At first glance, the clusters of boats on the delta looks like your typical weekend boat party: house boats, dance music, sun-tanned bodies. But if that’s all you see, you haven’t gotten close enough.
Ephemerisle, a week-long floating festival near Rio Vista, has a mission: planning a permanent water colony free to create its own government.
“We are going to grow up and figure out how to do this on the ocean,” said Zoe Miller of Reno. Miller’s been a part of the mission since the first Ephemerisle in 2009. Wednesday, she paddled from one “island” to the other in a kayak with her son.
Ephemerisle is the brainchild of engineer and activist Patri Friedman, grandson of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman. The goal of his “Burning Man on water” was to tickle the imagination of like-minded free-thinkers and generate interest in seasteading – floating colonies free from existing governments. With funding from PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel, the young Friedman founded the Seasteading Institute in 2008.
In 2010, the Seasteading Institute stepped away from sponsorship of the event. Attendees, with nobody claiming to be in charge, have kept the event going.
The first three days of the week-long event are all about anchoring the boats in place, building floating platforms and creating small works of art to beautify the space. Crews painted a rusty barge with a rust-color primer before artists were to paint sea life on the hull. Another group screwed together an open yurt with a rooftop chill space as dance music played.
The remainder of the time is filled with lectures, meditation and yoga in addition to ample time to meet new friends. Ehemerisle ends Sunday.
Ephemerisle takes place on water, but Friedman said he got the idea in the desert. Friedman was inspired by Burning Man, the annual week-long counter-culture festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert that functions as an experiment in temporary evolving governance. Burning Man, with 70,000 attendees, functions as an experimental city that reinvents itself annually, Friedman said.
The boat “islands” at Ephemerisle offer the same opportunity. Each island has its own captain, fee and rules. The largest island, Elysium, asks guests to sign a waiver and an agreement to, among other things, get permission before taking someone’s picture and seek “enthusiastic consent” before touching.
“Seasteading offers the opportunity to experiment with different forms of government,” Miller said.
Act up and you’ll find yourself on an island of one.
Seasteading solves two of the world’s problems said Joe Quirk, who coauthored a book on seasteading with Friedman. Seasteading creates communities safe from rising sea-levels and allows political and social innovation that is impossible for those governed by terrestrial governments.
Their book, Seasteading: How Floating Nations Will Restore the Environment, Enrich the Poor, Cure the Sick and Liberate Humanity from Politicians, makes the case for long-term colonies that create their own rules and residents who vote with their feet – by leaving the floating community.
With a tentative agreement in place with the government of French Polynesia, Friedman and Quirk say they are closer to their goal. In January, the French Polynesian government agreed in principle to create legal framework for a floating island project, once the institute completes an economic and environmental study. The goal is to start with an island with as many as 100 to 1,000 residents with a cost of $10 million to $50 million.
Friedman said the initial inhabitants will likely lease space, with fees comparable to rent in San Francisco.
The project will be developed by Blue Frontiers, a company created by the institute, and will be designed by the Dutch engineering firm Blue21, who created the eye-popping Floating Pavilion in Rotterdam.
A good number of the Ephemerisle participants are familiar with the Seasteading Institute’s vision.
“This is fun and exciting,” Miller said. “It’s not seasteading but it’s headed in that direction.”