First they take the sea, then the galaxy…
China’s current terraforming activities and proposed designs for cities and vehicles provide an excellent way to expand their territory and power; not just within its nearby waters, but also beyond Earth. Creating new land and living in ever more hostile environments, such as beneath the ocean and in orbit, allows it to continue to develop its industrial base and fully leapfrog the first world nations to become an off-world one
Japan – perhaps trying to remind everyone how big they were in the 01980s and are due for a comeback tour, of sorts – is on a similar path, its heavy industries simultaneously reaching up to the heavens and down into the quiet deep.
And Singapore just doesn’t want to be remembered as Disneyland with the Death Penalty.
Its a new century and the Asian region is quite happy to rise on its own, ditching previous relationships with a decadent Europe and declining America, instead forming partnerships with Russia and Africa and forging its own fate, in the stars.
We start our look in the present. At this piece by the BBC “China’s Island Factory“, which examines how China’s economic rise and development as a naval power is driving its need to acquire a legitimate hold in territory it had previously laid claim to, but not enforced. By deploying its freshly minted navy to contest existing claims by neighbours such as Vietnam and the Philippines. And by manufacturing islands:
This place is called Johnson South Reef. On my GPS it again shows no land, just a submerged reef.
But I’ve seen aerial photographs of this place taken by the Philippine navy. They show the massive land reclamation work China has been doing here since January.
Millions of tonnes of rock and sand have been dredged up from the sea floor and pumped into the reef to form new land.
Along the new coastline I can see construction crews building a sea wall. There are cement-pumping trucks, cranes, large steel pipes, and the flash of welding torches.
The appearance of these new islands has happened suddenly and is a dramatic new move in a longstanding territorial struggle in the South China Sea.
At the beginning of this year, the Chinese presence in the Spratly Islands consisted of a handful of outposts, a collection of concrete blockhouses perched atop coral atolls.
Now it is building substantial new islands on five different reefs.
On one of these new islands, perhaps Johnson South Reef, China seems to be preparing to build an air base with a concrete runway long enough for fighter jets to take off and land.
Plans published on the website of the China State Shipbuilding Corporation are thought to show the proposed design.
China’s island building is aimed at addressing a serious deficit.
Other countries that claim large chunks of the South China Sea – Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia – all control real islands.
But China came very late to this party and missed out on all the good real estate.
And they’re able to apply the adage that if you can’t be early adopter, be a mass adaptor. They certainly have the resources now; far, far beyond that of the challenging small nations and their forces maintaining a token, toe-hold presence. But they still come, like the Filipinos on Pagasa, for the dream of a new life.
“Back on the mainland everything is so expensive compared to here.” In a country where nearly a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line I can see her point.
Our host on Pagasa is Mary Joy. She came here two years ago to start a fishing business. It failed. So she took a job as the island’s administrator.
Mary Joy has big plans. The community hall needs to be finished. A proper harbour must be built. She even talks of a resort hotel on the pristine north beach. If only there were more money.
“The Chinese have so much money,” she says. “We have so little. But it is really important for us to stay here. If we don’t I think the Chinese will come in here.”
Wouldn’t it be so much better if the Chinese, and others, were coming in tourist boats instead? We’ll come to back this thought later on.
But the immediate issue isn’t tourism or economic colonisation; it is of course energy. And Vietnam is hedging against its future riches, investing in a submarine deterrent:
A master of guerrilla warfare, Vietnam has taken possession of two of the state-of-the-art submarines and will get a third in November under a $2.6 billion deal agreed with Moscow in 2009. A final three are scheduled to be delivered within two years.
While communist parties rule both Vietnam and China and annual trade has risen to $50 billion, Hanoi has long been wary of China, especially over Beijing’s claims to most of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea. Beijing’s placement of an oil rig in waters claimed by Vietnam earlier this year infuriated Hanoi but the coastguard vessels it dispatched to the platform were always chased off by larger Chinese boats.
The Vietnamese are likely to run so-called area denial operations off its coast and around its military bases in the Spratly island chain of the South China Sea once the submarines are fully operational, experts said.
