If you were planning to send monster machines down to a deep ocean habitat that’s full of creatures found nowhere else on Earth, you’d need a pretty good story to convince politicians that this was a good idea. Right now, that’s exactly what the deep sea mining industry is trying to come up with.
Reckless deep sea mining companies are keen to start plundering the seabed for minerals and metals, risking irreversible wildlife loss and disturbing important carbon stores that could make climate change worse. When we’re facing a climate emergency, deep sea mining is clearly an awful idea.
So how is the industry’s PR machine trying to get politicians and the public to support this destructive industry?
Here are three myths about deep sea mining, and why they’re not what they seem:
Myth 1: It’s a green solution
A handful of deep sea mining companies are promoting this risky business as a “green” solution. They claim that mining metals and minerals from the seabed is needed for clean energy solutions like renewables and electric car batteries. This includes the not-so-subtly named company DeepGreen, whose CEO told governments, “Personally, I get very uncomfortable when people describe us as deep sea miners.”
We should all get uncomfortable with this kind of greenwash. Deep sea mining is far from being a “green” solution and could even make climate change worse: The deep sea is one of our best defenses against climate change as sediment down there helps lock away carbon. Churning up the seabed could disrupt this natural ocean process, and lead to the release of this stored carbon into the ocean and atmosphere – leading to an increase in the earth’s temperature.
What’s more, renewable energy experts have found that a global energy revolution – which would see us use 100% renewables by 2050 – can take place without deep sea mining. A study this year has shown that to keep the global average temperature rise to less than 1.5°C, we need to focus on more resource-efficient design and rapidly increase recycling of materials.S
Myth 2: It helps avoid human rights abuses
Secondly, deep sea miners are trying to tell us that mining the deep sea is the only solution to avoid the human rights abuses, like child labour, hazardous working conditions, environmental and health risks, from mining on land. Defending human rights and conserving the environment are part of the same fight – and mining industries worldwide have undermined both.
Although at first glance the link between deep sea mining and communities on land might not be obvious, given the fact that billions of people worldwide rely on healthy oceans for food security and climate protection, unnecessarily ripping up at the seabed would be a serious mistake.
There is also no evidence that deep sea mining would replace or put an end to mining on land — it would likely just open up another place to mine, thereby increasing the risks of yet more resource exploitation.
The reality is that getting the minerals and metals for our tech doesn’t need to harm anyone – humans, animals or our environment. Which brings us onto the next myth…
Myth 3: It’s essential for your next phone
The third claim the deep sea mining industry love to make, is that the minerals and metals they want to rip out of the seabed are essential for keeping up with the world’s demand for smartphones and laptops.
These claims however haven’t been embraced or substantiated by the IT sector. Tech giants currently don’t have any materials mined from the deep sea in their supply chains right now — and we want to keep it that way.
Given the stark warnings from scientists about the huge risks of opening up the ocean floor for industrial mining, instead of getting behind this dangerous new industry, electronics brands need to signal that it’s time to move away from the endless exploitation of resources to a more ‘circular’ economy.
E-waste, a term to describe electronic products that have become unwanted, obsolete or no longer work, is now the fastest-growing type of waste. A ‘circular’ economy system would see us move from the “take, make, waste” system we currently have for our electronics, that risks an ever-growing environmental impact, to one which minimises waste by recycling metals and minerals found in electronics and focuses on designing smarter gadgets that reduce the use of metals and minerals in the first place.
We need stronger leadership from tech giants. Tesla and Panasonic have committed to phasing out cobalt, one of the target metals for deep sea mining, over the coming decade. But with deep sea mining companies ramping up their political lobbying against a strong Global Ocean Treaty that can protect marine life from exploitation, we need a stronger signal that deep sea mining has no future.
Leading scientists are calling for major change in our use of the Earth’s resources to reverse environmentally destructive and wasteful production and consumption patterns. The companies that want to mine the seafloor for profit are trying to claim they are essential to the future. They’re not. The future belongs to all of us – and a safe future means healthy oceans.
Louisa Casson is a campaigner on board the Greenpeace ship Esperanza
I am a greenpeace member but I am dismayed by the emotive language used in this piece. Ripping up the ocean floor is not what metallic nodule collecting is all about. Mining is not the right term either. The nodules sit on the top of the ocean floor, so no excavation is required. The energy use in collecting this resource is far less than in mining. There really is a need for these metals and the land based alternatives are very destructive and energy intensive by comparison. A more balanced approach is needed instead of this emotive and misleading approach.
Hi Lousia, an interesting perspective on seabed mining. I think everyone would be thrilled to know what a seabed mining industry looks like that Greenpeace could actually support. This view could give the industry a target to aim for and use GP as a moral compass, to a certain extent, to hit a non zero sum game for all stakeholders ( sea life included). Working in business and engineering I know that the standards enforced on each camp are extreme, from low ( business attitude being would we can get away with to maximize profits) to high ( engineering seeking the perfect solution......always). A GP view on a utopia of seabed mining might add a lot of value for these companies environmentalists and engineering divisions to work with.
I think the pretty good story that will convince the politicians is metallic mineral fields worth thousands of billion dollars. Argument can be made, that by all the wealth this can produce, is it less harmful than other projects going on at the surface. And that there might be a need to balance out the recource extraction from the surface to the sea. The worlds population is growing at an astoundashing rate. With extremely high birth rates in asia/africa. With more people, will be more recource extraction to sustain the populace. With so high birth rate going on at africa/asia we will see a much higher harvest of the earth than ever before imagined. It is unavoidable. I’m not saying this is a good thing, I am just being realistic here. Better to take more recources from the sea than to make the surface a wasteland.
Thanks for your concern for Jamaica, can you please also support us at Save Discovery Bay.
Louisa Casson, I respect your opinion. However, that text reads like a yellow press article. I'm not saying that it is full of lies, but it's based on speculation and ignorance of facts - while confusing and distorting the facts. For example: are you referring to nodule mining or eSMS/SMS mining ?! How is deep sea defined? Do you know how life looks down there (eSMS/SMS vs. nodule deposits)? We do not need a ban, we need a "proper" legal and regulatory framework and unbiased scientific research. Properly planned and implemented pilot mining tests and studies will help to understand the functioning of the ecosystem and the impacts of deep-sea mining. If we humans would not spread on Earth like bacteria and if we would not waste so much of our natural resources...then DSM would not be our future.
Hi HansJ. Thank you for your message. Our recent report, In Deep Water, goes into more detail on the specific environmental risks for different target sites for deep sea mining, but there are general risks and questions for governments to answer regarding the development of deep sea mining overall. This report also identifies the shortcomings of the current governance under the International Seabed Authority, explaining why we need governments to agree to a Global Ocean Treaty next year that can protect marine life in international waters from cumulative impacts, including new threats like deep sea mining, by putting in place a network of sanctuaries and tougher environmental standards for all activities. We believe that independent science is separate and distinct from exploration contracts for mining, and is crucial to better understand deep sea ecosystems rather than identifying their potential for future extraction. You can read more in the report here > https://www.greenpeace.org/international/publication/22578/deep-sea-mining-in-deep-water/