New breed of homesteaders look to the sea

By Roddy Scheer
The Seasteading Institute's concept of a floating city.
The Seasteading Institute's concept of a floating city.

Dear EarthTalk: What are the environmental benefits of "seasteading” as opposed to building more housing and communities on land?   

-- Marge Weston, Camden, New Jersey
    We’ve all heard of homesteading, establishing homes from scratch with a commitment to self-sufficiency, including growing and preserving one’s own food, setting up sources of power/electricity and even making one’s own clothing and supplies. While Americans typically associate homesteading with conquering the Western frontier during the 19th century—or perhaps with moving to the Alaskan bush and building a life out of the wilderness—a new breed of homesteaders is looking to the sea.
    Seasteaders are a small but committed group of proponents well on their way to planning the next human communities far from the land itself. These autonomous floating communities could be built on modified cruise ships, retrofitted deep sea oil rigs, decommissioned anti-aircraft platforms or custom-built floating islands, among other possibilities. Baked into the concept is the need to develop new ways of meeting basic human needs. Another common thread among seasteaders is living beyond the reach of sovereign governments bent on regulating and controlling the activities of their citizens in ways that do not necessarily consider the health and well-being of humanity or the planet.
    “Seasteaders bring a startup sensibility to the problem of government monopolies that don’t innovate sufficiently,” reports the Seasteading Institute, a nonprofit founded in 2008 by activist Patri Friedman, software engineer Wayne Gramlich and entrepreneur (and PayPal co-founder) Peter Thiel. “Obsolete political systems conceived in previous centuries are ill-equipped to unleash the enormous opportunities in twenty-first century innovation.”
    Seasteads can be governed and managed in different ways depending on the desires of the individual founders or the laws of countries associated with it. Some might be set up based around a collectivist “universal basic income” while others might prefer free market solutions. Meanwhile, one seastead might be governed by direct democracy while another might entrust public policy to technocrats, while still another might use consumer-choice-based services—or anything in-between and beyond.
    In January 2017, the Seasteading Institute signed a memorandum of understanding with French Polynesia, an overseas collective of 118 geographically dispersed islands and atolls stretching across 1,200 miles in the South Pacific, to create the first semi-autonomous seazone—dubbed the Floating City Project—to develop a prototype seasteading community. While there is some debate on whether the agreement is legally binding, seasteading proponents are still pursuing the project, which is partially financed by a crowdfunding campaign launched in May 2018 on the Indiegogo website. To date, nearly 300 backers have chipped in upward of $27,000 to help get this initial seasteading project off the ground.
    Seasteading remains intriguing to many as one of the planet’s few remaining alternative social systems. “The world needs a place where those who wish to experiment with building new societies can go to test out their ideas,” concludes the Seasteading Institute. “All land on Earth is already claimed, making the oceans humanity’s next frontier.”


    Explorers: A month at the bottom of the sea

    This column was reprinted with permission. EarthTalk is produced by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of the nonprofit Earth Action Network. To donate, visit Send questions to:

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