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Seasteaders Say Their First Floating Free Market City Will Be Ready By 2020

The latest report from the Seasteading Institute claims that the “first floating city with significant political autonomy may be established by 2020″ and that their offshore enclaves can be constructed for $500 per square foot.  A square-sized floating city, like the one seen above, would cost $15 million, and be able to house 20-30 people.

The ‘finding’ was picked up by a number of news outlets, and credulously reflected in some headlines, like the one leading this Panam Post article. It makes a certain amount of sense; South American nations, with their lax business regulations, have long been targets for the sea-entrepreneurs as ideal homes for the floating free market utopias.

Of course, someone still has to pay for this libertarian techno-paradise, and that remains, and probably will forever remain, the rub. Barring a libertarian miracle, there won’t be any multimillion dollar, regulation-free floating cities inhabited by wealthy tech moguls anytime soon.

A summary of the report is below:

The Seasteading Institute is proud to announce the release of our long-awaited Floating City Project report. Our key findings are:

  • a market for a residential seastead exists,
  • a practical design can be built to match the market’s price point,
  • and it is likely that the Seasteading Institute can reach a deal with a host nation willing to grant a floating city substantial political independence.

Executive Summary

  • The Floating City Project presents a practical path to establishing the first floating city with considerable political independence.
  • We have concluded that it would be possible to station a floating city in the calm territorial waters of a host nation in order to reduce the costs of the structure compared to constructing for the open ocean.
  • A coastal nation may be interested in offering to host a floating community in their territorial waters and allow substantial political independence in exchange for economic, social, and environmental benefits.
  • At the time of publication of this report, we are engaged in high level talks with a potential host nation, and entry level talks with others. We will provide more information about these processes when we are able to make the information public.
  • We commissioned the Dutch aquatic engineering firm DeltaSync to produce a design and preliminary feasibility study for the Floating City Project, wherein they project that 50-meter-sided square and pentagon platforms with three-story buildings could be constructed for approximately $500/square foot. A square platform could house 20-30 residents; and cost approximately $15 million. A village in a tropical location could feasibly power itself almost entirely with renewable energy.
  • Potential residents from 67 countries and many income levels provided extensive feedback on what they desire from a floating city with political autonomy, and their requests are remarkably consistent.
  • The market demand for the first floating city with some level of political independence is vigorous and growing.
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The 14 biggest carbon bombs that could doom the planet

…are the following fossil fuel extraction projects—all oil and coal save two. A new report from Ecofys reveals which will contribute most to climate change, in the number of gigatons of carbon each will emit by 2020:

China’s Western provinces / Coal mining expansion / 1,400
Australia / Coal export expansion / 760
Arctic / Drilling for oil and gas / 520
Indonesia / Coal export expansion / 460
United States / Coal export expansion / 420
Canada / Tar sands oil / 420
Iraq / Oil drilling / 420
Gulf of Mexico / Deepwater oil drilling / 350
Brazil / Deepwater oil drilling (pre-salt) / 330
Kazakhstan / Oil drilling / 290
United States / Shale gas / 280
Africa / Gas drilling / 260
Caspian Sea / Gas drilling / 240
Venezuela / Tar sands oil / 190

The report, called the Point of No Return, notes that “Burning the coal, oil and gas from the 14 massive projects discussed in this report would significantly push emissions over what climate scientists have identified as the “carbon budget”, the amount of additional CO2 that must not be exceeded in order to keep climate change from spiralling out of control.”

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The 130 things that scare the world’s biggest brains

So, my newish gig as a senior editor over at Motherboard has kept me busy, and things have been quiet around here. A little too quiet. Well, no more, I say. I’m going to get back to posting here on a regular basis again, even if stuff will stay on the shorter side. For starters, I want to share this roundup that’s been getting some pretty crazy traffic over at MB–a collection of 150 or so things that the world’s smartest people are afraid of:

Every year, the online magazine Edge–the so-called smartest website in the world–asks top scientists, technologists, writers, and academics to weigh in on a single question. This year, that query was “What Should We Be Worried About?”, and the idea was to identify new problems arising in science, tech, and culture that haven’t yet been widely recognized.

What interested me most was the relative lack of big-picture worry here. No one singled out climate change-related fears in particular, or collapse of the biosphere as we know it, or complications arising from either. In truth, the whole exercise seemed to demonstrate the insular nature of this particular TED-esque corner of intelligentsia.

The full list is here.

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High tech ‘road trains’ turn highways into old trains

Cars have been turning into trains for a while now. The evolution is almost complete.

(From my latest at Motherboard)

Behold the road train: a convoy of cars, each synched up with a truck out in front, allowing each to lapse into autopilot. The idea is interesting. Commuters with road train technology would familiarize themselves with the timetables of lead vehicles like that truck, which would fly down the highway at a scheduled hour every day. Drivers could then latch on to the truck with a sensor, which would essentially tow the vehicle on down the road.

