Deep sea mining supporters argue along the lines that the ocean floor is such a big place that scraping a few bits of it won’t matter on a global scale. Is this a row between the haves and have-nots, as limited supplies on land of the required materials are fought over?
A long-running dispute over plans to start mining the ocean floor has suddenly flared up, reports BBC News.
For years it was only environmental groups that objected to the idea of digging up metals from the deep sea.
But now BMW, Volvo, Google and Samsung are lending their weight to calls for a moratorium on the proposals.
The move has been criticised by companies behind the deep sea mining plans, who say the practice is more sustainable in the ocean than on land.
The concept, first envisaged in the 1960s, is to extract billions of potato-sized rocks called nodules from the abyssal plains of the oceans several miles deep.
Rich in valuable minerals, these nodules have long been prized as the source of a new kind of gold rush that could supply the global economy for centuries.
Interest in them has intensified because many contain cobalt and other metals needed for the countless batteries that will power the electric vehicles of a zero-carbon economy.
What’s the problem?
Claudia Becker, a senior BMW expert in sustainable supply chains, tells me what led the car giant to decide against using deep sea metals.
“It’s the fear that everything we do down there could have irreversible consequences,” she said.
“Those nodules grew over millions of years and if we take them out now, we don’t understand how many species depend on them – what does this mean for the beginning of our food chain?
“There’s way too little evidence, the research is just starting, it’s too big a risk.”
It’s that lack of detailed research, which only began in earnest in recent years, that convinced BMW to support campaign group WWF, which is leading the push for a moratorium until more is understood.
Ms Becker says that mines on land, although plagued by allegations of child labour, deforestation and pollution, can at least be inspected and held to high standards.
“With those mines we do understand the consequences and we do have solutions but in the deep ocean we don’t even have the tools to assess them.”
She believes that deep sea mines can be avoided by turning to alternative, less damaging metals, designing batteries that require fewer minerals in the first place and developing a circular economy with far better recycling.
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