Tag Archives: Nautilus

Mining the Deep Sea: Stories for suckers, and corporate capture of the UN

Catherine Coumans | Arena Magazine | 30 October 2019

When I mention that the global mining industry is eyeing the deep seabed as the next frontier in mining I am commonly met with gasps of disbelief and dismay. That gut reaction is often followed up with sensible exclamations about the fact that the world’s oceans are already overstressed by contaminants from human activity, such as plastics, and by overfishing, and, from those in the know, by acidification. Unsurprisingly, these apprehensions do not factor into the rapacious ambitions of industry pitchers for deep-sea mining, nor do they—another gasp of dismay—appear to temper the outright enthusiasm for this new form of mining shown by some highly placed officials in relevant UN bodies.

To overcome the aversion of a public already overwrought by reports of species loss, whales on the brink of extinction and the various horsemen of the climate apocalypse—drought, fires, floods, heat, sea-level rise, food insecurity and forced migrations—deep-sea mining’s frontier investors are surpassing themselves in the propaganda department. The front runner in this regard is a private Canadian company out of Vancouver called DeepGreen Metals Inc.

One of DeepGreen’s early promotional videos, DeepGreen—Metals for our Future, drives home lofty public messages that need to be critically interrogated: deep-sea mining is less environmentally and socially destructive than terrestrial mining; it is necessary in order to save the planet from climate change; and deep-sea mining, and indeed DeepGreen itself, come highly recommended, as both are enthusiastically promoted by the secretary-general of the UN’s International Seabed Authority (ISA). The private pitch of deep-sea-mining promoters is likely more focused on the bottom line: there is untapped wealth in them thar ocean depths for the savvy frontier investor ready to undertake an exciting new experimental mining adventure. DeepGreen’s CEO, Gerard Barron, concluded a sales pitch on the commercial and societal benefits of deep-sea mining in February 2019: ‘…whether you invest in a company like DeepGreen or not, everyone is a sucker for the story’.

DeepGreen’s focus is on polymetallic nodules found on the seabed in international waters of the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) of the Pacific Ocean, an area covering some 4000 kilometres and roughly the size of the continental United States. These lumpy baseball-size nodes lie at depths of some 4000 to 6000 metres and contain primarily nickel, cobalt, copper, manganese and iron oxides. The two other targets for deep seabed mining are hydrothermal vents, typically found at depths of 1000 to 4000 metres, and cobalt-rich crusts, typically found on seamounts at depths of 800 to 2500 metres. Hydrothermal vents are believed to have hosted the earliest forms of life on earth and are famous for their abundant array of endemic species that feed on bacteria and other single-celled organisms that, remarkably, do not derive energy from photosynthesis but from the chemicals spewed out by the vents. The massive sulphide deposits built up around these vents contain copper, gold, silver, zinc and lead. Crusts that form on seamounts contain primarily cobalt and also manganese, iron, copper, nickel and platinum.

These geographic features of the deep sea are thrilling would-be miners, as the metals they contain are commonly more highly concentrated than on land, and advancing technology makes them potentially accessible for the first time. The feverish rush to lay claim to large swathes of the seafloor has all the hallmarks of the gold rush that once drew hordes of prospectors to the Wild West, including colourful claims of fabulous treasure lying ready for the reaping on the seafloor. Former UK prime minister David Cameron reportedly pledged to bring wealth from the seabed to the United Kingdom, claiming possible values of £40 billion over thirty years. Not to be outdone, The New Economy claimed that the industry ‘could be worth as much as $1trn to the US economy each year—the value of all the gold deposits alone on the seafloor is estimated to be around $150trn. It’s not hard to see why investors are getting excited’. Indeed, speculators are already making profits without a deep-sea spade in the ground.

To date, twenty-nine exploration licences have been granted in extraterritorial waters, called the Common Heritage of Mankind in UN speak. Granted by the ISA, which has jurisdiction over the seabed in this area, the licences cover some 1.5 million square kilometres in the southwestern Pacific alone (claims also exist in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans). The licences are held jointly by industrialised countries such as China, Korea, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Russia, as well as small Pacific island countries such as Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga and the Cook Islands, and subsidiaries of corporations, such as Lockheed Martin (UK Seabed Resources), and Canada’s DeepGreen (Nauru Ocean Resources Inc.) and Nautilus Minerals Inc. (Tonga Offshore Mining Limited).

No exploitation, or mining, licence has yet been issued for any of these claims in extraterritorial waters: the ISA is still ironing out some details, such as novel governance regimes and brand-new environmental regulations. The first exploitation licence was issued for a project in territorial waters: the government of Papua New Guinea (PNG) granted Nautilus a mining licence in January 2011, but the company’s Solwara 1 project has already tanked. Faced with concerted, vocal and growing community opposition, and apparently insufficient ‘suckers’ for the Nautilus story, the company is now facing bankruptcy. The state of PNG is on the hook for about US$125 million, which it borrowed after Nautilus used arbitration to force the state to live up to its commitment to assume and finance a 15-per-cent stake in the venture. However, some early investors in Nautilus, such as Barron, made a profit: Barron ‘turned a $226,000 investment into $31 million’ in six years before exiting in 2007. It was the founder of Nautilus, David Heydon, who created DeepGreen in 2011 and brought Barron into that company as CEO.

