Could floating cities be the answer to rising sea levels?

By Matt Field | April 12, 2019

Credit: OCEANIX/BIG-Bjarke Ingels GroupCredit: OCEANIX/BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group

Adapting to climate change can seem uncomfortably close to copping out. After all, building higher seawalls to prevent a climate change-charged hurricane from inundating a city doesn’t do a thing to reduce carbon emissions. Moreover the local officials who push through climate resiliency projects might not even care whether humans cause climate change or not. When streets are flooding or basement sewer pipes are backing up, adaptation isn’t hard to sell.

But a new proposal from a company called Oceanix appears to make many such efforts look like small-bore edge-tinkering. Oceanix’s concept raises the question: Why build a new pumping station to protect an aging, overcrowded city from the encroaching sea when people can just live in brand new, floating mini-cities?

It may sound like the plot of the sci-fi movie Waterworld, but the United Nations is listening.

At a recent meeting at the UN headquarters, Oceanix unveiled a plan for 10,000-resident floating communities to house people in coastal regions. According to lead architect Bjarke Ingels, the severe-weather resistant cities could produce their own power and food; manage their own water; and dispose of their own waste.

“Over 70 people discussed the proposed structure and design of floating cities, how they would be situated close to cities and could be used to house those fleeing from rising sea levels and other threats from natural or climate-related disasters in their home areas,” a press release by UN-Habitat, which held the meeting, states.

The project is a partnership of Oceanix, the MIT Center for Ocean Engineering, and The Explorers Club, a scientific professional society. The club’s president, Richard Wiese, told the BBC that the concept wouldn’t just be an escape for the wealthy. “We need to demonstrate that it is an enjoyable, sustainable and economic advancement that will apply to all portions of the population and not just wealthy enclaves.”

Perhaps predictably, the Onion found a lot of fodder in Oceanix’s proposal. In a satirical vox pop interview, fictional saleswoman Lacie Navarro sums up the project: “I guess it makes sense that floating hexagonal cities are now the most realistic method we have of fighting climate change.”

But with people in the United States telling pollsters that climate change is a top concern, newly elected officials there pushing for legislation to fight warming, and students around the world striking for climate, perhaps there’s reason to hope countries will do more to attack the root cause of climate change instead of just adapting to it as a foregone conclusion.

It’s either that or check out prices at Oceanix City.

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