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World's First Floating City to Combat Rising Sea Levels

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A "floating city" like this could be built off the coast of French Polynesia. Photo credit: YouTube/seasteading

Sea level rise is an increasing threat to low-lying island nations around the world. Many islands in French Polynesia could lose their coastlines or even disappear due to global warming.

In an effort to adapt to climate change, French Polynesian government officials signed a "Memorandum of Understanding" with San Francisco's Seasteading Institute to jumpstart the development of the world's first self-sufficient floating city.

"Our venture is poised to launch a seasteading industry that will provide environmental resiliency to the millions of people threatened by rising sea levels, provide economic opportunities to people in remote and economically deprived environments, and provide humanity with new opportunities for organizing societies and governments," Seasteading Institute Executive Director Randolph Hencken wrote in a blog post about the agreement signed on Jan. 13.

As described by Ensia, the Seasteading Institute has worked to establish independent city-states in the open ocean since 2008. According to a 2013 survey administered by institute, more than 1,000 people expressed interest in moving to these floating cities.

This vision, however, has its critics, who have described the idea as economically unfeasible "techie island fantasy." Additionally, the project was once attached to controversial Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who threw in around $1.7 million into the concept in 2008, envisioning it as "a sort of libertarian utopia." Thiel, however, is no longer involved.

Even if some consider the idea far-fetched, seasteading has taken a major step in becoming reality. Now that an agreement has been signed, the next step is for the French Polynesian government and the Seasteading Institute to establish a legal structure for these "seazones" to have a "special governing framework" by the end of 2017. Site-specific environmental studies and economic impact studies will also need to be conducted.

Reason.com has posted a copy of the memorandum on its website. "The government of French Polynesia recognizes that the rising waters threaten its lands, its inhabitants and their precious way of life," the document states. "The Government of French Polynesia publicly committed to 'make every effort to preserve the Polynesian natural and cultural heritage to become a global showcase of sustainable development.'"

The memorandum touts that the project "will bring new technologies, new research horizons and new economic activities to French Polynesia."

"The Seasteading Institute's project is an opportunity to develop new living spaces on the sea and offers the possibility of multiplying this type of sustainable habitats in other places," it states. "It opens the capability of gaining new living spaces for countries threatened by rising water levels, overpopulation, or other dangerous phenomena."

While the exact location and construction details were not revealed, the seastead will consist of innovative floating platforms and will utilize renewable energy resources. The video below shows how solar arrays and wave-driven turbines will power the man-made floating city.

If everything goes to plan, construction will start in 2019.

Hencken told Huffington Post that once it's constructed, the floating city can be a major site for oceanographic and climate resilience research and implementation, including experiments with wave and tidal energy, combatting rising ocean heat and acidification, as well as developing new ways to trap atmospheric carbon on the sea floor.

"The possibilities are endless," Hencken said.

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