Perhaps if hydrothermal vents and deep-sea nodules could serve solely as inspiration for speculative investing, all would not be so dire. But investors are applying intense pressure on the ISA to finalise the deep-sea-mining regulations, not simply to create another major bump in their investments—which of course it will do—but to open the door to putting massive mining machines onto the seafloor. The ISA has proved to be an all-too-willing and shadowy agency, as pointed out by the Deep Sea Mining Campaign, and Greenpeace:

The ISA has recently rejected the establishment of an environmental committee to better include environmental considerations in its functioning, and key environmental information is not public. Its Legal and Technical Commission meets mostly behind closed doors, and its composition is such that biological and ecological considerations are underrepresented.

So what is at stake? Each of the metal-rich geological features that are of interest to miners is slowly revealing itself to be an incredible ecosystem. In spite of existing at great depths, under immense pressure, in very cold water and in inky darkness, hydrothermal vents, polymetallic nodules and cobalt crusts host diverse, mostly undiscovered and scarcely studied creatures that have amazed the few humans who have seen them in their natural habitats. Hydrothermal vents and cobalt crusts host an abundance of organisms. Those on cobalt crusts have great diversity; many of these creatures are long lived but slow to reproduce and may exist only in certain areas. Those on hydrothermal vents are abundant, though thought to be less diverse, and are often unique to a particular vent. Polymetallic nodules host a wide variety of species, but they are spread more thinly; very few have been identified, but they are also thought to be long lived and slow growing. The habitats around hydrothermal vents are, according to deep-sea biologist Cindy Lee Van Dover, ‘relatively rare on the sea floor, and they’re different from one site to the next because the animals have adapted to the fluid chemistries’. The deep ocean expanses of polymetallic nodules are among the least-disturbed ecosystems on earth. Each of these geological phenomena of the deep sea have taken a very long time to form. Cobalt crusts grow at a rate of 1 to 6 millimetres per million years. Each polymetallic nodule, commonly between 5 and 10 centimetres in diameter, has grown by 2 or 3 centimetres every million years. Furthermore, as trillions of these baseball-size polymetallic nodules lie spread in a thin layer on the surface of abyssal plains, an extensive area would be disturbed if they were to be sucked up by the huge tread-wheel-driven machines envisioned for this task. While the chimney-like structures associated with hydrothermal vents can grow by 40 centimetres over five days, it is unknown whether vent species can recover once a vent chimney has been removed by mining.

While mining methods differ for each of these targeted geological features, deep-sea marine experts agree on the following points: crusts and nodules will take millions of years to reform; entire unusual species that we have never had a chance to study will be lost in the mining of all three types of ecosystem; and the dense sediment plumes that will be created as the seabed is disturbed and the pumping back down of process effluent will negatively impact and smother species over many more kilometres. Recent peer-reviewed papers by marine scientists have titles such as ‘Deep-Sea Mining With No Net Loss of Biodiversity—An Impossible Aim’ and conclusions such as ‘Seabed mining will cause irreparable damage to marine ecosystems’.

So, let us revisit the messages in DeepGreen’s Metals for our Future video. DeepGreen maintains that deep-sea mining is less environmentally and socially destructive than terrestrial mining. Nautilus tried the same spin, which the Deep Sea Mining Campaign adeptly refuted as Nautilus fought to counter vehement opposition to the Solwara 1 project by PNG coastal communities—these communities had already noticed a negative impact on their subsistence livelihoods and cultural practices related to marine species such as sharks as a result of Nautilus’ exploration activities offshore. While it is fascinating to see a new breed of would-be miners throw their terrestrial counterparts under the bus and expose the immense environmental and social harm done by mining on land, this is hardly an argument for opening up another entire ecosystem to exploitation by this rapacious industry, especially an ecosystem as immensely fragile and little understood as the deep sea. In fact, the comparison with terrestrial mining provides many arguments to show why deep-sea mining is a terrible idea, including, just as a start: it is much more challenging, technically and financially, to produce comprehensive baselines in the deep sea than it is on land; it is completely unclear how credible toxicity testing could be done in a deep-sea environment; independent scrutiny by communities, NGOs, independent scientists, media and so on would be much more limited; when things go wrong, such as spills, pipe breaks or unpredicted impacts, it would be much more difficult, nay impossible, to rehabilitate the unintentionally impacted area; modelling of the likely impact zones of toxic sediment plumes created by all forms of deep-sea mining is in its infancy; there is zero experience to draw on regarding impacts and mitigation at each step of the mining process; and the impacts of disturbances in the deep sea on critical food security, livelihood and commercial activity related to species such as tuna are not well understood.

