Has the seasteading movement lost its latest home?
Last year, the government of French Polynesia adopted a Memorandum of Understanding that said it would look into the prospects of allowing a seastead to be built near one of its islands. "Seasteads" are artificially created island polities that can experiment with different rules and add a level of competition to government.
As I reported in the June 2017 Reason, that
agreement commits the parties to "studies addressing the technical and legal feasibility of the project in French Polynesia" and to preparing a "special governing framework allowing the creation of the Floating Island Project located in an innovative special economic zone." Since the Seasteading Institute is an educational nonprofit, the signing ceremony was also the public debut of a for-profit spinoff called Blue Frontiers, which intends to build, develop, and manage the first Polynesian seastead.
As Radio New Zealand first reported, French Polynesia's ruling party, Tapura Huiraatira—currently embroiled in some serious political turmoil over pensions, and facing a backlash against the seasteading idea—has now declared that the Memorandum of Understanding does not actually commit them to definitely allowing a seastead to be built. It adds that the agreement technically expired at the end of 2017.
Randolph Hencken, one of the principles of Blue Frontiers and the Seasteading Institute, insists that this development will not derail the movement's efforts. "French Polynesia—an archipelago of 118 islands—is one of the promising countries we are cultivating relationships with in regards to stationing seasteads," he writes.
"Some people and some politicians from the Island of Tahiti—during the election cycle—have expressed opposition," he adds. "This led to the majority party reminding people that the Memorandum of Understanding is a non-binding document and that there is not a backroom deal taking place with us. The [agreement] required us to perform environmental, economic, and legal studies—all of which we completed last year. There is no need to renew the [agreement]."
If French Polynesia doesn't work out as the site of the first functioning seastead, Hencken says, "other communities which are concerned by sea level rise have reached out to embrace our project, and many more options are also being considered. There are many locations in protected waters, in French Polynesia and other countries, that we are interested in and are building relationships with the goal of starting seasteading. We plan to take our investment, resources, and talents to one of these locations and create mutually beneficial relationships with our neighboring communities."
As Blue Frontiers' Joe Quirk, author with Patri Friedman of the definitive book on seasteading, explains in detail in a post at Medium, whether or not French Polynesia's ruling party is publicly supportive right now, many stakeholders in the island nation are still bullish on the idea.