Climate Change and City-States on Open Seas

The last time carbon dioxide levels were comparable to today, and sustained at high levels for a considerable period of time, global temperatures increased by 5-to-10 degrees F. The Arctic did not have a permanent ice cap; Antarctica and Greenland had very little ice. It was 15 million years ago, and the planet was largely a sea world. Ergo, today’s advent of radical climate change is introducing a new world order of life on the open seas via the revival of city-states.

Our knowledge of what earth looked like millions of years ago is due to a scientific technique for analyzing the climate and carbon dioxide levels older than 800,000 years ago, as verified in 2009 by Aradhna Tripati at UCLA Department of Earth and Space Sciences and the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. Tripati’s team studied the ratio of the chemical element boron to calcium in the shells of ancient single-celled marine algae to determine the amount of carbon dioxide as far back as 20 million years. Thus, for the first time, we have a reasonably accurate measurement of what the earth looked like when carbon dioxide (CO₂) levels were almost comparable to today, and the results are not pretty because, over time, sea levels swelled 75’ to 120’.

CO₂ has varied between 180 and 300 parts per million (ppm) over the past 800,000 years, and prior to the Industrial Revolution of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, CO₂ levels were about 280 ppm. That figure hardly changed over the prior 1,000 years. Now, in a little over 100 years time, CO₂ levels have returned to nearly the same level of 15 millions years ago, i.e., 400 to 600 ppm. CO₂ levels in the world’s atmosphere today are 393 ppm. This takes one’s breath away!

Fifteen million years ago, during the Miocene Age, Antarctica’s interior landscape resembled the tundra found in parts of modern-day Chile and New Zealand. The coasts were lined with beeches and conifers, and temperatures reached 45 degrees F over the summer months. Scientists proved this by analyzing leaf wax remnants trapped and preserved in sediment i.e., molecular fossils, found deep beneath Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf based upon analyses by a team of scientists led by Sarah Feakins, biogeochemist at the University of Southern California, as explained in an article by Christine Dell’Amore.1

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out humans will not fare very well in a world with sea levels 75’ higher, but with the current rate of disappearing glaciers, and with the world’s massive ice sheets increasingly thinning, what’s to stop this rise in sea levels?

Nevertheless, there is another side to this story because there are plenty of climate change deniers who do not accept the concerns of the scientific community, and several of them are members of Congress.

Deniers of Climate Change

Some climate change deniers are high-powered people in America who do not accept the proposition, and concern, about human-made climate change, including Congressman John Shimkus (R-ILL) who, when addressing a climate change hearing at the U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, March 25, 2009, said: “… we have about 388 ppm in the atmosphere. I think in the age of the dinosaurs when we had more flora and fauna we were probably at 4,000 ppm. There is a theological debate that this is a carbon-starved planet.” (Note: 4,000 ppm is undoubtedly a gross exaggeration… more likely CO₂ during the age of dinosaurs was 2x to 5x today’s levels.)

In conclusion, Rep. Shimkus, after reading aloud some verses from the Bible, declared: “God decides when the earth will end, not humans.”

Numero Uno climate change denier in America is Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), the recipient of the Sixth Annual Rubber Dodo Award, d/d Oct. 26, 2012 awarded by the Center for Biological Diversity, as such: “…for being the ringleader of climate-deniers in Congress and a driving force behind the lack of action to tackle the crisis that’s shattering temperature records, driving drought and wildfires, melting polar ice and endangering people and wildlife around the globe.”

In contrast to these deniers, the prospects for conversion of the voting public’s attitude about climate change have brightened considerably based upon a recent Yale study, “Climate Change in the American Mind,” found that 70% of Americans surveyed in September of 2012 believe in global warming and global warming deniers dropped from 20% in Jan. 2012 to 12%. Furthermore, more than 50% of those polled now believe human activity is the chief cause of global warming. Thus, the polls have turned against the deniers, who are, after all, elected officials.