DeepGreen maintains that mining the deep sea is necessary to avert the global climate crisis. Barron casts himself in the company’s video not as a mining CEO or a profit-seeking frontier investor but as a humanitarian eco-warrior, concluding, ‘it is a big responsibility on our shoulders’. The argument is simple: the green economy requires metals for such things as wind turbines, solar panels, and batteries for electric vehicles. While this is true, there is currently no global shortage of critical metals and minerals such as cobalt or lithium. Furthermore, technology is rapidly evolving to reduce or replace cobalt use, recycle lithium, develop urban mining of all kinds of waste products and even, according to experts, ‘biomining to extract rare earths from electronic wastes using microorganisms…use of sodium and magnesium in place of lithium, or alternative batteries based on graphene, hydrogen fuel cells, or even water and table salt. BNEF [Bloomberg New Energy Finance] has said new battery chemistries will probably shift to different source materials after 2030’. There are even reports of batteries using hemp rather than lithium-ion.

Finally, the DeepGreen video prominently features the secretary-general of the ISA, Michael Lodge. Lodge is on what appears to be a DeepGreen vessel, he wears a hard hat with the DeepGreen logo on it, and he both makes the case for deep-sea mining and discusses the ‘partnership’ DeepGreen has with the ISA. It is remarkable, and perhaps telling, that the head of this UN agency, which is tasked with environmental protection of the seabed in the Common Heritage of Mankind, and expects to soon become the regulator and issuer of mining licences for a whole new extractive industry, seems to be oblivious to the appearance of conflict of interest inherent in appearing in DeepGreen’s promotional video. Lodge has yet to respond to a recent report that raises concern about corporate capture of the ISA’s mining-code drafting processes.

It should be obvious that we cannot save the planet by continually expanding our exploitation of it and by trashing new, as yet unexploited ecosystems, such as those in the deep sea. It has taken time for communities and governments to become aware of the existential threat to our oceans, to global biodiversity and to life on earth posed by deep-sea mining. Within the last year the call for a ban or moratorium on the development of regulations by the ISA, and on the practice of deep-sea mining itself, has grown louder. The call is being made by NGOs and civil society organisations such as the Deep Sea Mining Campaign, the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition and Greenpeace, individuals such as Sir David Attenborough, and also by governments of Pacific island countries; even the European parliament has called for a moratorium on deep-sea mining.

Critical to the effort to protect the deep sea from mining is the need to review the role of the ISA in governing both the protection of the deep seabed as our ‘common heritage’ and its exploitation by for-profit corporations. This agency and its secretary-general have proven themselves to be deeply conflicted and captured by the corporations they are meant to regulate. It is time for a global treaty that will protect the entire international deep seabed from industrial exploitation.

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Nautilus Minerals: still lost at sea with no life raft in sight

Deep Sea Mining Campaign | 25 November 2019

On 21st November, Nautilus Mineral’s court-appointed monitors, Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC) confirmed that the relevant legal papers had been filed to assign Nautilus Minerals Inc. into bankruptcy. Whilst this news was expected, there has been no news on their plans for the Solwara 1 deep sea mining project in Papua New Guinea, leaving local communities and civil society who are opposed to the project with many questions.

Nautilus filed for protection from its debts in a Canadian Court in February 2019. The company tried to restructure but it failed to find any buyers for its assets. In August 2019, court approval was obtained for creditors to liquidate the company in order to get back a fraction of what they were owed.

Andy Whitmore of the Deep Sea Mining Campaign stated, “This should be the end of the story, but sadly the liquidation was enacted to give birth to a new, smaller Nautilus.”

“The two main shareholders – MB Holding and Metalloinvest – have effectively taken control of this ‘new’ Nautilus at the expense of major creditors and hundreds of small shareholders. Despite filing an appeal in the Canadian Court, through its company Eda Kopa, the PNG Government remains the biggest loser from the deal holding 15% equity in Nautilus PNG and the Solwara 1 project, effectively losing $US125m.”

“Nautilus gave the impression that the new company was ready to roll. But it has been over a month since the confirmation and there’s been no other information on what Nautilus’ new plans will be.”

“Nautilus stated in court papers that, once liquidation occurs, there may still be a buyer for at least some of the new company’s assets. Does this mean the major shareholders will sell their licences and machinery to make a quick profit and run?” questioned Mr Whitmore.

Local communities opposed to Nautilus’ Solwara 1 project in their seas are still steadfastly opposed to the project, and there are still legal cases in the PNG court system.

Jonathan Mesulam from the Alliance of Solwara Warriors has recently returned to PNG from meetings in Canada where he represented the fierce opposition of PNG coastal communities against experimental seabed mining.

Mr Mesulam stated, “It’s unbelievable for Nautilus to still consider mining the Solwara 1 project. Even if free of its long-term debt, this new company is created on the back of the huge financial loss for our government and the people of PNG. Our people want nothing to do with this company and its lies of prosperity. In Canada I learned that such a project would never be allowed in this company’s home waters.”

This loss adds to PNGs public debt which is at about 33 per cent of GDP. Australia has recently committed a $AUD300 million loan as direct budget assistance to ‘aid its economic reforms and government financing.’