That would complicate Chinese calculations over any military move against Vietnamese holdings in the Spratlys or in the event of an armed clash over disputed oil fields, even though China has a much larger navy, including a fleet of 70 submarines, they added.
However, as the BBC point out, China is interested in territory, not energy.
It is an oft-repeated statement that the coral atolls of the South China Sea sit atop potentially huge reserves of oil and gas. The struggle to control the Spratlys would certainly make more sense if it were true.
But a recent study by the US government suggests the main oil and gas reserves under the South China Sea do not lie anywhere near the Spratly Islands.
For China the struggle over the South China Sea is less about resources, though, than it is about sovereignty and strategic space. Nor is this just a quarrel with the Philippines and other countries bordering the sea.
Instead it is about China’s real strategic rival – the United States. The US government does not acknowledge China’s claim, and the US Pacific fleet continues to sail regularly through the South China Sea. But the Chinese navy is beginning to grow more assertive.
So why risk wars with Vietnam and the Philippines and so on, if there’s the option of treaties and partnership and mutual riches and forming a bloc acting against the actions of the fading empire of Uncle Sam?! A drying country in a drowning Earth – 80% of California in drought and no money for the infrastructure they to fix it. This is the future of the USA in a GIF:
But in Asia there is so much potential and money to be spent. Let’s look at some maps:
It sure looks like their aims could be complementary.
What if instead of life aboard rusting ships and islands that nearly wash out every night, and the hope of future wealth for their countrymen, the Chinese state just sat down and offered the ambitious citizens and their officials money up front and a chance to build and live in something like this:
After all, how long is a freshly dredged up island going to last in a turbulent century of heavy weather and water wars and melting ice caps? That is no way to stay true to a Long Now legacy of Hundred Year Plans. Whereas a floating city is far more forward thinking and offers new engineering challenges to broaden a country’s, or coalition of countries’, competitive edge:
AT Design Office, who has offices in England and China, was commissioned by Chinese construction firm CCCC-FHDI to design a floating island with an area of four square miles – utilising the same technologies that CCCC-FHDI is using to build a 31-mile bridge between the cities of Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai.
Entitled Floating City, the team’s proposal involves a series of prefabricated hexagonal modules that tesselate to create all the infrastructure needed for a city on water – from a transport network of yachts and submarines, to a floating hotel and entertainment complex.
Recreational green spaces would be located both above and below the water’s surface, while farms, hatcheries and rubbish collection facilities would allow the community to produce its own food and sustainably dispose of waste.
Declare some special economic zones at the edge of the oil & gas deposits. Help the region win back the diaspora that is literally slaving away in the Middle East, building megastructures for the megarich, when instead they could be building a “bright green future” for themselves on the back of the dark legacy of the fossilized past. All in return for forgoing any future contesting of disputed islands. Everything they want is at the edges. There’s plenty of free space in the middle for negotiation and future plans.
Japan meanwhile, isn’t content to coast on the waves of the present, but wants to spiral to new depths with its plans for an underwater metropolis.
The company’s rival, Shimizu Corp., on Tuesday revealed a grandiose idea of its own, but one that would take mankind in the exact opposite direction.
“This is just a blueprint by our company, but we are aiming to develop the technology that would enable us to build an underwater living space,” Shimizu spokesman Masataka Noguchi said of his company’s Ocean Spiral project. The underwater buildings would each host about 5,000 people and include research centers for excavating the seabed for energy resources, the company said.
According to Shimizu Corp., its Ocean Spirals would include a spherical structure with a diameter of about 500 meters floating near the water’s surface. It will have a spiral path underneath that will connect it to the excavation research center on the ocean bed, approximately 3 to 4 kilometers below. The spiral path would be about 15 kilometers long, they said.
Humans will live inside the 500 meter pod, and the spiral paths, which would carry resources from deeper down, would also guard the Ocean Spirals from being influenced by strong currents, Mr. Noguchi said. The design for the buildings was determined jointly with researchers from University of Tokyo, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology and the government’s Fisheries Research Agency.
Shimizu Corp. said that Ocean Spirals will use temperature differences in ocean water to create energy and produce desalinated water using hydraulic pressure. Fish farms would be built around the structure, the company said.
