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A Future Antarctic City

The Ecotopia 2121 project predicts the future of 100 super-ecofriendly cities across the globe -- as though they have overcome all ecological challenges and economic problems and gone on to flourish anew. Today, we highlight the future of the polar city of "New Orenburg".

Perhaps the "Peak Oil" idea — that we are doomed to run out of fossil fuels before too long — is so completely mistaken that, by 2121, it might be but a quaint faded memory. By then, the oil and gas fields of the Arctic and Antarctic will have been opened up. This will be made commercially feasible due to the warming of these areas and the subsequent melting of the ice sheets—making the development of oil and gas reserves much easier.

At present, the Antarctic continent is protected by a two-mile-thick ice sheet and also by the Antarctic Treaty, which forbids oil exploration. By late this century, though, the ice sheets will have greatly subsided, opening up the Antarctic lands and seas to the possibility of resource exploration. The Antarctic Treaty is also scheduled to lapse in the middle of this century — perhaps foreshadowing an Antarctic land grab.

And so presented here is a new city in Antarctica, "New Orenburg", perched on Antarctic rocks exposed by the withdrawn ice cap. Initially set up by a Russian gas company, the town was supposed to provide a homey and steady environment on the ice sheets for workers and their families, but it quickly becomes just another industrialized gas-extraction facility perched in the Southern Ocean.

A 22nd century Antarctic city.

The name references Orenburg, a Russian frontier town set up in the Ural Mountains in the late eighteenth century by the Russian Empire as it pushed to conquer the Asian continent. Today, Orenburg in Russia has a population of half-a-million and calls itself “The Gateway to the East.” New Orenburg 2121 will have a population of maybe ten thousand and will call itself “The Gateway to the South.”

Some might see New Orenburg as a dystopian vision for Antarctica’s future, since it risks the onset of oceanic degradation, climate catastrophe, Antarctic wildlife extinction, as well as massive huge oil slicks and gas explosions. But it has at least one claim to eco-friendliness: instead of using pipelines that would criss-cross the continent, disrupting the landscape, New Orenburg uses giant container balloons that fill up with natural gas and are dispatched to float safely and serenely to markets around the world.

New Orenburg's precipitous existence on ice-less polar seas kind of highlights Russia's unwillingness to face up to the dangers of global warming (and its determination to forever rely upon and prop up its oil and gas sector). However, recent floods in 'old' Orenburg might be a warning that this unwillingness is a grave shortcoming.


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