Mr Mesulam continued, “A recent article in PNG Business News seems to suggest the ‘new’ Nautilus has applied to the PNG Mineral Resources Authority to vary the existing mining lease. This is against a background of calls from right across Papua New Guinean society to cancel the licenses.”

An added mystery is that someone is still buying shares in the old, defunct company. When Nautilus was removed from the Toronto Stock Exchange as part of the bankruptcy proceedings, it moved to unregulated trading of the now virtually worthless stock. Yet there has been a recent spike in buying that sent the price up to 0.003 cents per share.

“So many questions, and yet to date no answers. The company still looks to be lost at sea with no life raft in sight” claimed Mr Whitmore.

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Nautilus Minerals officially sinks, shares still trading

Amanda Stutt | Mining dot com | November 26, 2019 

Nautilus Minerals, one of the world’s first seafloor miners, officially went bankrupt this week, its court-appointed monitor, Price Waterhouse Cooper reported.

Nautilus filed for protection from its debts in a Canadian Court in February 2019. The company tried to restructure but it failed to find any buyers for its assets. In August 2019, court approval was obtained for creditors to liquidate the company to get back a fraction of what they were owed.

IN THE PROCESS, NAUTILUS HAS LEFT THE PAPUA NEW GUINEA GOVERNMENT FACING A DEBT EQUIVALENT TO ONE-THIRD OF THE COUNTRY’S ANNUAL HEALTH BUDGET

The Vancouver-based company was trying to develop its Solwara 1 deep sea gold, copper and silver project, off the coast of Papua New Guinea (PNG), but the project was plagued with community opposition and financial setbacks.

In June, the owner of the shipyard where the company’s support vessel was being made said it had cancelled the contract with the supplier chosen  to build its ships after Nautilus failed to pay the third installment of the contract price — $18 million before interest.

Local communities opposed to Nautilus’ Solwara 1 project in their seas are still opposed to the project, and there are still legal cases in the PNG court system.

In the process, Nautilus has left the Papua New Guinea government, which still owns a 15% stake in the Solwara I project as well as equipment, facing K81.5 million ($24 million) in debt.

“The two main shareholders – MB Holding and Metalloinvest – have effectively taken control of this ‘new’ Nautilus at the expense of major creditors and hundreds of small shareholders,” Andy Whitmore, advocacy officer, Deep Sea Mining Campaign, said in a press release.

Court papers noted that Nautilus had two distinct business units, one dealing with polymetallic nodules, and one dealing with seafloor massive sulphides, which includes the Solwara 1 project in PNG. It is therefore unclear which, if either of the business units, the new company will concentrate on.

“Nautilus gave the impression that the new company was ready to roll. But it has been over a month since the confirmation and there’s been no other information on what Nautilus’ new plans will be,” Whitmore said.

Nautilus stated in court papers that once liquidation occurs, there may still be a buyer for at least some of the new company’s assets.

PNG Business News report suggests the new Nautilus has applied to the PNG Mineral Resources Authority to vary the existing mining lease.

When Nautilus was removed from the Toronto Stock Exchange as part of the bankruptcy proceedings, it moved to unregulated trading, with a recent spike in buying.

At market close Tuesday, Nautilus Mineral’s shares had been traded 310,769 times on the OTC, with the stock priced at a penny.

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Sowing the seeds of post-extractivism

Hannibal Rhoades| The Ecologist | 20 November 2019

Communities around the world are demonstrating how we can move beyond extractivism to revive cultures of care and solidarity.

All around our living planet communities are standing on the frontlines of pitched battles to protect sacred lands and waters from destruction by the mining industry – the most-deadly source of environmental conflict on Earth.

These same communities are also defending-old and innovating-new alternatives to the socially unjust and ecologically unviable extractive ‘development’ model that so often brings destruction and displacement to their lands. Their alternatives are not linear, monocultural dreams of GDP growth, ‘trickle down’ wealth and material gain. Rather they are as plural and diverse as the territories they arise from. 

These alternatives often emerge out of conflict and present a fundamental critique of extractivism and the need to resist and go beyond it, to revive cultures of care and solidarity, repair damage and establish regenerative ways of living for the future.

Emblematic cases

The global “Yes to Life, No to Mining” (YLNM) solidarity network is made up of and for these communities – those who have chosen to say no to mining and yes to life-sustaining cultures, livelihoods and ecosystems. 

Over the past twelve months YLNM’s coordinators have worked alongside five communities in our network who have a wealth of experience to share and who hold a piece of the ‘post-extractive puzzle’. 

As well as supporting each other with critical information, international solidarity and the convening of critical community-to-community exchanges, we have developed a series of ‘emblematic’ case studies that attempt to share the learning and experience of these communities.

Over the coming five months we will be publishing shorter, synthesised versions of these case studies – first launched as interactive, long-form stories – in collaboration with Radical Ecological Democracy.

These stories draw out and reflect on the strategies these communities have used to successfully resist mining. They explore what it takes to repair the damages left by mining that does go ahead. They amplify the ‘seed-forms’ of grass-roots post-extractivism; the philosophies and practical actions communities are taking to build a better, self-determined future for themselves.