Japan, a country who’s industrial giants are sitting on plans for a space elevator, hedged against the development of the requisite advances in technology to realise them. A nation who’s citizens have watched on in quiet amazement at all the fuss about the ESA landing a probe on a comet that bounced along and fell under a cliff, when they’d landed one literally named “Peregrine Falcon” on an asteroid nearly a decade ago, in 2005, that scooped up a sample and had successfully flown back with broken wings (two out of four ion engines) to Earth in 2010.
A land with an ageing population being upgraded with mech suits for its greying farmers and robot nurses for its elderly. Don’t write Japan off just yet. Hell, maybe by the end of the century they decide to cash out all their remaining overseas investments and collectively retire on Mars with all their fancy tech.
Now sure both these versions of offshore cities are already super sustainable and self-contained and all, but wouldn’t a ring of massive floating vertical farms that also just happen to be strategically placed to break up typhoons like this mad scientist planned for Tornado Alley really just complete the place?! From Singapore to Malaysia through the South China Sea and up into the East China Sea. That’s how you feed a rising regional power bloc.
[A]rchitects from a Barcelona-based design firm called JAPA have designed a system of looping towers that would float in Singapore’s harbours and grow crops throughout the year. Called FRA, which is short for ‘floating responsive architecture’, the design was based on the floating fish farms that have been used by Singapore locals since the 1930s.
The odd shape of the vertical farms, which look like skinny “Ls” that face opposite directions and meet in the middle, was designed to capture the maximum amount of sunlight for the plants while saving space.
Inside the towers, a large number of sensors would monitor the crops and send real-time data on their status to various networks in charge of looking after them. This data would also keep track on how much food people are buying around the city, so the food produced by the farms could be adjusted accordingly. “The system will aim for zero food waste,” Ponce said.
Or surplus. They could after all be tied into the global marketplace. Servicing passing cruise ships full of long lived Baby Boomers, afraid of the sky, unintentionally spending the bulk of their elongated life on vacation, as they head out for yet another world tour; at sea where it’s safer. Filling containers to be drone dropped onto scattered populations of economic and climate refugees, as they petition the First and Last State on Earth for guest citizenship and a chance to begin again. Tapping into the new and vast near-global railway.
But why stop imagining the infrastructure of a brave new undersea world for a drowning Earth at that, when there are supersonic submarines to add to the picture? Overtly delivering payloads of green produce and black energy within and without the Woken Dragon and Friends. Covertly docking at the underwater terminals of the floating cities and unloading classified cargo and materials for the next stage in the Great Plan. Going right under the noses of the existing networks of pirates harassing vessels in key areas like the Strait of Malacca, and off the coast of Africa.
This technology, which could just as easily be applied to weaponized torpedoes as military or civilian submarines, could theoretically get from Shanghai to San Francisco — about 6,000 miles — in just 100 minutes. If all this doesn’t sound crazy enough, get this: This new advance by the Chinese is based on supercavitation, which was originally developed by the Soviets in the ’60s, during the Cold War.
Then the infrastructure is in place to really get started. In short: Elysium with Asian and African characteristics.
Supersonic submarines are preferable, instead of far easier to shoot down flying drones, transporting the hyper rich and powerful from one bright green climate enclave to another. From Singapore to the coast of Africa, where they oversee the mining and transportation of vital resources.
Just off Lagos, Nigeria’s coast, an artificial island is emerging from the sea. A foundation, built of sand dredged from the ocean floor, stretches over ten kilometres. Promotional videos depict what is to come: a city of soaring buildings, housing for 250,000 people, and a central boulevard to match Paris’ Champs-Élysées and New York’s Fifth Avenue. Privately constructed, it will also be privately administered and supplied with electricity, water, mass transit, sewage and security. It is the “future Hong Kong of Africa,” anticipates Nigeria’s World Bank director.
Welcome to Eko Atlantic, a city whose “whole purpose”, its developers say, is to “arrest the ocean’s encroachment.” Like many low-lying coastal African countries, Nigeria has been hit hard by a rising sea-level, which has regularly washed away thousands of peoples’ homes. To defend against the coastal erosion and flooding, the city is being surrounded by the “Great Wall of Lagos”, a sea defence barrier made of 100,000 five-ton concrete blocks. Eko Atlantic will be a “sustainable city, clean and energy efficient with minimal carbon emissions,” offer jobs, prosperity and new land for Nigerians, and serve as a bulwark in the fight against the impacts of climate change.
