A.C. (Tony) Brown | Isle of Man Courier
Technology and changing economics are making seabed mining feasible
According to scientists from Duke University, North Carolina, USA, the seabed is about to experience industrial scale mining for mineral deposits and rare earth metals.
These are required in the production of things like PCs, smartphones, etc – but the extraction is set to be on a scale which could transform the environment for generations to come.
Giant underwater cutters and robotic submarines would be involved in what is essentially strip-mining, where vast areas of the ocean bed are removed and brought to the surface as slurry.
The valuable minerals are then siphoned out, and the ‘waste’ – which may contain a variety of toxins and heavy metals from processing – are dumped back into the water.
Another equally destructive method, vacuum mining, involves the seabed being sucked up by machines and similarly dealt with.
Scientists from Duke told the annual general meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science that these processes have the potential to irrevocably destroy the seabed, along with the unique wildlife it supports. Sensitive species will be smothered by sediment and noise will have a detrimental impact on whales and other marine life, Meanwhile, fishing communities could suffer the loss of their livelihood.
There is great concern that rapidly dwindling resources may impact on our increasingly unsustainable economic system. But nonetheless, already some 19 leases have been granted over international waters for prospecting of this type – with more pending.
Hearteningly, however, there are some signs that sanity might prevail.
As an example, Namibia’s National Marine information and Research Centre has expressed such concern over the cumulative effects of seabed mining that its country’s government has imposed a moratorium until further assessments can be made about the long-term effects of these activities.
This has, thankfully, halted at least one mining company’s plans to remove between 1 and 5 metres of depth of silt, so as to extract the phosphate deposits therein, before dumping the waste slurry back into the sea.
The Research Centre insists – and it’s hard to disagree – that long-term research is needed on the impact on fish stocks and the health of the sea-bed ecology, before more of this damaging activity is undertaken.
The team adds that there is at present no real understanding or experience of this type of mining.
Surely, enough is enough: at the rate we’re going, we continue to pursue unrealistic long-term material aspirations from which only a minority of the world’s population can benefit to any real extent. It can’t be long before the inevitable decline of our short-lived industrialised ‘civilisation’.
In 2012, the United Nations’ report Global Environmental Outlook concluded that growing economies are pushing environmental systems to destabilising extremes.
Over the past three decades:
- many of the world’s coral reefs have shrunk by some 38 per cent
- 170 ‘dead zones’ caused by pollution have appeared in the oceans
- soil is being increasingly degraded by industrialised and unsustainable farming methods
- fresh water is being over-exploited
- there has been massive species decline through habitat loss, climate change and other manmade factors.
All of this is taking place in the name of a highly blinkered vision of ‘human progress’.
Economists and politicians are fond of proclaiming that current systems have lifted billions out of poverty over the last 150 years– and that the human race has, so to speak, ‘never had it so good’.
But the fact remains, however, that the number of hungry people has risen in recent years to more than 1 billion. Further, 1.4 billion people live on less than $1,25 a day, and 2.5 billion don’t even have the most basic sanitation.
When you consider that at the end of the 18th Century, the world was burdened with barely a billion humans – and far from all of them in poverty – it’s hard not to argue that any ‘progress’ on this front is illusory.
Can we really claim progress when a billion souls die prematurely from starvation and many hundreds of millions of the world’s population are also dying before their time or being kept alive through reliance on increasingly over-stretched health and welfare systems from diseases associated with over-eating and obesity?
The irony is sickening.
A new report by the World Health Organisation recently warned that a ‘deadly’ epidemic combining physical inactivity with diets high in fats, salts and sugars has led to obesity becoming the ‘new normal throughout Europe.
Officials said, ahead of an EU Summit in Greece, that up to 27 per cent of Europe’s 13-year-olds and 33 per cent of 11-year-olds are overweight – and the US has yet a worse record, with a new generation of sedentary, unhealthy youngsters growing up.
Ah well – but that’s ‘progress’.