Traditional knowledge

In the first emblematic case, to be released in November 2019, we will travel to Finland and the village of Selkie.

Located in the Eastern Finnish province of North Karelia, Selkie has, like many Finnish villages, been the site of mass extractivism since World War II. In an effort to repay war debts to Russia, marshmires, peatlands and old-growth forest across Finland have been converted into mines and forest plantations, with huge impacts on rural communities practicing hunting, fishing, berry-gathering and small-scale farming.

In this case study, Tero Mustonen, Head of the Village of Selkie shares how, by combining traditional knowledge and science, the villagers of Selkie have restored waters, wetlands, fish and migratory birds to health after catastrophic damage caused by peat mining in the Jukajoki River catchment.

In the months to come, we will travel to the hyper-biodiverse Karen Indigenous territory of Kawthoolei, in eastern Myanmar. According to their own calendar, the Karen have lived in this territory for at least 2,758 years, developing intricate governance systems and deep connections to the land. A focal point for one of the longest-running civil conflicts in the world, Kawthoolei has also attracted the attention of gold miners, quarriers and Chinese and Thai companies wishing to construct massive hydro dams along the mighty Salween River.

In this case study, a collective from the Karen Environment and Social Action Network (KESAN) describe how and why the Karen have established the Salween Peace Park – “a grassroots, people-centered alternative to the Myanmar government and foreign companies’ plans for destructive development in the Salween River basin”.

Commoning communities

In the small village of Froxán in Galicia, north-west Spain, farmers still manage their lands and waters as commons, shared between all and governed collectively. But for over a century this community has been ravaged by tin and tungsten mining and attempts to enclose and privatise what the community care for as a collective.

Now, Spanish company Sacyr is trying to re-open these mines, responding to new demand created by the ‘green economy’ and incentivised by EU raw materials policies.

In a case study contributed by Froxán commoner Joam Pím Evans, we learn about Galicia’s long history of social resistance through ‘rhizomatic’ networks of commoning communities. We also learn about the community’s efforts to plant 10,000 native trees in mine-damaged landscapes as villagers from Froxán reassert their commons and “expand the circle of concern” for their lands.

The next can study explores how the municipality of Cajamarca grabbed global headlines in 2017 as citizens voted – with a 98 percent majority – to ban mining in their territory in a ‘popular consultation’ organised by and for the people.

The vote effectively ended South African corporation AngloGold Ashanti’s plans for a vast open-pit gold mine known as ‘La Colosa’- The Colossus. Nestled between the fertile volcanic slopes of the Andes mountains in central Colombia, Cajamarca has since become a global reference point for mining resistance, sparking a wave of popular consultations and a national movement challenging extractivism.

YLNM’s Regional Coordinator for Latin America, Mariana Gomez, comes from nearby Doima, where the first ever popular consultation on mining was held in 2013. Writing with researcher Benjamin Hitchcock-Auciello, in this case study she shares Cajamarca’s story, from the origins of resistance to the latest steps on a citizen-led journey to re-define ‘development’ around the ‘true treasures’ of the territory- fertile lands, clean waters and rich culture.

Deep sea 

The ocean is sacred to the Indigenous peoples who live along the coast of the Bismarck sea, off New Ireland Province, Papua New Guinea. 

But more recently it has drawn the attention of mining companies looking to the deep seabed as a new frontier of mineral and metal mining. Since 2005, Nautilus Minerals has been attempting to secure the permits necessary to mine a deposit of metal sulphides, gold and silver from the seabed.

In this case study, members of the Indigenous-led Alliance of Solwara Warriors and YLNM’s coordinator for the Pacific, Natalie Lowrey, share how frontline communities have successfully resisted Nautilus Minerals, stopped the world’s flagship deep sea mining project, and invigorated a global movement calling for a global ban on deep sea mining.

Green economy

These case studies were first launched by YLNM alongside a new report from London Mining Network and War on Want. 

Entitled A Just Transition is a Post-Extractive Transition, the report provides the stark context in which these case studies exist. It shows that the mining industry is a major, but largely hidden, contributor to climate breakdown, causing 20 percent of global carbon emissions (UNEP).

This same industry is now aggressively promoting prolonged, expanded extractivism as a solution to the climate emergency.

Around the world at company AGMs, investor gatherings, the UN and other forums, mining CEOs are taking the stage to tell the world that only an expanded mining industry will deliver the minerals and metals needed for growing renewable energy demand and the ‘green’ economy. This is a cynical attempt to capitalise on the massive forecasted growth in demand for minerals and metals by mid-century and beyond.

For some metals, like lithium, demand is projected to increase by a massive 900 percent, but for most minerals and metals only a fraction of the amount mined will be used in renewable energy technologies.

As YLNM’s case studies show, meeting this demand through expanded mining entails the destruction of climate-critical ecosystems and disruption of communities already vulnerable to climate change on a massive scale. It will lead to a ‘multiplier’ effect in destruction, too, as the US, EU, Japan and others seek to reduce their reliance on Chinese minerals by mining the peripheries of their own territories (think the Arctic, ocean floor and marginalised, economically impoverished areas) and exerting aggressive trade influence in the Global South to secure supply.

