 (with financial aid available – please inquire), and includes four full days at a retreat center with room and board, plus six weeks of one-on-one consultations after the workshop to help you integrate the material into your life.
Algae biofuels will not work if companies continue to use their current methods, says LiveFuels CEO Lissa Morganthaler-Jones. She and her husband, Dave Jones, have spent upwards of $12 million in a “mini-Manhattan Project” to find the missing link between present technologies that convert aquatic plants like algae and cyanobacteria into refined fuel, and future technologies that will make the process of extracting oil cost effective. The current gap in feasibility does not result from our lack of understanding of how to make pond scum into something more valuable, the challenge lies in overcoming the so-called “dirty dozen” factors that make the costs of converting the algae into fuel greater than the costs of the resulting product.
Chief among these challenges, according to LiveFuels, is the looming phosphorus shortage, which threatens to put a halt to all agriculture – not just future algae farming. On the bright side, as mineral deposits of phosphorus are dwindling, the ocean contains a vast reservoir of deep water with the exact ratio of nutrients (including phosphorus) that is needed to produce thriving algae farms. That’s why LiveFuels is headed to the ocean.
We enjoyed seeing some old friends and making new ones as well at the holiday brunch, generously hosted by long-time seasteading supporter and Board member, John Chisholm. It was heartening to see so many people show up to hear an update on our latest strategy and recent progress, and we greatly enjoyed speaking with attendees individually about how to concretely advance the seasteading movement.
A large number of attendees were long-time Ephemerisle participants, and so much of the conversation centered around ideas for this year’s event, which will be held July 14 – July 20 at the usual location on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. To stay abreast of the Ephemerisle discussion, be sure to join the Facebook group.
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