Polar Cities

I must prefix this post with a bit of back story…

A reader in Taiwan, Danny Bee, left a comment on an article I wrote (“Emily Yoffe Learns The Secret“). I had first assumed that the comment was spam, though the suspect spam did not follow my preconceived notions of spam. It had no sales pitch, no links, and no inappropriate words. However, it didn’t exactly fit the article on which it was submitted:

Yoffe captures my concerns about the modern inception of philosophical teachings. Not by coming out and saying it, but by a simple inference from her experiences. I’ll remind my readers that I’m not bashing these teachings, only the glossy cover and Cliff’s Notes by which so many establish their adoption.

…and Mr. Bee’s response:

Polar cities in the far distant future to house remnants of humankind
who survive the apocalypse of devastating global warming? The casual
reader might think I am an alarmist or a mere scare-monger, but I am
neither. I am a visionary.

So like a good blogger, I engaged Danny in some email communications (to verify he was a real person) and tossed out the idea that I write something up on my opinion of his comment. I did check into Polar Cities a bit. Wikipedia has a very brief explanation of them.

Polar cities are proposed sustainable polar retreats designed to house human beings in the future, in the event that global warming causes the central and middle regions of the Earth to become uninhabitable for a long period of time. Although they have not been built yet, some futurists have been giving considerable thought to the concepts involved.

High-population-density cities, to be built near the Arctic Rim with sustainable energy and transportation infrastructure, will require substantial nearby agriculture. Boreal soils are largely poor in key nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, but nitrogen-fixing plants (such as thevarious alders) with the proper symbiotic microbes and mycorrhizal fungi can likely remedy such poverty without the need for petroleum-derived fertilizers. Regional probiotic soil improvement should perhaps rank high on any polar cities priority list. James Lovelock’s notion of a widely distributed almanac of science knowledge and post-industrial survival skills also appears to have value.

As Danny says it, he’s not an alarmist nor a scare-monger, just a visionary. He didn’t rule out cuckoo, though to be fair, zealous may be more apt.

The idea of Polar Cities is in response to doomsday concepts from global warming. Should the ecosystem collapse as a result of a massive build-up of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, then this idea has only rhetorical value. As for the development and planning of Polar Cities for this foreseen eventuality, I think it either a bad plan or at least very pessimistic.

The estimated surface area of our polar land masses seems pretty high – almost 30 million km². Our population is over 6.7 billion at the moment. If you do the math on just those numbers, you get population density of around 224 persons/km². But I think that argument is far too simple. If we assume that 3/4 of the earth’s population dies due to the volatility of the environment, you’re left with 1.675 billion people looking for ocean-front property. I was also being nice by saying that we had nearly 30 million square kilometers of land mass between our two polar regions. If you look at what happens after the ice sheets melt, land rises from a release in pressure, and volcanoes blow, you’re looking at a lot less inhabitable land after all. I’ll cut it in half to 15 million km² because I’m skeptical about our building too close to volcanoes, fault lines, and other natural disasters. I also have to account for the plethora of lake and rivers that would undoubtedly remain on Antarctica – not to mention its steep mountain sides and craggy peaks. Now you’re looking at a population density of around 112 persons per square kilometer. That’s actually not that bad. There are far worse places in the world as far as population density goes.

Now that we have a workable number of people, we can start analyzing what this new homestead would be like.

I imagine a world metropolis at each pole (technically, the Arctic surrounds the pole). All nations and all diversity of people have centralized in two locations of the planet. The central lands of Earth have become desolate and hostile. You can venture out onto them, but survivability is contingent upon resources and exposure. The populations live in high-rise hotels methodically placed in a grid over the available land masses. The fringe area of decent land would be more barren of people than the central, cooler parts. Unfortunately, most people would need to be in Antarctica because of its concentration of land at the pole. Each hotel would be surrounded by land necessary to grow food and raise livestock. Everyone in the square kilometer living unit would be required to do their share of work to earn their food and living quarters. I’m not entirely sure how waste would be dealt with – perhaps pumping it into magma faults would suffice, but it may also be problematic in maintaining such a system. A refinery would probably take up too much valuable land area.

There would certainly be a militant government in place at both polar regions. I doubt anything more than a form of Feudalism would be adopted. With so many different people from different backgrounds, humans would probably resort to brute strength. With anarchy-like crime abound and tough living conditions, citizens would surely profess an allegiance to a “king” for support.

A glimpse into what living in Polar Cities might be like seems more like a good idea for a Science Fiction novel than any reality we should plan for. I can almost see an adaptation of “Firefly” applying to Earth’s new living conditions. While interesting to contemplate, I think time is better spent learning what exactly is happening to the environment, and reducing our adverse impact to it. Then again, if the environmental changes are a natural evolution in planetary cycle, then we humans are going to go through some hard times. I don’t think Darwin’s theory of natural selection comes without its pain. A species must suffer untold losses to survive with its fittest.


  1. I don’t have anything intelligent to add (sorry, it’s too early in the morning), but this would make an amazing series of books. Or maybe someone’s already written something similar. If so, do let me know.

  2. Holy Cow- Science Boy! What an interesting topic. I have nothing intelligent to add except that I agree it would make for some great sci-fi particularly of the Firefly variety. But I must posit one question, will the high rise living quarters in the Polar Cities also be equipped to fend off the zombies? Because that is what I think about in the distant future, and we all should really be prepared.

  3. Sean, I thought a lot about the post before writing it and had formulated the same opinion. It wasn’t until I was writing it that it finally hit me that Firefly was a similar post-apocalyptic story. I would like to see a story written around the society of our planet’s doomed environment. I found thinking through the various scenarios of environmental failure to be quite interesting. Complex, but there’s plenty of scientific study around these issues to write up a good bit of Sci-Fi. I thought I’d toss the idea to James Palmer and see what he could make of it.