The Hard Facts About Climate Change

Regardless of what the scientists claim or what pollsters find, or what climate change deniers say, the hard facts are:

  • The North Pole’s ice sheet is 1/3 its thickness of 30 years ago and will be ice-free with a decade.
  • The Alps largest glacier, Aletsch, which is the source of the Rhone River, is now blessed by an annual Catholic prayer ritual, pleading for the glacier to increase in size, a new ritual granted by the Vatican in 2010, which is the reversal of a 350-year old Catholic tradition of praying for the glacier to melt.
  • Alaska’s Columbia Glacier has retreated 10 miles up the fjord over the past 30 years.
  • The Andes has seen 1/2 of its glaciers disappear over the past 30 years, threatening the water supply for 100 million people.
  • The glacier that George Mallory photographed at the foot of Mt. Everest in 1921 has disappeared.
  • Seventy percent (70%) of the glaciers at the headwaters to China’s Lancang River (the Danube of the East) are gone.
  • Eighty (80) glaciers that feed China’s Yellow River (the “Mother River”) are shrinking.
  • Excessive levels of CO₂ absorbed into the oceans are killing coral reefs, home to nine million species.
  • The world’s highest ski area, Chacaltaya (Bolivia) is bone dry and permanently closed because its glacier is gone.
  • Greenland’s summer melt lakes are splitting apart surface ice and cascading down crevasses at the speed of Niagara Falls, possibly all the way onto bedrock 1-2 miles below which could be slip n’sliding the 1,500 x 500 mile ice sheet towards the ocean.
  • Chinese scientists have openly expressed concern about the loss of the Water Tower of Asia, which consists of the glaciers in the Tibetan mountain ranges, supplying drinking water and irrigation for 80% of the country’s grain crop for more than one billion people.
  • CO₂ in the atmosphere is at record high levels not seen in millions of years, threatening to undermine the stability of the massive ice sheets. i.e., Greenland and Antarctica, which ice sheets constitute over 200’ of seawater.
  • Global drought conditions caused by an out-of-kilter climate are threatening basic food supplies, as agricultural land turns parched from Russia-to-Syria-to-America and around the world.

With the world’s ice melt accelerating, for example, over the centuries, almost all of the Arctic ice that melted was first-year ice; now, multi-year ice 10-to-12 feet thick is melting annually, what does this portend for human lifestyle should the accelerating trend of these past 30 years continue?

Nobody has an answer because humanity has never experienced anything like this before, but it is a sure-fire certainty that, if the tend is not reversed, water levels will rise and humanity will have to deal with it. Coastal areas, including coastal cities, especially port cities, will be heavily affected, subjected to serious flooding, similar to the NYC experience in 2012, but much worse, causing major economic disruption/dislocation to international trade and commerce, and depending upon the severity of the sea level rise, massive relocation of people to higher grounds.  Coastal cities will be forced to spend billions on sea walls, which, over time, may not hold.

According to an OECD environment working paper: “Screening Study: Ranking Port Cities with High Exposure and Vulnerability to Climate Extremes: Interim Analysis: Exposure Estimates,” 2008, the most vulnerable cities of the world ranked in terms of population exposed to coastal flooding and climate change are: (1) Miami, (2) Guangzhou, (3) New York, (4) Shanghai, (5) Mumbai, (6) Tianjin, (7) Tokyo, (8) Hong Kong, (9) Bangkok, (10) Ningbo.

The world’s top beach cities will become an after-thought, as the beaches will be overrun with water, including Barcelona, Cape Town, Honolulu, Nice, Miami Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Santa Monica, Sydney, Tel Aviv, and Vancouver (yes, Vancouver is ranked as one of the top ten beach cities in the world.)

It is entirely possible that the future of climate change may bring in its wake chaos as hordes of people aimlessly travel the planet in search of water and food and shelter.

In this regard, there are parties who are already making plans for a changing world.

Revival of the City-State

Plans are currently underway for the wealthy to live comfortably in new sovereign nations built on oil-rig-type platforms in international waters, free from regulations, laws, and the moral suasion of the landlocked countries of the world. These floating city-states are a revival of the famous city-states of ancient Greece, like Athens, Corinth, and Thebes and of the Renaissance city-states of Italy like Genoa and Florence (The only city-state extant today is Vatican City.) At the time, economic exchange bound the city-states together, which became the engine of economic growth and establishment of power.

The revival of city-states is the brainchild of libertarian activist Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal, and a member of the Bilderberg Group. He contributed $1.25 million to research the floating city project. The ultimate goal is to have thousands or millions of seasteading residents by 2050. Networks of floating city-states would thus be connected, similar to the Italian Renaissance city-states, via economic competition and exchange.  In all probability, these floating city-states will evolve into control centers of the world with the wealthy elite firmly in command over the world’s corporations, and boards of directors will exercise supremacy over the world from these floating seats of power.

