Valuable Geography, Wasted!
Proponents of the Teleopolis project speak of its value in terms of its impact on culture and advancement of a cross-disciplinary intellectual landscape. But for all the grammaticians, monks, economists, anthropologists, landscape architects, fiber artists, and geometers involved in the project, where were the ecologists, the environmental scientists and diplomats? Perhaps more importantly, where was the public interest?
Let's backtrack a little. In the year 2024 the island or city or latent international incident known as "Teleopolis" was little-known outside of the US Intelligence circles which had been involved in conceptualizing it. Certainly it was not on the minds of the Greenland-based scientists monitoring melting glaciers who were surprised to find embedded in the polar ice cap a new land mass where they were anticipating nothing but ice.
The landform was determined to be a floating island, roughly the size of Manhattan, emerging at a rate that would have freed itself from the glacier in 2030 without intervention. The researchers who made this astonishing discovery decided, before announcing their findings to the world to name the island Henosisos, after the Greek word Henosis meaning one-ness or unity.
The international reaction to this discovery was massive and instantaneous. Here was an opportunity that has never been afforded to humanity: a new, uninhabited landmass in every sense of the word. A scientific consensus rapidly emerged that Henosisos must exist as an international entity. Many speculated about its value as a testbed for theories of ecology and biology. Some saw in Henosisos the potential traveling showcase for ideas in restorative agriculture. In the 20th century scientists speculated about the potential for extraterrestrial contact to unity humanity with a common goal. For a brief moment it seemed like Henosisos might accomplish something like the same: in a societal landscape defined by territorial disputes, here was a Terra Nova that could tour the world, coveted by no nation.
Almost as quickly as this possibility was floated, it was dashed. Henosisos was found to lie within Canadian Arctic claims, who were obligated by obscure cold-war era maritime contract to hand over the project of uncovering the island to the FBI, which was in the midst of implementing its massive aesthetic program, and renamed Teleopolis. From there, the status of of the island was obfuscated continuously by American authorities. By 2025 the island had been entirely defrosted. In a nod to environmentalists, the process used to melt the glacier was claimed to be carbon-neutral. The island was parked 20 north miles off the tip of cape cod in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, ostensibly to allow easy access by marine institutions of Boston.
This pretense meant little to the curious, information-age public. No students or employees of Boston universities have ever provided tangible evidence of research done on the island. The construction of a geodesic dome around the island was also poorly hidden, and evidence of the massive enclosure was captured in everything from open source mapping data to amateur drone footage.
"The 'conspiracy' around teleopolis can be understood as an exercise in minimalism. The medium chosen by the United States government for this exercise was justification and public accountability." wrote Florentine sociologist Leone DeSantis in their groundbreaking economic treatment of public sector aesthetics.
"The dialectical strategy of the government around Teleopolis rested on the assumption that those who would question the secrecy behind the project could do little about it. International authorities were more or less sympathetic to environmental skeptics but had to weigh the loss of a single floating island with mostly symbolic value against its potential as a semiotic project to shift the focus of the American economy away from the military industrial complex and the corresponding reduction in American imperialist activity around the globe."
A number of diplomats and politicians have since acknowledged in more or less public terms that the US had given assurances that Teleopolis and its carbon cost would be offset through disbandment of American military forces and weapons manufacturers. Thus, one of the largest carbon trades in history took places outside of the public eye, behind layers of obfuscation, to be revealed in its entirety only decades later. Research around whether this trade was worth it is highly contentious due to the enormous hypothetical involved in asking what the american consumer landscape would look like were it not for the impact of Teleopolis and the technologies developed alongside it. It is worth noting that many of the other projects covered in this anthology were developed in countries that stabilized in the wake of these events.
The most strident defenders of Teleopolis claim broad decline of political conflict in recent decades is due entirely to the influence of the project. But to researchers like myself who experienced the utopian promise of Henosisos as well as the confusion and disappointment of the late 2020s, the name "Teleopolis" will always represent a cynical turn in climate ethics - a turn away from the possibility of an environmentally informed public.◆