Musings on Organizing

Musings on Organizing

Editor’s note: This piece was written in 2018, and does not reflect DGR strategy. We are not a partisan organization along the U.S. Democrat-Republican divide. Rather, we view both of these political parties as tools of capitalist hegemony–two factions of the ruling class, battling for political and economic control.

However, it is rare to find organizers writing about organizing. This piece is valuable for the same reason that autobiographies of organizers and revolutionary leaders are valuable—not for sweeping statements or ideological platitudes, but precisely because of the unpolished reality they, at times, show. Organizing for change in our society is not simple, and revolutionary change on the scale Deep Green Resistance advocates is titanic by any measure. Any success we find will not play out smoothly like a Hollywood film. Essays like this remind us of the hard grunt work of grassroots organizing that is required for us to leave a better future for those who come after.


I haven’t had much time to write, hence the lack of essays. We’ve been organizing and I can never seem to get in a good writing groove when my schedule is filled with community obligations.

That said, one of the most frustrating things I’ve encountered over the years is a lack of organizing knowledge and information. Groups such as the Highlander Center or Greenpeace provide manuals, but I would guess that over 99% of the articles and essays produced on progressive media outlets focus on what’s wrong, not what people are doing about it.

Part of the problem is that many progressive media outlets aren’t interested in such articles. However, organizers and activists are also to blame as we simply don’t write as often as analysts, professors, or essayists.

Below is a lengthy and unstructured series of reflections on the sort of organizing work I’m currently doing in Northwest Indiana, where I live and work. I hope people will find some of my insights interesting and useful.


Back in January of 2017, hundreds of people throughout the Northwest Indiana region and millions across the United States were regularly attending events, meetings and rallies. At the time, I recognized that such a pace was not sustainable, and for many reasons.

First, it’s hard to replicate large symbolic actions such as protests because those sort of events require a lot of time, resources and manpower. Plus, the utility of large-scale rallies is limited, especially if they don’t take place within the context of broader campaigns and political projects.

Second, it was clear from the start that many groups were quite inexperienced with regard to their basic organizing knowledge. I attended meeting after meeting where basic facilitation skills and meeting structures were completely lacking. People were confusing terminologies and misunderstanding the difference between tactics and strategy, vision and programme.

Of course, all of these things are fixable, but that requires a certain level of humility and trust. If organizations and organizers are insular, it’s difficult to provide advice. Toxic personalities play a discouraging role as well.

Third, many of the groups that popped-up after Trump’s inauguration were tied to groups such as Indivisible and Our Revolution. Both groups, however, have failed to garner serious support or provide a viable path forward. In my opinion, that’s the inevitable result of top-down organizational structures and ideas.

In Northwest Indiana (NWI), where I live, hundreds of people were showing up to town hall events where elected Democrats would essentially give marching orders to those in attendance: “Send more emails to your elected officials!” This strategy, if one could even call it that, has been a great waste of time and energy. Even worse, progressives missed a potentially fruitful political opportunity to immediately orientate thousands of first-time activists.

That said, many progressive groups have formed in NWI and throughout the state of Indiana since Trump’s inauguration. Without question, one of the biggest challenges we face is a lack of coordination between progressive organizations at the local, regional and state levels. Collectively developing vision, strategies and tactics is difficult work, but it’s also essential if we hope to build long-lasting institutions capable of addressing not only our immediate needs, but also our long-term ideals.

Right now, the Michigan City Social Justice Group (MCSJG), which is the organization I’ve been primarily working with since 2017, is going through an internal restructuring process. It’s a needed and welcomed step for an organization that’s existed for a little more than a year. Fortunately, many of the group’s members have embraced and welcomed the process.

As an organization, we’ve had successes and setbacks (as any political organization does), but we’re moving in the right direction and doing all of the necessary and sometimes monotonous tasks that lay a solid foundation for what should become a growing organization.

Should we become a 501(c)3 or a ‘Super Pac?’ If we want to raise money, we have to become more professionalized and that requires legal aid, loads of paperwork ,and serious accountability.

Political organizing work, while fulfilling and empowering, is very trying, stressful and at times, quite tedious. Filing paperwork with the IRS, obtaining state documentation, requesting municipal permits for events, sitting through two hour meetings about risk management and conflict resolution plans, creating websites, managing social media and crafting word documents isn’t exactly the most exhilarating work, but it’s absolutely necessary if people are interested in creating a serious organization that has the potential to grow and significantly change the political, cultural, economic and civic structures of our city, county and state.

The overall scope of such a project is daunting, which is why most people either remain at the level of engaged citizen (but not a member of an organization) or join a preexisting organization (because it’s much easier than starting one from scratch, especially if you’re a precarious worker trying to make ends meet).

For those reasons and many others, including how preexisting organizations treat newcomers, it’s rare to find a group of people who are willing to create something new. I’m grateful to have met such committed and serious folks.