Shifting metabolism

The mining industry has anticipated and responded decisively to the shifting metabolism of the global economic order from a fossil fuel to a mineral and metal-based energetic foundation. Their greenwash is firmly in place, smoothing the way towards an unjust transition that will lead to a significant re-materialisation of an economy already at odds with planetary boundaries. This transition is bound for failure. But there are other ways into the future.  

A Just Transition is a Post-Extractive Transition puts forward the case for a move away from a growth-oriented, extractive economy towards de-growth, in the North especially, redistribution and massive demand reduction for minerals and metals.

The report points out meta-pathways towards a post-extractive economy, drawing on work by the likes of Eduardo Gudynas, and calls for a scaling-up of urban mining and recycling as part of our response to climate change,

Meanwhile, the emblematic cases YLNM has assembled evidence the crucial fact that communities, not mining companies, are already living the ‘answers’ to the climate and ecological crises. Frontline communities’ plural, dynamically-entangled alternatives, must guide the transformative transitions we must surely undertake.

This Author 

Hannibal Rhoades is the Yes to Life, No to Mining Regional Coordinator for Northern Europe. This article was originally published by Radical Ecological Democracy as part of a six-part series exploring the stories of the communities mentioned in this article. The Ecologist will be collaborating with Radical Ecological Democracy to share these articles in the months to come.

These case studies have been developed by YLNM member communities and organisations with the support of YLNM’s Regional Coordinators. The network’s deepest thanks go to: Snowchange Cooperative and the village of Selkie (Finland), Froxán Commoning Community and ContraMINAccíon (Galicia), Karen Environmental and Social Action Network and Kalikasan PNE (Myanmar and Philippines), Comité Ambiental en Defensa de la Vida and COSAJUCA (Colombia), Alliance of Solwara Warriors (Papua New Guinea).

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Deep sea sponges may hold key to antibiotic resistance

A group of “Venus’ flower basket” glass sponges, with a squat lobster in the middle (Image: NOAA)

The scientists who discovered antibiotic properties in a deep-sea sponge warn that such breakthroughs could be lost in the face of mineral exploitation

Jessica Aldred | China Dialogue | October 9, 2019

Prof Mat Upton is a medical microbiologist and Dr Kerry Howell is a deep-sea marine ecologist. At the University of Plymouth they have discovered antimicrobial properties in bacteria that live in a species of deep-sea sponge ­– a potential breakthrough in the fight against antibiotic-resistant superbugs. But they warn that such potential could be lost in the drive to exploit the ocean floor for minerals.

Jessica Aldred (JA): What did you discover and how?

Mat Upton (MU): We’ve grown bacteria from the sponges that Kerry has retrieved from the deep-sea floor and tested them in the lab to see if they kill other bacteria. 

Kerry Howell (KH): Sponges are one of the most promising sources of potential medical uses, with 145 reported antimicrobial compounds isolated between 2001 and 2010.

However, almost all research undertaken so far has been on sponges from shallow waters. At Plymouth we have begun to look at a number of different deep-sea sponge species. One that has shown promising results is from the genus Euplectella, found between 700 to 1,700 metres deep in the north-east Atlantic.

It is one of the best studied deep-sea regions in the world, but for many of the species we are working on, we don’t even have the most basic information beyond their identity.

A medically promising glass sponge species from the genus Euplectella, retrieved by Kerry from the Atlantic seabed and potentially new to science (Image: Plymouth University, Marine Institute Ireland, Eurofleets 2)

MU: By combining our expertise, we have begun to investigate the unknown microbiomes of several deep-sea sponges. Through this work, using cutting-edge DNA-sequencing technologies and novel strategies to maximise the diversity of bacteria we can grow from sponge samples, we have been able to isolate novel bacteria that produce antibiotic compounds that kill drug-resistant pathogens, including superbugs like MRSA and E coli.

JA: Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the biggest threats to global human health. How do your findings help?

MU: The risk posed by AMR requires that we find new antibiotics to fight drug-resistant infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. By looking in new natural environments, we may find new antibiotics that work in different ways to the ones we currently use.

In the case of our work on deep-sea sponges, it has been demonstrated in a number of studies that individual sponge species harbour relatively specific bacterial populations. The number of sponge species present in these unseen deep-sea environments has not been determined. It is likely that there are many new to science in these locations, each one with the potential of hosting new bacteria. These novel bacteria in turn are likely to produce antibiotics, and other medicines, that are new to science. We have only looked in detail at the microbiomes of two or three different sponge species and we’ve already potentially found some new antibiotics. Expand this to other sponge species we have not even seen and the possibilities are clear.

We’ve also only just begun to look at antibiotic compounds. There are many other lines of enquiry into medically relevant compounds that we’ve not started. Sponges and their microbial populations can produce anti-cancer compounds, analgesics, immune modulators and many other bioactive compounds.

