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South Pacific Combats Climate Change with Floating Cities

By Abigail Cordaro
Staff Writer

Eco-friendly floating cities in the French Polynesian area of the South Pacific islands may become a reality in the near future. The Seasteading Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Silicon Valley, proposed this futuristic idea to provide sustainable living alternatives to those affected by rising sea levels due to climate change. On January 13, French Polynesian officials signed a “memorandum of understanding” with the Seasteading Institute in San Francisco, according to BBC News. This agreement has the potential to set a precedent for the construction of autonomous floating cities around the globe.

Randolph Hencken, the Seasteading Institute’s Executive Director, expects pilot islands for the group’s program to cost from $10 to $50 million. These pilot islands would have the capacity to house a few dozen people, and operate on solar power innovations and “sustainable aquaculture and ocean-based wind farms”, as reported by The New York Times. However, the project’s developers still face multiple obstacles such as the development of efficient waste-ridding systems.

The Seasteading Institute’s floating cities would offer residents freedom from the boundaries and restrictions present in existing nations, including freedom from laws and regulations, as well as exemptions from state taxes, according to The Guardian. The critics of the project raise concerns that these cities will ultimately only benefit the wealthy from developed countries, while the native islanders – the ones the cities are intended to protect – will be the population left to suffer from the impacts of climate change. Local Tahitians question whether facilitating tax evasion of these profitable ventures would be economically healthy for South Pacific nations.

The Seasteading Institute neglected to seek out the opinions of local residents, which is nothing new according to the residents themselves. According to Marc Collins, a Tahitian businessman and former Minister of Tourism, Tahitians often hear of ambitious and revolutionary projects, such as this one, that are often unrealized. Collins says that negative reactions to the project were expected, but he has a positive outlook on it and hopes that floating islands will boost the Tahitian economy.

Strong advocates for the project include Koen Olthuis, an architect from the Netherlands who works on aquatic projects. Olthuis told the New York Times that these cities have the potential to save hundreds of thousands of people from at-risk tropical slums worldwide, given that the project has proper oversight and funding.

Critics both domestically and abroad wonder whether sustainability is the project’s true goal, seeing that seasteading supporters boast tax exemption as the main selling point of these autonomous floating cities. Other concerns exist on the French Polynesian side about what the social and architectural landscapes of these cities will look like. Multiple digital images have been proposed regarding the style and schematics of the floating islands, but plans have not yet been finalized. Only time will tell whether these cities will fulfill their intended purposes, seeing that their construction may begin within the year.

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