One of the primary challenges progressive organizations faced in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s victory, and still face, is how much time they should spend specifically targeting Trump, and how much time and effort should they spend on local and state-wide efforts. Of course, in an ideal world, all of these efforts would work with each other in a strategic manner, but that’s not always possible.

For example, most of the progressive groups that exist in the state of Indiana are not in contact with one another. Activists, for example, in NWI have very little idea of what’s happening in Fort Wayne or Bloomington. We have friends in those areas, and occasionally discuss ongoing organizing efforts, but not in a systematic fashion.

As I mentioned above, one of our primary challenges at the state level is increasing coordination between existing groups, especially those operating at the grassroots level. The major NGOs communicate with each other, but they’re not actively building independent organizations or coalitions in our state. To be honest, we don’t expect them to. We’re not looking to replicate the structures of existing NGOs — we’re trying to build an independent progressive organization and series of institutions whose primary focus is building power at the grassroots level. 

The question of whether or not groups should respond to each of Trump’s reactionary policy directives or statements cannot be understated. Back in January of 2017, people routinely blew up at meetings when we told them that we weren’t going to put a ton of energy into trying to keep Jeff Sessions from being the Attorney General, or that we weren’t interested in the Russia-Trump scandal.

It’s easy to see how liberal groups and the Democratic Party have been so unsuccessful in recent years: they focus on the issues the corporate media highlights, as opposed to focusing on the needs and interests of working-class, poor people, and the environment. Their focus is also very short-term. Many of these groups have a difficult time imagining politics beyond election cycles.

Without doubt, it makes sense to oppose (when possible) the Trump Administration and the GOP’s most damaging and reactionary excesses. However, it also makes sense to step back, reflect, and determine how we’re going to build the sort of organizations and movements that it will take to win. Trying to take down a president when your group can’t even hold regular and productive meetings is not only a waste of time, it’s laughable, and at worst, it’s a surefire way to burn people out.

On a tactical level, groups can use Trump’s vulgarity and brutish behavior as propaganda, but that’s a short-term outreach strategy. There are simply too many people and organizations who’ve built their ‘resistance’ on an anti-Trump platform, and it’s proven to be wholly inadequate. The tax bill, for instance, provided an opportunity to coalesce around an issue of great importance and one that resonated with ordinary folks (some polls suggest that over 70% of Americans were opposed to the bill). Progressives were unable to capitalize on this moment due to our internal disorganization, lack of vision and capacity.

To be fair, many millions of people are doing their best on a daily basis to stop Trump’s agenda, but they are disconnected, lacking organizational knowledge, and adequate resources.


We’re extremely limited in terms of what we can do at the municipal level in the state of Indiana. For instance, we can’t raise income, corporate or sales taxes (so much for the GOP’s mantra about ‘local control’); we’re also unable to put in place rent control caps or raise the minimum wage above the federal level; sanctuary cities are illegal; and we have limited control over the power company monopolies that exist throughout the state.

These limitations pose great challenges, but they also force us to think about creative alternatives and strategies that can alter existing power relations. Ideally, we would have both a local and state-wide strategy to change legislation in Indianapolis, but that’s rarely the case. More commonly, major NGOs (with limited success) and unions (with even less success) are the groups campaigning at the state level. Outside/independent groups and social movements have limited capacity and as a result, virtually no power to influence state politics.

Electorally, one strategy could be to fill as many local seats with progressives as possible, while simultaneously bolstering local and regional social movement groups and engaging in state-wide efforts when possible. That’s probably the most reasonable short-term strategy I could see for regional groups.

That said, running progressives for elected office is a tricky game. Should they run under a Democratic ticket? Should they run as Independents? Or should they run as Greens? Obviously, there are no easy answers to this question. Context should dictate the answer.

In Indiana, the Democratic Party is an empty vessel. Perhaps with a decent strategy and a committed group of organizers and activists, the local, county and state party apparatuses could be seized and used for progressive reforms (at least in the short-term).

The Democratic Party continues to win in cities like Michigan City because they’ve been around longer than anyone else and our city is 30% Black, working-class, and disproportionately union, hence GOP candidates stand little chance at winning local seats, at least that’s been true historically (Since 2010, the GOP has flourished in our country and state).

At the end of the day, the question organizers ask more than any other is: Do we have the capacity? What is practical with our current numbers? In our small city, we have 20 committed members in the  Michigan City Social Justice Group (MCSJG). How do we build our capacity while engaging in meaningful campaigns that provide real-world results for poor and working-class people? What projects will produce the greatest results over the long-term? These are constant and never-ending questions.