Eko Atlantic is where you can begin to see a possible future – a vision of privatized green enclaves for the ultra rich ringed by slums lacking water or electricity, in which a surplus population scramble for depleting resources and shelter to fend off the coming floods and storms. Protected by guards, guns, and an insurmountable gully – real estate prices – the rich will shield themselves from the rising tides of poverty and a sea that is literally rising. A world in which the rich and powerful exploit the global ecological crisis to widen and entrench already extreme inequalities and seal themselves off from its impacts – this is climate apartheid.
Prepare for the elite, like never before, to use climate change to transform neighbourhoods, cities, even entire nations into heavily fortified islands. Already, around the world, from Afghanistan to Arizona, China to Cairo, and in mushrooming mega-cities much like Lagos, those able are moving to areas where they can live better and often more greenly – with better transport and renewable technologies, green buildings and ecological services. In Sao Paulo, Brazil, the super-rich – ferried above the congested city by a fleet of hundreds of helicopters – have disembedded themselves from urban life, attempting to escape from a common fate.
And how better to escape the common fate than at eleven point two kilometres a second in another piece of resurrected Cold War tech:
The Sea Dragon was a 1962 design study for a fully reusable two-stage sea-launched rocket. The project was led by Robert Truax while working at Aerojet, one of a number of designs he created that were to be launched by floating the rocket in the ocean. Although there was some interest at both NASA and Todd Shipyards, nothing ever came of the design as NASA’s Future Projects Branch was shut down in the mid-60s. At 150 m long and 23 m in diameter, Sea Dragon would have been the largest rocket ever built.
Truax’s basic idea was to produce a low-cost heavy launcher, a concept now called “big dumb booster“. To lower the cost of operation, the rocket itself was launched from the ocean, requiring little in the way of support systems. A large ballast tank system attached to the bottom of the first-stage engine bell was used to “hoist” the rocket vertical for launch. In this orientation the cargo at the top of the second stage was just above the waterline, making it easy to access.
To lower the cost of the rocket itself, he intended it to be built of inexpensive materials, specifically 8 mm steel sheeting. The rocket would be built at a sea-side shipbuilder and towed to sea for launch.
Just the thing to build from barges anchored off the currently disputed and freshly created islands in the center of the South China Sea, or elsewhere in the region – resurrecting Singapore’s spaceport ambitions – using the now vast available energy and resources coming in from around the world.
Ferrying fresh produce from vertical farms to power the eager taikonauts in low earth orbit, building themselves into the next stage in China’s off-world plan – crewing zero-gravity factories deploying satellites and spacecraft, dropping advanced goods back to Earth, working in partnership with Japan in capturing passing asteroids. Putting some of them in a safe orbit around the Moon ready for its transformation into a way station to not just the solar system but the whole galaxy.
Meanwhile tackling the development of the technology necessary to complete the next mega-engineering challenge on Earth – a space elevator to extend the reach of the region figuratively and literally into the heavens.
Building first on and then increasingly further below the sea at increasing pressures to graduate the industrial base to new challenges.
Letting people adapt body and spirit to the challenges of living under the water and above the sky. Incorporating the technological into the physical. Becoming the cyborgs that Kline and Clynes intended.
Giving people like Mary Joy of the Philippines the resorts to operate they could scarcely dream of today.
Providing new forms of entertainment and escape and wonders to those lucky few passing through on their last planetary tour.
Transforming a region currently on the edge of conflict into a twenty-first century economic powerhouse, forging a robust alliances and a path forwards, together, upwards. Shifting currently polluting industrial centres into orbit and leaving behind a world ripped open that can begin to heal.
A bright new future awaits, for some.
This has been The Dark Extropian Report. In this instance an extrapolation into the near future unifying various old technologies and new designs to create a narrative about a non-US/Eurocentric Space Futcha. An earlier version of this post appeared here.