Great Escape

Your Climate Change Survival Plan

Unless you’ve booked passage to Mars, it’s time to consider the unimaginable

Starre Julia Vartan
GEN
Published in
9 min readAug 23, 2018

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Jeanne Tripplehorn and Kevin Costner In ‘Waterworld’. Photo: Archive Photos/Stringer/Getty Images

TThree-quarters of the world’s megacities sprawl seaside. More than 40 percent of Americans live in oceanside counties. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projects that number will increase, even while the seas rise an estimated 20 feet over the next 80 years. Efforts to erect sea walls and implement massive pumping systems are underway in some locales, but even with those measures in place, tens of millions of people will be displaced.

Where will they all go? Most will go inland, of course, and maybe a few will join Elon Musk on Mars. But increasingly, technologists are envisioning off-land human societies—on the water, underwater, and in the air—and they’re developing the technologies that will allow it to happen.

None of this is to downplay the havoc being caused by climate change (or to suggest we should be less diligent about mitigating it), but as legendary sci-fi author Kim Stanley Robinson, whose recent novel New York, 2140 depicts a permanently flooded but still-vibrant Manhattan, says, “It’s important to stay positive about the future, no matter how messed up things are now.”

In that spirit, here’s a look at the new communities we can — and may have to — create.

Seasteading

In January 2017, a startup called Blue Frontiers made an agreement with French Polynesia, a nation that may lose a third of its islands to rising seas by the end of the century. The deal called for the company to build an artificial island (aka a seastead) hosting 300 homes, setting aside 25 percent of the spaces for Polynesians and creating what Blue Frontiers calls “the world’s first environmentally restorative community.”

That’s more than just a nod at sustainability — part of the seastead design process considers the local ecosystem and works toward minimizing environmental impacts, with rainwater harvesting, seabed monitoring, built-in composting, and, of course, renewable energy to power it all.

“Seasteads could be the technology for startup societies. It’s a Silicon…

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Starre Julia Vartan
GEN
Writer for

AKA The Curious Human. Science journalist & nature nerd w/serious wanderlust. Former geologist. Still picks up rocks. Words in @NatGeo @SciAm @Slate @CNN, here.