KH: There is a real possibility that with the onset of deep-sea mining we could be destroying species that have important biomedical potential before we even know they exist. We may also be having an impact on the other ecosystem services that the deep sea provides, like climate regulation. At present our lack of understanding means it is difficult to predict potential outcomes beyond the obvious negative consequences. This, in turn, makes it difficult to make informed decisions about how this new industry operates and is managed.

JA: How significant is your discovery?

MU: By looking at the DNA of the bacteria that we have grown from the sponges, we can see that they are not the same as anything that has been grown previously. Some are closely related to previously seen bacteria, but others appear to be really quite novel, possibly new species. We have purified some antibiotic compounds from these bacteria and they are also new to science.

One way to ensure that new antibiotics work against the current drug-resistant superbugs is to use completely new antibiotics. There have been no new classes of antibiotic used in clinical therapy in the last 30 years. The antibiotic compounds we’re finding could be of new classes, giving them a head start against drug-resistant bacteria. This is very significant.

JA: The International Seabed Authority met in July to continue negotiations over a mining code that would govern eventual exploitation. Would mining threaten these sponge species?

KH: Deep-sea mining is a new industry in development. There are three types of deep-sea mining resource recognised, all pertaining to different deep-sea habitats. Polymetallic nodules are found on the abyssal plain, polymetallic sulphides are present as hydrothermal vents, and ferromanganese crusts on some seamounts and ridges.

All of these different resources offer a potential supply of important metals, rare earth elements and other minerals that are used in electronics and the renewable energy sector. We currently stand on the brink of exploitation of the deep sea for these resources. But as we may gain in one way, we potentially lose out in another.

We know that society’s wellbeing is linked to the health of the deep sea through a wide range of ecosystem services as diverse as climate regulation to food security. As a result of our work, we now know that deep-sea species may also hold the key to the problem of antibiotic resistance. What we don’t know is the impact mining will have on the deep-sea ecosystem.

Mining is, by its very nature, destructive, and will result in the destruction of species and habitats. Our knowledge of deep-sea species and habitats remains sparse. This is perhaps highlighted by the fact that recent studies of the main area licensed for polymetallic nodule mining, the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone in the central Pacific, have found up to 90% of species sampled were new to science.

JA: More and more scientists are calling for a moratorium on deep-sea mining until more is known about the species and the potential damage that mining will cause. What would you like to see happen?

KH: Our ecological knowledge of the deep sea has not kept pace with industrial development. There needs to be significant coordinated global effort and investment in research to enable us to forecast potential impacts of mining activities, as well as effects of cumulative stressors such as mining, climate change and fishing acting together.

Only then can we hope to effectively manage, not just this industry, but our oceans as a whole in line with UN Sustainable Development Goal 14. The UN Decade of Ocean Science (2021-2030) offers a 10-year period in which such efforts could be made.

A 10-year moratorium on mining in the Area (international waters that belong to no one nation), coupled with a global programme of targeted deep-sea research, would be the precautionary way to move forward.

JA: The high seas treaty that is currently being negotiated includes who shares the rights to marine genetic resources. Will this treaty help the situation?

KH: The treaty will support the sustainable management of areas of biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction by providing legal mechanisms and processes through which coordinated management actions, including the designation of marine protected areas, can happen. At the moment human activities in these areas are managed by a plethora of different organisations and there is no mechanism for a coordinated approach.

For example, we could have a situation where a regional fisheries management organisation has closed an area to bottom trawling for the protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems, but that same area is then licensed for deep-sea mining exploration. The same area could also support species that have promising medical uses, or be very important to other ecosystem services. We need to take a holistic approach but such an approach needs legal processes and mechanisms to be put in place, and that is what I hope this treaty will do. It will also hopefully mean that all nations benefit from potential discoveries, not just those with the technology to exploit these very difficult to study deep-sea habitats.

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Muthuvel Opts To Stop Solwara 1

Gorethy Kenneth | Post Courier | October 7, 2019

The government is faced with a major challenge on the country’s Solwara 1 project of which K400 million had already been spent while it faces legal implications in the Canadian Court.

State Owned Enterprise Minister Sasindaran Muthuvel in his recent press conference told reporters that the State was faced with K1.8 billion debt to commercial banks and other service providers and that his personal view was to discontinue the Solwara 1 project.

“You see, B-Mobile owes BSP K96 million and KCH owes ANZ another K130 million, first and foremost, we need clarity on this in order to deal with those costing us millions,” he said.

“Then we have another K375 million that has sunk into the ocean – the Solwara 1 project. The government has already spent over K400 million on this Solwara 1 project and as you know, in the recent news, we lost the case with the developer Nautilus in the Canadian Court and we need to take our next course of action,” Mr Muthuvel said.

“Although they have written to the Prime Minister James Marape to see that they are still keen to work with the government, but my personal view is that we have already lost about K400 million, and my personal fear is that of we continue to engage in the project we are going to be forced to further cash calls to invest in that project.