The Seasteading Institute has slated the year 2015 for the first manufactured floating independent city-state, which will be guided by international provisions or laws and not responsible to any established country or sovereign.

Hence, over time, it is reasonable to assume major corporations, like Google or Facebook or Microsoft or Exxon, will move offshore into international waters to escape jurisdiction by established governments of the world. This forthcoming change in legal status and political oversight coincides with the trend, over the past couple of decades, of major corporations and wealthy individuals establishing offshore banking to avoid paying taxes.

This revival of the city-state concept will allow the wealthy to build luxurious floating communities, e.g., Dubai is already doing something similar, i.e., the Palm Jumeirah, without regard for minimum wage laws or social welfare programs as dictated by established nation-states. Meanwhile, the huddled landlocked masses, seeking an escape from their dog-eat-dog landlocked world, will welcome the opportunity for jobs serving the wealthy on the floating city-states.

This arrangement dovetails very nicely with the quiet, but consequential, Transnational Movement where the wealthy elite of the world interfaces with each other on a global basis at the expense of their respective nation-states.

The notion that a company or corporate executive or wealthy entrepreneur is bound by an allegiance to their country of origin is passé. The elite capitalists of today are bound to one another, not to countries. They meet at the same conferences, like the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, or The Bilderberg Group annual geopolitic forum, or in Asia it is the Boao Forum on China’s Hainan Island each spring, or the Aspen Institute’s Ideas Festival, or Herb Allen’s Sun Valley gathering for media moguls, or the Google Zeitgeist conference, all defining the characteristics of today’s plutocrats; According to: Chrystia Freeland, Global Editor at Large2 : They are forming a global community, and their ties to one another are increasingly closer than their ties to the multitudes back home

According to William Robinson (Univ. of California),3 : “U.S. capitalism has expanded its reach by morphing into a Transnational Capitalist Class.”

They attend the same operas and polo matches, stay at the same 5-star hotels, lease the same private jets, buy professional sports teams as a fancy, dine at the same 5-star restaurants, meet Bono for lunch, and ceaselessly travel the globe together and have homes on every continent, residing wherever the weather is seasonally most favourable. Their allegiances extend well beyond the borders of their nation-states of origin, and they could care less about the various underling classes of society in any particular country where they do business.

Thus, Seasteading Institute’s plans to form innovative political systems to better serve humanity is a logical extension for the flourishing Transnational Class of wealthy elites. Already, they have sent assets offshore to avoid tax obligations to their home nation-states. According to James Henry, former chief economist of McKinsey & Company, the wealthy elite have up to $32 trillion (twice the size of U.S. Gross Domestic Product) stashed away in offshore tax havens, protected from paying taxes to their respective countries of primary residence.  They are tax-dodgers on steroids! And then some…

In the final analysis, and within a couple of decades, it is probable the Transnational Class will establish primary residences in open-sea floating communities where there are no legal or moral obligations to an entity like the U.S. federal government. Thus, fostering the ultimate experience of libertarianism within tax-free havens, floating on the oceans, attracting all of the world’s wealth, leaving behind the land-locked hordes to fend for themselves.

Of course, the landlocked hordes will still have Disneyland, movie theaters, television, radio, professional sports, and monitored Internet communications as well as artificial snow for skiing, similar to Dubai’s huge indoor snow skiing facility in the Mall of the Emirates, and there will be snorkeling in artificial sea water pools with artificial reefs and colorful mechanical tropical fish, and the flora and fauna will naturally grow to dinosaur-age size because of the extraordinary levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, nurturing plant life beyond imagination, as plants take over the world.

And, over time, maybe Congressman John Shimkus’ dinosaurs will magically reappear within this extremely warm/hot, and very moist, habitat. Think: Raquel Welch’s film, One Million Years B.C. (20th Century Fox) and Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park.

  1. Warm Snap Turned Antarctica Green Around the Edges,” National Geographic News, June 20, 2012. []
  2. Reuters, “The Rise of the New Global Elite,” Atlantic Magazine, Jan/Feb 2011 []
  3. Global Capitalism and 21st Century Fascism,” Aljazeera, May 2011 []

Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide, like Z magazine, European Project on Ocean Acidification, Ecosocialism Canada, Climate Himalaya, Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Comite Valmy, and UK Progressive. He has been interviewed about climate change on Pacifica Radio, KPFK, FM90.7, Indymedia On Air and World View Show/UK. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.