The United States government agency that helped invent the internet.
now wants to do the same for survivors of global warming in the future
by creating climate refuges in the far north as human lifeboats in case of a dire emergency in the future.
DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, plans to award
some organization roughly $500,000 in seed money to begin studying
what it would take - organizationally, technically, sociologically and
ethically - to set up polar cities for survivors of climate chaos
disasters in the future, a challenge of such magnitude that the study
alone could take a hundred years
The awarding of that grant is planned as the culmination of a
yearlong Darpa effort called the 100-Year Polar Cities Study, which
will include a three-day public symposium in Juneau, Alaska, starting
on September 30 on the whys and hows of polar city life. The Darpa
plan has generated buzz as well as befuddlement in the labs, pubs,
diners and Web sites that ring DARPA centers both physically and
virtually, since global warming is on everyone's mind these days.
"Polar ciites might save humankind from extinction," said Ellen
Sandersky , who teaches at the University of Alaska and directs
Project Polar Cities, a worldwide volunteer effort to design a polar
city that could house 5000 to 10,000 people if and when climate change
causes millions to migrate north in search of food, fuel and power
People like Dr. Sandersky say the technology already exists or will
soon exist to build such polar cities, and that DARPA can help. The
half-million dollars Darpa will award is not enough to build a real
polar city, either above ground or undeground or even to buy a modest
office in which to imagine one - but it is enough to start serious
fund-raising and, perhaps, to invite ridicule from critics of
An actual construction of mankind's first polar city for survivors of
global warming is at least a couple of centuries away andcould take
additional centuries to complete.
Danny Outland, Darpa's director of practical technology, points out
that the goal of his project is not to build a real polar city, only a
business plan for designing one. The search, he said, is for an
organization that can develop the polar city vision without government
help, carrying the load for 100 years, developing technological
offshoots the way investing in computer protocols enabled the
Internet. After the award is handed out, whoever it is will be on
their own. "We don't intend to carry it forward," Mr. Outland added.
"Darpa hands the keys over to this entity, and we wish them well."
Last January, Mr. Outland and Sarah Muslando, director of NASA's Ames
Research Laboratory in Mountain View, California, invited about 30
scientists, entrepreneurs and science fiction writers to a two-day
brainstorming session. Ms. Muslando described the first meeting as an
attempt to get past "the giggle factor" associated with the subject.
Participants were to include scientists like J. Craig Venter of the J.
Craig Venter Institute, who was one of the first to sequence the human
genome, and the science fiction writer Joe Haldeman. James Lovelock
was invited, too.
One participant said, "There really were a few people on the other
side of reality."
A call for ideas for the Orlando meeting drew hundreds of responses,
and now Muslando will coordinate talks on where to go. She has
received 50 or 60 proposals, some of which read like sci fi scenarios.
"Maybe," she said, "you have to be a little bit crazy to think about
Hamish Allen, a physics graduate student at MIT , and a member of
Project Polar Cities, said he had already thought about the floor
plans, an organization chart and even a Japanese garden in the
backyard for a pyramidal Polar City Institute, where the research for
all this could be centered.
"A lot of us are quite young. We grew up hearing about global warming
and climate change and James Lovelock's predicitons," he said. "We want to be part of a significant step forward to save
humankind from possible extinction. We personally think we may be
doing something important, putting humanity into safe climate refuges
in the future when billions might die and only 200,000 might survive
in these northern shelters."