“It is a pity, in fact that project from day one it started came with a negative impact. We are not going to support a project that doesn’t have a net positive income and that doesn’t have the minimum rate of returns. There are other SOEs that we need to concentrate on like the BMobile and that has to be a collective effort and we prioritise to sell off those not making money.

“If we continue to fund this, there is no satinity we can get and we cannot invest in a project that doesn’t have minimum rate of returns… We need a turn around.”

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Filed under Financial returns, Mine construction, Papua New Guinea

Towards a just, post-extractive transition

Hannibal Rhoades| Ecologist | 23 September 2019

Frontline communities are showing the way to a ‘post-extractive’ renewable energy transition that is socially just and ecologically viable.

Large-scale mining is the deadliest industry in the world for those who oppose it. It is a contributor to systematic human rights violations, devastating losses of climate critical ecosystems and over 20 percent of global carbon emissions.

And yet, at a time of ecological and climate breakdown, the mineral and metal mining industry is in rude health. Mining companies are taking advantage of new demand created by the energy transition and the digitalisation of war and industry. They’re scouring the globe for new sources of ‘critical minerals’, like lithium, copper and cobalt, and expanding into new territories, including the deep sea.

This is disaster capitalism at its finest, say the authors of a new report that was launched just ahead of the Global Climate Strike. This disaster capitalism is jeopardising urgent climate action.

Dirty mining 

A Just(ice) Transition is a Post-Extractive Transition reveals how the mining industry is greenwashing its operations, positioning itself as a deliverer of the minerals and metals critical to the renewable energy transition, whilst expanding destruction globally.

Benjamin Hitchcock Auciello, researcher and report author, said: “Mining corporations are aggressively and cynically marketing their destructive activity as a solution to the climate emergency.

“It’s critical that we stop extractive industries from greenwashing their crimes and capturing the narrative around the transition to renewable technologies.”

Launched by the London Mining Network and War on Want, and supported by the global Yes to Life, No to Mining Network, the report de-bunks the mining industry’s false claims.

It reveals that the majority of projected future demand for ‘critical’ minerals and metals does not come from the renewable energy sector at all, but rather from heavy industry, consumer electronics and military and other sources.

De-growth

The report delves deeper still to reveal how governments, International Financial Institutions and even progressive movements are clinging to economic growth and material expansion as primary societal and developmental goals. This is creating the space for extractive industries to reinvent themselves as friendly change agents.

Technical fixes and the ‘de-coupling’ of climate and ecological impacts from economic growth will not be sufficient to avoid catastrophic warming above 1.5 degrees centigrade, says the report.

To curb climate breakdown and achieve a just and ecologically viable transition, the Global North must embrace de-growth and help redistribute global demand for energy and resources, not expand their extraction. 

In other words, a just transition must be post-extractive. The first steps for achieving this shift in transition logic is to listen to communities on the frontline of extractivism and centre their voices in the transition.

Hitchcock Auciello continued: “The climate movement must listen to and learn from frontline communities pushing back the expansion of the extractive economy: communities who are simultaneously advancing solutions that embody social, ecological and climate justice.”

Emblematic cases

series of interactive case studies from the Yes to Life, No to Mining Network have been launched in tandem with the new report. They explore the work of communities resisting mining, restoring damaged ecosystems and protecting and developing climate-just alternatives to extractivism around the planet. 

The case studies reveal the violence of extractivism for community leaders harassed, beaten and killed, for ecosystems torn apart, and for the climate. They hint at the immense costs and injustices that are inherent in expanding mining for whatever purpose, and the mass resistance that can be expected.

The case studies also reveal how communities are stopping mining projects, protecting old and innovating new ways of living that are regenerative, life-sustaining and compatible with a climate-safe future. 

In Myanmar, the indigenous Karen People have declared the Salween Peace Park as a space to practice their Earth-centred culture and as a strategy to block the intertwined threats of mega-hydro and mining.

In Galicia, the villagers of Froxán are re-planting forests and asserting their commons-based forms of land and water care in response to the threat of tungsten mining.

In Colombia the community of Cajamarca stopped a gold mine through popular democracy, triggering a national movement and new initiatives to strengthen their regenerative local economy.

In Finland the people of Selkie closed down a peat mine after pollution events poisoned the Jukajoki River and have re-wilded their water systems using a blend of traditional knowledge and science.

In Papua New Guinea, the Alliance of Solwara Warriors and their allies are fighting and winning their battle against the world’s flagship deep sea mining project in the sacred waters of the Bismarck Sea.

Living examples

Authors of Pluriverse: A post-development dictionary, said: “We are exploring and innovating towards a future where all the worlds (human and non-human) can co-exist and thrive in mutual dignity and respect, without a single so called ‘developed’ world living at the expense of others”.

The struggles and ‘alternatives’ shared in YLNM’s case studies are living examples of this future emerging now.

The climate emergency is our clear and present reality, but we will not solve our problems with the same universalised, de-politicised, corporate-dominated approaches that caused them.

Communities, not extractive corporations or captured states, have the answers to the climate and ecological crises. They are living these solutions every day and it is time to listen to them.

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