TWFF: I attended the EarthX presentation you gave with Dr. Sylvia Earle earlier this year about the dangers of Deep Seabed Mining and was shaken by what you shared. For those unaware of what that action entails, can you summarize it here?
VS: It’s the process of extracting mineral deposits from the deep sea—the area of the ocean below 200 meters—that’s located in international waters, so beyond areas of national jurisdiction. One reason why it’s a really large problem is because deep sea ecosystems take millions of years to create; they’re super-slow forming and the damage that is done during mining is irreversible. As her deepness, Dr. Sylvia Earle, says herself, “Seabed mining is like clearcutting the ocean; the effects will be devastating and irreversible.”
TWFF: From what I understood from a conference session I watched on the topic, those who are trying to push this legislation through are claiming that it’s actually beneficial to the environment. Is that accurate?
VS: There are a lot of counter-narratives, largely coming from the industry trying to get a green light on what would be the largest land grab of all time. They have to get approval from the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to begin mining and they’re really using the public’s genuine concern over climate change to gaslight and greenwash this new industry. Pro mining interests say that these rare earth minerals from the deep-sea are necessary for a green energy economy, but in reality, sustainability and deep seabed mining can’t be used in the same sentence. It’s an oxymoron.
TWFF: We shared a video that Julian participated in a few months back for The Oxygen Project that raised awareness about Deep Seabed Mining and the main question we received from supporters was asking what the miners were attempting to extract. What is it that they’re so intent on getting from the ocean floor?
VS: Rare earth minerals such as nickel, lithium, manganese and cobalt. Cobalt, in particular, is a really big problem as it’s primarily found in the Congo and is known for child labour and deforistation of rainforests. Unfortunately, deep seabed mining isn’t this simple, clean and green solution that pro-miners paint it to be. Not only will deep-sea mining destroy these pristine ecosystems and threaten thousands of species with extinction, it will also not be the solution to ending mining in the Congo, instead, it will just add deep sea mining on top of already harmful land mining. The real question we have to ask ourselves is do we continue on this path of extraction and destruction, or do we invest in new technology that creates truly sustainable solutions? Tesla is coming out with a Lithium-Sulfur battery, meaning, no cobalt, nickel, or manganese and they’ve made commitments to have their gigafactories recycle their batteries 100%. If we want a green economy we have to invest in new tech that will recycle metals and create alternatives rather than reinforcing unsustainable systems. And a good place to start is redirecting the billions of dollars going into the deep-sea mining industry.
TWFF: I believe you—but what will it take to ignite that change?
VS: We just have to have better thought leadership and recognize that greenwashing and confusing the public is just going to get us farther away from our climate goals. It really is criminal what these companies are doing. It’s also criminal for the people in positions of power holding international diplomatic seats to be out there acting as a champion for a pro-mining agenda and undermining the science. Because we don’t have the time or resources to waste and that’s definitely not how we are going to make the planet more equitable, just, or liveable for humanity.
VS: We need the power of the people and world leadership to get educated and take a stance on this issue. It’s just like voting, everyone has a stake, and not voting is a vote for the opposition, there’s no neutral ground. What we need for change is for people to get involved and speak up on this issue.
TWFF: What is the status now of the attempts to mine?
VS: Right now, the ISA, is preparing legislation called the Mining Code which would take deep-sea mining from an exploratory phase to industrial scale mining. Most basically, this Mining Code is the rules, standards and guidelines for the industry. Because of Covid-19, the meeting where this decision would take place has been rescheduled from July to October and now to December, however with Covid they’ll either postpone it again or go virtual. To be honest, the ISA is far away from being able to mitigate impacts because there isn’t sufficient baseline data to even determine what these standards need to fully be or other very important fundamental questions like how they plan on enforcing them. So what we desperately need is to not rush into this and to take our time.
The Secretary-General of the ISA, Michael W. Lodge actually stated—and this is a quote— “Once you have mining, you have monitoring, then you can develop standards and you can progressively tighten those standards once you have a feedback loop for monitoring your activity.“ So clearly they’re prioritizing the launch of a new global industry and are looking for ways to circumvent, rather than prioritize environmental sustainability.
In what world do 167 countries go back and add regulations once you’ve opened a field day on a process with no regulations? If it’s hard to do now, it’s going to be harder to do down the road.
TWFF: It’s difficult to see the arguments in favor of deep seabed mining when these facts appear to be so obvious. I also think that applying to mine outside the areas of jurisdiction seems like a red flag in the most basic sense—but their marketing must be making some compelling (albeit deceptive) points?
VS: Yes, I hope we can expose the truths and raise awareness on this issue so people can decide for themselves and not through greenwash rhetoric, but through science. Like the UN Law of The Sea treaty says, it’s the common heritage of mankind. If we do deep seabed mine, there needs to be a benefit to the common heritage to mankind. The way it’s set up right now, it’s mostly going to benefit a few—largely men—in international corporations, and it’s going to leave all the externalized costs on the common heritage of mankind.
TWFF: With every environmental cause that starts getting attention, I think people want to know how it’s going to affect their lives directly before they completely commit to doing something about it. Let’s discuss the destruction if deep seabed mining gets approved and these entities move forward with the process. Honestly what could happen?
