Mark Twain: “Buy land. They’ve stopped making it.”
Seasteaders: “Memo: Production Resuming.”
In this paper, we’ll demonstrate that a combination of technologies has finally given the lie to Mark Twain’s famous line about the real estate business. Imagine the tremendous possibility of being able to create new acreage on the vast and empty oceans. The environment may be less friendly, but the increased freedom will appeal to a motivated minority who are fed up with terrestrial politics. These aquatic pioneers will settle civilization’s next frontier through the unusual merger of green technology and free enterprise. Once there, they will experiment with new social, political, and economic systems, adding much-needed variety and innovation to the stagnant business of government.
As the earth’s population steadily increases, so does the pressure to open new frontiers. While the oceans have long been used for transportation, this book is an extended thought experiment about how they could support permanent settlements. Considering these issues will be invaluable no matter which way humanity next expands. In particular, the ocean bears some definite similarities to space: the final frontier, which will surely be an important part of our near future.
For background, we’ll review the conventional water-based lifestyles like floating homes, sailboats, cruise ships, and oil platforms. You’ll also learn about some of the other ways people have successfully leveraged international waters for political freedom, like the european pirate radio movement of the 60’s and 70’s. We’ll describe some of the scores of colorful new-country projects proposed and attempted over the years. While the ideas are wide-ranging, including ships, reefs, spars, hexagonal cells, reeds, and tetrahedrons, they all share one thing in common – utter lack of success.
While this is an unfortunate trend, we’ll explain how we’ve learned from these past mistakes. Far from being dreamy-eyed utopians, we are serious planners with realistic principles for bringing this strange vision to life. This realism dictates an incremental approach, modest political goals, reliance on mature technology, self-financing, and a willingness to make compromises.
While we’re practical-minded and most of this book is dedicated to the how of seasteading, its crucial to also explain why people are interested in small-scale sovereingty. In perhaps the most vital section, we’ll outline the simple economic theory which suggests that ocean-based societies will actually work better than terrestrial ones. The relative ease of moving around entire buildings on the water means that political units will be dynamic, and so governments must be responsive and efficient or they will lose citizens. This effect will work automatically to improve institutions, regardless of the specific political system chosen. The ocean is not a booby prize.
Before planning such a venture, it behooves us to understand the ocean environment. This includes fearsome waves like the so-called rogues, known as the “Monsters of the Deep”. Scientists are finally acknowledging that this deadly phenomenon is not just an old sailor’s tale. Contrary to what you may expect, tsunamis, high winds, and small-scale pirates will prove to be little danger. The tangled morass of international maritime politics and law is a far greater concern. While current nations are likely the greatest challenge to this new way of life, we’ll sketch some promising solutions. We can’t reassure skeptics completely, but there are reasons to be hopeful.
Once our goals, motivations, and obstacles are understood, we can examine designs for meeting them. We’ll cover a wide variety of structures for living on the ocean, from boats to oil rigs to undersea habitats. We’ll also examine some of the basic design choices which must be made. These include whether a seastead should be free floating or fixed in one place, whether to use breakwaters or pillars to stop the waves, how to make floating-cities modular, and whether to purchase new or used structures. With these considerations in mind, we’ll present more detail on our preferred design, the spar platform. This structure avoids the massive energy of ocean waves by keeping its platform above them and its flotation below. In between is a thin pillar which presents little cross-sectional area to the waves.
For the engineers and home power hobbyists, we’ll outline how to provide the amenities of civilization on a floating platform. From our unique angle, we’ll review the field of self-sufficient technology like solar panels, wind turbines, reverse osmosis, satellite internet, and hydroponics. Along the way, we’ll debunk the myths that floating cities can be cheaply and effectively built from a material called “seacrete” or powered by OTEC generators.
However, solving these engineering challenges is meaningless unless we can solve the substantial business challenges as well. Sure, with enough money the ocean can be made habitable. But where will it come from? How will seasteads make money? Who will want to live there? Is there a big enough market? The lack of a good incremental plan has been a major flaw in other ventures, so we must address these crucial questions with a plan for getting from here to there through a series of realistic steps.