Evidently, there’s been a “hallmark” in this new “green” technology (it saves gas), which has spearheaded by something called the Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE). SARTRE is funded in part by the European Commission, and in part by Volvo. And the project, apparently, has successfully completed its first test run.

Wired reports that SARTRE “scored a proof-of-concept and PR success last week by having four vehicles drive in a “road train” on a public highway near Barcelona, Spain, for over 200 kilometers at speeds up to 85 km/h.

Post continues here.

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The truly immense value of public art

The value of public art is massive, and not in a generalized or ambiguous way.

Planetizen, via Urban Land:

At [LA's] Wilshire Vermont Station images of murals painted by environmental artist April Greiman, “have been printed in dozens of publications, including newspapers and national and local business magazines. The images are routinely used by the local transit agency as emblems of the entire transit system, and the site is frequently host to press events and photo shoots. For example, the mayor of Los Angeles often uses the murals as a backdrop during televised announcements.”

“The private marketing benefits, in real-dollar terms, of this modest public art investment are almost inestimably high. The continuing visibility, publicity, and brand identification that public art provided for the project were purchased for less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the project’s total cost.”

That makes the value of public art—at least good, easily recognizable public art works—incredibly valuable. A beyond good investment.

We seem to be in an age where every good thing needs to be validated by a quantifiable economic benefit—think the dollar value of ‘ecosystem services’ as justification for not cutting down every forest in sight—so it makes sense that public art would get its day in the sun.

Bummer: Nothing can be justified without being commodified.

Silver lining: Some trendy hack in the CSR department at some investment bank just got interested in public art, and some bureaucrat managing the (surely shrinking) municipal arts budget just got some ammo.

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Half of Germany can run on solar power. We can do it too

This is what can happen when citizens and government agree that it’s worth spending a bit more for clean, carbon-free power:

German solar power plants produced a world record 22 gigawatts of electricity – equal to 20 nuclear power stations at full capacity – through the midday hours of Friday and Saturday, the head of a renewable energy think tank has said … Norbert Allnoch, director of the Institute of the Renewable Energy Industry in Muenster, said the 22 gigawatts of solar power fed into the national grid on Saturday met nearly 50% of the nation’s midday electricity needs.

That’s right—half of all of Germany was powered by electricity generated by solar plants. That’s incredible. It was also world record-breaking. Germany is pretty much singlehandedly proving that solar can be a major, reliable source of power—even in countries that aren’t all that sunny.

And it’s the result, primarily, of two forces:

1) In the wake of Fukushima, Germany is shuttering all of its nuke plants, but has vowed to replace them with clean sources.
2) Germany instituted a feed-in-tariff (FIT) system—which requires utilities to buy solar power from producers, large and small, at a fixed rate—that has fueled the nation’s solar boom. Basically, anyone can buy solar panels, set them up, plug them into the grid, and get paid for it.

Now, FITs do make electricity more expensive, since the cost of subsidizing that higher fixed rate is absorbed by all electricity consumers. But Germany doesn’t really mind. And why not? Simple: its citizenry has agreed that producing more non-nuclear clean power is worth shelling out a few extra bucks for each month. Gasp.

Conventional wisdom here in the states is that proposing anything that would lead to higher utility bills would be impossible; the masses would revolt over “energy taxes.” Well, that’s what our political class would have you believe: in reality, a very recent poll found that a majority of Americans would indeed be willing to pay over $160 extra dollars a year to buy cleaner electricity. Of course, support varies from region to region and tends to be consolidated in Democratic-leaning areas.

But still. The popular support is there. We could indeed follow Germany’s lead. And we could even do it without the burden of increased costs—if only we could eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and direct them towards renewables. To further illustrate my point, I will now subject you to an infographic. But don’t worry, it’s simple, and short (the full thing is here):

Now, that probably won’t happen, primarily because oh, 68% of Congress is in thrall to the fossil fuels industry. But if we had our priorities straight, we could stop the federal bankrolling of coal and oil—mature, uber-profitable, climate change-causing and heavily polluting industries—and develop a system that rewards clean, renewable power producers instead.

Two last thoughts: First, programs like Germany’s FIT are likely to become much more popular when they’re in action, when folks with rooftop solar panels or small community arrays start seeing the dollars come in. Secondly, I can’t help but think that the relative income equality in places like Germany helps the programs to be so successful and popular—you’re going to be much more likely to accept higher costs if you feel like everyone’s more or less in it together. This is the case in places like Denmark, too, where there’s more equality and publicly tolerated higher electricity costs, so perhaps it’s telling that the FIT is less popular in England, which has a steeper income inequality curve. It’d just be another example of how greater income equality is better for everyone.

The fact remains that Germany has achieved something remarkable here, and its experiment need not be anomalous. We should be striving to replicate its success—Germany has proven that solar power isn’t just some hippie daydream, but an engine that can power the world’s most industrious and advanced nations.

(This article originally appeared at Treehugger)