VS: We know more about the surface of the moon than we do about our deep sea floor so it’s very hard to say, “in this many years, this is going to happen,” because there’s just so much we don’t know. However, scientists are holding up big red flags saying that their predicted impacts are serious and to not be ignored. One of the big negative impacts of deep seabed mining is noise pollution. In the ocean, this is something that can be detrimental and fatal to marine life. These ocean creatures use sound to migrate, they use sound to communicate. And disruption to the ocean’s web of life will ultimately impact humans as well. There’s large concern for other potential effects that range from permanent ecosystem disruption to biodiversity loss to high risks of impacting climate change as the ocean’s ability to cycle carbon is reduced.
Also, climate change and environmental issues really revolve around a carbon argument. That’s something that isn’t being talked about, but you can see in the reports that deoxygenation is happening as carbon is increasing. Humans have an innate sense of needing oxygen and right now our supply is being depleted. The ocean is the No. 1 producer of oxygen on our planet and there’s ocean deoxygenation happening at an alarming rate. There is the potential that deep seabed mining could set off chain chemical reactions that could exacerbate acidification and de-oxygenation in the ocean. We’re talking about disrupting some of the least studied yet most ancient and pristine ecosystems on the planet.
TWFF: If our supporters want to help prevent Deep Seabed Mining, what’s the best way for them to take action?
VS: Anyone can have impact and if you feel passionate about something, find a way to get involved! One way you can help is to act as a global warrior for the environment through online social influence. At The Oxygen Project, we believe that new media is the future of activism . If you go to our website, you can subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on social media where we’re putting out action items regularly.
We’re working with our friends at the Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA) on an open letter to the UN and the ISA calling for a 10-year moratorium in line with the UN Decade of Ocean Science. We’re also doing a virtual event with the SOA on Dec. 10 called #DefendtheDeep: Global Youth Mobilizing To Protect The Deep Sea. We’ve partnered with Schmidt Ocean Institute and the Ocean Elders on sessions and we have Jane Fonda and Nainoa Thompson as keynote speakers. Other speakers include Sven Lindblad, Dr. Sylvia Earle, Diva Amon and many young ocean leaders from around the world! If you want to learn more about deep seabed mining from experts and youth on the frontlines and how you can be part of the solution, join us, registration is free!
We’re also so excited to be rolling out “Deep Blue” a LoFi genre music album, in partnership with the music label, Effortless Audio, as an extension of our deep sea mining campaign. Effortless Audio worked with 16 artists and produced 16 songs inspired by sounds of the ocean and the feeling it conjures within. I have to give a big shout out to the label and the artists who are giving 100% of the proceeds to The Oxygen Project to continue momentum on our deep sea mining campaign.. We feel this is an unconventional, meaningful way to get the word out about this ocean issue. This playlist is available now on Spotify and Apple Music.
TWFF: You offer a lot of your time and talent to environmental organizations and charities. What was it about The White Feather Foundation that made you want to join us as an ambassador?
VS: A lot of times when you’re working in the environmental or charitable space, you spend a lot of time educating, and convincing people, and raising awareness. Sometimes you meet people who just get it. People who are really working towards the same goals as you are, and those moments and connections are like a breath of fresh air and a jolt of energy. And that’s how it was meeting Julian (and Rebecca!) for the first time just before the Captain Planet Foundation Gala in 2019.
And learning more about The White Feather Foundation’s mission, I found that everything i believed in and was working on was stated so simply and eloquently in that mission “For the Conservation of Life” or as my grandfather Ted Turner, likes to put it “Save Everything.”
TWFF: As someone focused on the health of the planet, what frightens you the most about the climate crisis?
VS: You know my heart breaks for Biodiversity — creatures that haven’t had a hand in climate change; people, on the frontlines, that haven’t had a hand in creating this crisis.
Scientists, environmentalists can only do so much, we have to have political will to bring change.
- The United States has emitted more CO2 than any other country to date: at around 400 billion tonnes since 1751, it is responsible for 25% of historical emissions;
- This is twice more than China–the world’s second largest national contributor.
A Biden Harris administration is a big step in the right direction for the U.S., but now the real work starts. And voting season isn’t over yet, we still have key senate races in my home state of Georgia. If we want to get the legislation we need to make transformational change in this country, winning those Senate seats are important. I’ve volunteered for Reverend Raphael Warnock’s campaign and from dropping off literature and visiting different neighborhoods around Atlanta, I’ve seen an outpouring of support. But Georgia is a very purple state, as we have seen from this Presidential election, so we need people to show up at the polls in January.
TWFF: What gives you the most hope for the future in light of the challenges we face from the climate crisis?
VS: Hope is more whimsical—what drives me is an innate instinct for survival.
You can follow Vasser’s work on Instagram and The Oxygen Project. Be sure to also stay tuned for an Instagram Live with Vasser Tues., Dec. 8 on the TWFF page. If you’d like to support the environment with a donation to The White Feather Foundation, start here. #ConserveLife
Photo courtesy of Vasser Seydel.