Deep sea mining is a climate story. It’s a disaster waiting to happen. If undersea mining destroys poorly understood ecosystems, the results could be catastrophic for ocean life and the billions of people who depend for their lives and livelihoods on the life forms from large mammals like whales to microscopic plankton that dwell in the oceans, regulating its acidity and absorbing vast amounts of CO2.
The nascent deep sea mining industry argues that solving the climate crisis will entail production of billions of electric vehicles requiring more lithium and cobalt than are found on Earth, but expected to be abundant under the sea. A two-year moratorium on deep sea mining expires in July, 2023. Many small Pacific islands, desperate for resources to forestall their disappearance under the rising seas, are gung-ho to start the mining, seeing it as their salvation. However, it would likely mean the demise of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, destroying not only the natural wonders that attract millions of tourists every year, but also the billions of dollars they bring to the local and national economies.
Sustainability is a trendy concept that means if we want to live on Earth for a long, long time, we can’t use up its resources faster than the Earth can replenish them. It’s not a foreign concept, and we already practice it to a limited degree. For example, if Maine lobstermen could trap all the lobsters they wanted regardless of size or age, they would maximize their profits for the first year they did so, but within a very few years there would be no lobsters and no lobstermen. Similarly, if the deep sea mining industry were allowed to let their robots scrape up all the rare-metal nodules that it could from the sea floor, it would have great short term profits but at the potential cost of destroying the ancient ecosystems upon which much of the life in the sea depends. To say nothing of the people living on the surface of Earth who are dependent on the bounty of the sea. We’d be replacing the climate crisis with one even more dire.