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Monday, 26 August 2019

Seasteading Economic Opportunities Overview



This is an attempt to start a conversation about different means of making a living while seasteading. From chatter online, I've heard many of the same intended sources of income: bitcoin and other crypto mining, playing the stock market, tourism, and freelance software engineering.

These strategies won't work. Not because they are bad ways to make a living, but because the supply will quickly outsize the demand, no matter how good each worker is at programming, or how amazing each oceanic hotel is. Somebody has to grow the food for all these service and knowledge workers.


In short, we need economic diversity.

Below are some seasteading-based economic opportunities, arranged by their distinct advantages.



Goods and services needed by seasteaders.


These are sources of income that will improve with the number of people seasteading, rather than worsen. Success at such enterprises depends on the overall economic success of seasteads in general, but they also tend to foster skills that are valuable on land as well, as a fallback.

Infrastructure, 

...and the tradespeople necessary to maintain it. Every environment has its challenges, and the world's oceans provide unique, and potentially labour-intensive ones. Maintaining infrastructure is a question of survival, so it can't just be neglected, and that maintenance includes a lot more plumbing and underwater welding per capita than land dwellings. 

Furthermore, the current crop of aspiring seasteaders is over-represented by computer programmers and others with work-at-home skills. Either a lot of these people are going to need to learn a trade, or some major incentives and recruitment are going to be needed to launch a serious long term seastead.
               

Security 

While the 21st century is not exactly an age of piracy, some form of private defense is valuable. Being independent of any one country (or using a flag of convenience) means being free of both the rules AND the protection of that country. As Hong Kong has recently taught us, it's not always enough to simply be beneficial to your host nation.
               

 Emergency services.

 Say what you will about roads, but they are pretty good at carrying people in a hurry. For smaller seasteads, getting to a hospital in an emergency is a lot harder than getting there in an equivalent land dwelling. Medivac helicopters are an expensive and fuel-intensive means of reaching and moving patients, so there's an opportunity for ambulance boats.
               

Food


More specifically, food security. Without a network of roads to carry large amounts of food from one part of a continent to another in hours or days, a loss of a local source can be much more problematic. That means food production may be harder or impossible to scale or consolidate as it has been in many places on land. That means many food sources will always be more expensive per calorie than on land, but also that aquaculture can provide more long-term employment per capita than land-based farms.
               

Computational resources


Internet access via satellite is available for now, but it's not a scalable solution. Most long-distance digital traffic is cable-based. Any seastead that finds a way to provide a stable internet connection, either by creating a branch to an existing transoceanic cable or by spooling their own cable out from the mainland, could quickly find itself to be a major hub. This is especially important considering the number of knowledge-based workers looking to seastead; more on that later.

Furthermore, maintaining large servers poses additional challenges because of the humidity, occasional movement, and electrical demands. Power production is a different beast on the sea; clean production is a lot easier than fossil-fuel or nuclear based because of its modularity.
               

Industries with advantages at sea.

These represent sources of income that have distinct economic advantages over land-based competitors. These could be related to ready access to the ocean, the flexibility of available space, the freedom from being fixed in one location, or the freedom from government impediments.

Related to being on the water

                Plastic harvesting and related salvage. By anchoring something that skims the water surface in place against a reliable ocean current, collection and salvage of floating debris can be made very efficient. Using everything that is collected is more challenging, but that could itself be an opportunity for knowledge workers.
                               
                Aquaculture. There is already massive overfishing without people living on the sea, so aquaculture is going to be a must. Not just fishing and harvesting edible life from the seas, but cultivating the food. There's a lot to say about aquaculture and I'm not an expert by any means. However, one advantage of oceanic aquaculture worth noting is that there are large sections of the seas in which there is almost no life. These oceanic deserts could be re-seeded at minimal detriment, or even a net benefit to the environment.
                               
                Fresh water production. It's simple but energy-intensive to produce. Get yourself a floating solar still, and let the cash condense out of the air. Production of fresh water scales very well economically, because the surplus can be sold on land in many places.
                               

Related to an abundance of space.

                Carbon credits, and related geoengineering. Through an abundance of space and sunlight, otherwise infeasible means of fixing and storing carbon are possible. This includes cultivating carbon-hungry algae, but also energy-intensive air-to-fuel technologies like those being developed by Carbon Engineering and Global Thermostat. 

Unlike many offset-based methods of claiming carbon credits like the ECX in the European Union, this could be backed up by physical delivery of the algae, fuel, or calcium carbonate pellets.  One issue with this that fixing carbon and then dumping it in the ocean could make things works by contributing to ocean acidification. Proceed with caution.

Related to being independent of land-based nations

                Biotech, such as drug discovery and medical procedures. How's that stem-cell research going? How about artificial meat? Is your local government holding back the things that you or the planet need to survive? There's a lot of good reasons why restrictions and regulations on these fields exist, but there's a lot of reasons that are just lobbying and legacy.

Related to having flexibility of location.

                Knowledge work. A few of these were mentioned at the beginning of the article, but these aren't the only types of knowledge work that could be done from anywhere with an internet connection. There's also translation, writing, consulting, and many forms of research and education.

Even on the sea, people will need vets and dog-walkers.

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