"As a staunch conservationist, I think it's a question of the relativity of wrong here."
In Too Deep
James Cameron is as much a monumental film director as he is a seasoned ocean explorer and conversationist. But on deep sea mining, which has lately become a hot button environmental issue, Cameron may be a little out of his depth.
In an interview with The Guardian, the Canadian filmmaker tepidly expressed support for the controversial mining process, framing it as the lesser evil compared to mining on land, like in rainforests.
Admitting that his stance makes him an "outlier," Cameron stands in stark opposition to fellow environmentalists — and scientists, for that matter — who maintain that mining at those depths could eradicate entire ecosystems.
"As a staunch conservationist, I think it's a question of the relativity of wrong here," Cameron said in the interview. "To do it in the abyssal seafloor, where there's very little in the way of a rich and diverse community, I think is less wrong."
Cameron's thinking, on its face, could be sound. At depths too immense to receive sunlight, the vast stretches of ocean floor known as the abyssal plains have long been considered mostly barren.
"I've seen an awful lot of seafloor," Cameron said in the interview. "And while there are some amazing creatures, they tend to be clustered in small habitats. What you mostly have is miles and miles and miles of nothing but clay."
Recent science begs to differ, however. As deep sea mining firms have their eyes set on a stretch of Pacific ocean known as the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ), new research suggests that the region could be host to over 5,000 new species.
"What we know is the tip of the iceberg," Muriel Rabone, a data researcher at the Natural History museum who led the research, told The Guardian.
"We only know a fraction of what we need to know about these species — their life, their ecosystem functioning, their traits, their reproductive status — to be able to predict what the impacts will be."
Road to Hell
All that diversity may not mean much to mining firms, who see the abyssal plains as vast, untapped dollar signs. The CCZ in particular is rich in nodules of rocks containing nickel and cobalt — sought-after rare earth minerals that are essential for manufacturing batteries, like those used in electric vehicles.
But these rock nodules also form the hard surfaces that abyssal life depends on, The Guardian notes. Mining them would mean the direct destruction of countless habitats, and a permanent blow to biodiversity. Hundreds of marine experts, fearing those dire consequences, have signed a moratorium on the practice.
While Cameron may be sincere in his view of protecting his precious rainforests, he's still parroting the same rhetoric used by mining firms. And, as they say, the road to the abyssal depths is paved with good intentions — or as Rabone describes Cameron's reasoning, "a straw-man argument."
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