    Spazz, you make a good point on zombies. It is entirely likely that Earth’s ultimate retaliation against our environmental irresponsibility will be the resurrection of the remaining 5.03 billion dead into zombies. That is truly the reason mankind will no longer venture forth into the mainlands. That would adjust my landmass total as well. Instead of having the lush Arctic (newly) temperate zone for our use, it would be populated too with zombies. Antarctica *is* the last refuge and our density is up to 210 persons/km².

  4. Olaf, this is a fantastic post, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. And yes, for those who asked, this concept of polar ciites or a polar metropolis for survivors of global warming, (and the zombies), would make a great SF short story or novel, and movie. In fact, I am actively seeking a writer or novelist to flesh out the book and screenplay for me, since I am not a very good writer in this kind genre. I have a working title of POLAR CITY RED, and I am pitcfhing the idea to UK film producer Danny Boyle (SUNRISE and 28 DAYS LATER) and screenwriter Alex Garland. Of course, they have not replied to my emails. So I continue my search for a good writer who might be interested in taking my idea of polar cities, http://climatechange3000.blogspot.com and Olaf’s wonderful ideas above, here, and make a great SF story or novel or screenplay. This is not about money, so I am not copyrighting anything, this is about the survival of humankind past the year 2500 if we are lucky. We do need something like Olaf suggests, and I am so glad to read this post of his. We have a lot of work ahead of us, and by us, I mean all of humanity. The future is at stake, if there is a future in human time. We might be doomed by climate change, the tipping point might have been passed 40 years ago, and perhaps James Lovelock is right.

    Meanwhiile, to give my mind a rest from dark thoughts about the future, like polar cities and survival, I have concocted a new blog about GALLOWS HUMOR FOR GLOBAL WARMING, to use humor to wake people up to the reality of global warming. The idea of polar cities scares too many people, and as you can imagine, most of the emails to me from people who heard about my idea via Wikipedia or my bog has been negative and angry!

  5. Maybe instead of polar cities, we could call them “sustainable polar retreats” (SPR), as one of my email friends has suggested…….these SPRs might be villages, towns, encampments, even single dwellings, and maybe cigties,maybe even a metropolis….

  6. spazzmanda said:

    “But I must posit one question, will the high rise living quarters in the Polar Cities also be equipped to fend off the zombies? Because that is what I think about in the distant future, and we all should really be prepared.”

    You know, I just saw the movie 28 DAYS LATER by Danny Boyle and Alex Garland, and yes, this nightmare scenario could happen, in far distant future of say, year 3500 or so, in polar cities, IF we get that far to even build them. We should be talking about them more NOW, and planning and designing and even pre-building them NOW, while we still have optimism and time and fuel and transport and materials and people…

  7. by the way,speaking of polar cities, put this missive from a friend in your pipe and smoke it:

    “This is confidential comment. Aside from overtly urging, in cinematic or otherwise public venues, the near-future construction of ”sustainable polar cities”, I believe we should also investigate whether such cities, or at least their core settlements and surrounding farms, have *already been started covertly* by private networks of the wealthy, powerful and scientifically aware.

    Keep in mind that the need for such cities was apparent to some as early as 1962, when Mikhail Budyko showed how greenhouse gas emissions would have drastic effects on global climate before 2100, and has become only more evident ever since.

    One can use geographical criteria to identify the regions best suited for post-Holocene cities and farms, then scrutinize the public record on one such region after another, scouring the news and interviewing the locals for hints of global warming refuge development.

    One’s inquiries should be discreet, however, because these covert developers, if any, might regard premature publicity as a threat to the success of projects on which the survival of their children and grandchildren could conceivably depend, and threatening or seeming to threaten the offspring of wealthy and powerful people will not profit researchers.

    One intriguing possible example of the kind of hint we should seek out is the story of Krishnan Suthanthiran’s 2005 purchase of Kitsault, British Columbia, Canada, a modern mining town abandoned after the local Amax molybdenum mine closed in late 1982. Check out these URLs:



    spooky? possible? futuristic? scary if true!

  8. by the way, Olaf and Sean and Spassmanda, do you realize we are the only ones in the known universe, other than good blogger Kit Stoltz A CHANGE IN THE WIND, to be discussing POLAR CITIES at all…..? ABsolute nobody has registered this concept in their minds yet, so we are pioneering this discusssion just by talking about the, sci fi or real, ….. just a thought

  9. A well0known author of books about global warming wrote to me today:

    re polar cities idea

    “Dear Danny,
    I know James Lovelock has alluded to humans, in the future, only being able to inhabit polar zones. But your version sounds hopelessly dependent on high tech and high energy. Fuggeddabowdit.”

  10. Yes, Spazzmanda, I am an obsessive person. Once i get an idea into my head, and it sounds worthwhile to puruse, (and most of my ideas i reject the next day),……..I become obsessed by the idea, and work at it until it has gone as far as it can………..but it’s healthy kind of obession, does not overtake me, jsut resonates in my mind and in terms of global warming, i thinkl this idea, as a kind of Johnathan Swiftian “modest proposa” could help to wake people up to the reality of climate change…..some people still think NOTHING is going to happen…….I am quite sure HUMANKInd will not be on the Planet in any form by year 3,500……….mark my words! (smile) sigh

  11. olaf,
    i have a blueprint artist drawing of a model polar city, may i send it to you via email attachment and then you put up on the blog to illustrate what polar cities might look like?


    Subject: 圖
    To: danbloom@gmail.com

    blueprint for polar city, drawing, circa 2800 AD


    2745K Download

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