Seasteading: A path towards real micronations?

Just a few days ago, I was talking with my officemate about micronations and how awesome the concept is (he had never heard of Sealand before). We both liked the idea, but didn’t exactly see how it would be possible. All of the land on Earth is already claimed, leaving no room to create a new nation in, and the Sealand approach, declaring a new nation on an abandoned World War II-era naval platform off the coast of England, isn’t exactly a widely applicable solution. How conveniently timed, then, that Ars Technica should publish an article on seasteading.

The basic seasteading approach is to create more platforms somewhat akin to Sealand, but to do so far out in international waters, where there is no pesky United Kingdom around to claim ownership. The first few seasteading projects will be pretty expensive, and will only be affordable by the rather wealthy. Don’t look to them to alleviate the problem of overcrowding in developing nations anytime soon — although living on one would sort of be like living in a developing nation, thanks to the very limited real estate and the basic nature of the amenities — facts of life likely to scare off all but the wealthy most dedicated to the concept. I feel an amazing draw to living out in the middle of the ocean, though, and if I could make a living on a seasteading platform, I think I’d like to do so for at least a few years. I should point out that my attraction to the concept is based far more from a survivalist/return-to-nature viewpoint than from a libertarian one.

The concept is perfectly doable with today’s level of technology; that’s the really neat thing. All that’s missing is the capital investment. The basic structure of the platforms is very simple: ballast tanks underwater, a narrow concrete pole at surface level to minimize wave contact, and then a spread out platform on top. Multiple platforms can be attached with cables, gangways, flexible pipes, and wires. If the concept really takes off, a bunch of platforms could go in together on an underwater fiber-optic Internet connection to shore, and then share the connection amongst all of the platforms using a local network.

The Ars Technica article pretty thoroughly covers all of the technological and governmental aspects of making seasteading work, but amongst all the talk of libertarianism and being free from governmental intrusion, I think it’s missing something important. The concept of seasteading isn’t attractive just to libertarians. There’s an undeniable novelty to living in the middle of the ocean in a close-knit community that appeals to some fraction of the population. The idea is very survivalist, very individualist, very science fiction. If it can be done cheaply enough, I don’t think there will be any shortage of people clamoring to get into one, especially on a less-than-permanent basis. It’s true, most people have too many connections to family and friends in their communities to move out into the middle of the sea — but who wouldn’t want to go for a month at a time? Talk about the ultimate get away from it all vacation!

And in the long run, seasteading will play an increasingly important role in human society. As construction techniques get better and economies of scale come into play, land on seasteads will be significantly cheaper than in many places on Earth. Eventually, millions of people may be living in seasteads not because they choose to, but because there is no room for them anywhere on land. The oceans take up two-thirds of the planet’s surface; isn’t the spread of permanent human habitation to them inevitable?

Oh, how amazing it’d be to be one of those first lucky few who go by choice.

9 Responses to “Seasteading: A path towards real micronations?”

  1. Ripberger Says:

    Why not create a city underwater, such as in the PC game Bioshock? Of course, that would be more expensive than a man-made surface platform, but you wouldn’t have to worry about countries trying to claim you.

  2. Cyde Weys Says:

    Hehe, I thought of BioShock as I was brainstorming this idea, but it failed to make it into the blog post. Anyway, the gist of what I wanted to say about that was I hope the seasteads don’t end up the same way Rapture did — what with the mutants and the plasmids and the killer gun turrets and everything.

    Doing this underwater would be prohibitively expensive. I don’t know if you’ve priced underwater dwellings lately, but they are many, many times more expensive than anything that merely has to float. Your underwater colony wouldn’t do much good if it was stationary, since it’s easy for a government to find out where a stationary dwelling is if they really want to oppress it. It’d have to be mobile like the seastead platforms (which are mobile just by virtue of floating on the water). The last time I looked, a decently sized private submarine costs over $100 million.

    Besides, you get so many benefits from being on the surface: fishing, sunlight for growing plants and for powering solar cells, access to geosynchronous satellites for communications and a satellite Internet connection, etc. You can make a decent run at being self-sufficient if you’re on the surface. If you’re underwater, you’re dependent on regular deliveries of supplies. Living underwater has logistics that look a lot more like a submarine than they do a permanent residence.

  3. drinian Says:

    Who needs high-tech islands when you can build one out of plastic milk bottles?

  4. Jeff V Says:

    ARRRRRR you worried about pirates?

    (Seriously, International waters are very dangerous.)

    That seems to be the only downside. A little bit of wind power or possibly hydroelectric power, a greenhouse and a boombox would be all I’d need to have a pretty smashing time for a while

  5. Cyde Weys Says:

    The way the platform is constructed, it looks very defensible. You’d have a good vantage point from which to shoot down upon any boat down on the water, and the pirates would have no way of getting onto the platform. So just keep your seastead decently armed and pirates shouldn’t be too much of a worry. You won’t need anything heavier duty than RPGs, which are pretty cheap.

  6. Jeff V Says:

    …you think roll playing games solve everything.

  7. zjkdfl Says:

    Not very submaine proof.

    And this is a concern. Major nations are already getting fed up with the minor nation tax havens. If you tried to do anything interesting with one of these it is likely they would take action.

  8. Jeff V Says:

    Thought you might be interested in this

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/oukoe_uk_britain_island_independence

    That is an island that some guy is claiming independence on based on some sort of 16th century dowry.

    …it does seem pretty conspicuous that he is only looking for a tax shelter though.

  9. William (green) Says:

    Anybody in a sub is very likely going to be employed by a sovereign government and ought to have better things to do than trying to knock over your platform.
    Accidental puns are the best ones.