At every level, the primary issue is a matter of capacity and resources. Progressives will accomplish very little at the municipal level in a state like Indiana if we don’t radically change legislation downstate. It’s just that simple. It’s true that we can get creative and potentially develop alternative structures and revenue, but without the ability to raise corporate taxes, income taxes, the minimum wage, or put in place rent controls, we’re severely hampered in the short-term.

The new version of the Poor People’s Campaign is attempting to bring together some of these groups, but their platform is unclear, as they’ve put tactics before strategy (an ongoing and major problem on the Left, especially among antiwar activists and members of the progressive-faith community). There seems to be a persistent and incorrect belief among progressives that simply getting arrested and putting on the largest public spectacle imaginable will bring people into our movements. Sometimes, it’s true: people come along for the ride, but only for a limited amount of time. For the most part, people want concrete results and a clear platform.

Most people also have jobs, families and lives outside of political activism, hence they have limited time and patience for groups and movements, such as Occupy, which was disorganized, unclear in what it hoped to achieve, and isolated from other progressive organizations.

Street theater and protests are nice, symbolic events, and I enjoy them as much as the next person, but they are not an end, nor are they the primary means to our collective ends. Protests and occupations are simply tactics, and over-used ones at that. While occupations such as the ones that took place at Zucatti Park and Standing Rock are more useful than rallies, they’re also completely unsustainable.

At the national level, I’ve been unable to find an organization, movement or campaign that can tie into our existing local or regional organizing efforts. The Poor People’s Campaign would be the closest example, but that’s about it. Again, I’m assuming this varies depending on where one lives. For instance, I’ve heard that some Indivisible groups in Florida are doing great work. I’ve heard the same about DSA groups in Chicago. Again, however, the focus of these organizations is strictly electoral in nature. Here, in Northwest Indiana, the Sanders’ campaign-offshoot, Our Revolution, hasn’t taken off. Bringing Bernie’s supporters back into the mix has been an ongoing and frustrating effort, but also a necessary one. The 2018 midterms should offer an opportunity to reengage this constituency.

With regard to electoral campaigns, it’s important for progressive organizers to obtain contact lists. Thousands of addresses, phone numbers, and email lists are created, then lost or stashed away. It’s a real shame because many of the people who work on electoral campaigns disengage between cycles while grassroots groups remain engaged but have a difficult time gathering contacts.

We’ll be using our community space, PARC (Politics Art Roots Culture), as a primary organizing hub for Democrats during the 2018 midterm election cycle. Elections are one of the few times ordinary Americans are politically active. To me, it makes sense to expose liberals and Dems to leftwing ideas and forms of organizing that take place outside of the electoral sphere, and within the social movement context. As my friend once said, “We meet people where they’re at, but we don’t leave them there.”

PARC will fully support and host phone-banking, canvassing, and fundraising efforts, though it remains to be seen to what degree the MCSJG will engage with the 2018 midterms. Overall, we think it makes strategic sense to get rid of the GOP in the immediate future. They pose an immediate and grave threat to the planet and species and we’re constantly in triage mode when they’re in power. 

In our thinking, progressives can’t afford to ignore the electoral arena of struggle, nor can we afford purity politics. Poor and working-class people across the globe are suffering as a result of Trump and the GOP’s insane agenda, and the Democratic Party’s capitulation, and inability or unwillingness to provide a serious alternative. At the same time, many people on the Left refuse to acknowledge the limitations of the Green Party or the various Socialist parties who stand absolutely no immediate chance at gaining power. 

On the international level, it’s hard to fathom how progressive organizations in Red States such as Indiana can build serious and effective working relationships with organizers overseas if we can barely work together at the local, regional, state or national level. To me, it makes more sense for groups to build their base and create relationships with groups who share similar values and then focus on larger projects. We have to find the issues that can unite progressive groups and go form there (Sanders’ platform provided a model). 

I get calls and emails from folks throughout Indiana who want to start state-wide efforts, yet they have virtually no base of support in their hometowns. How can we project regional or state power if we don’t have power in our cities and towns? It doesn’t make sense, which is why so many groups who engage in meaningful work generate limited results.


From the very start, it was clear to my friend and long-time organizing partner and I that we had to open a community center to serve as a political and cultural organizing space. Having a space to operate in has been essential to MCSJG’s work. It’s also been quite useful for regional and even national groups who want to expand their reach to localities such as Michigan City.

Right now, we have an organizer from the Sierra Club’s ‘Beyond Coal’ campaign who operates and holds meetings in our space. As I mentioned before, the MCSJG uses our space as their primary hub, as does the PFLAG (Parents & Friends of Gays and Lesbians) – LaPorte County group. Mothers Clean Air Force and Veterans for Peace have held events in our space, as have regional organizations.

We hold bi-monthly live music/cultural events which double as fundraisers and use the center as a space where people can simply come, hang out, have a conversation and a cup of coffee. We have an enormous book collection that anyone can utilize and free Wi-Fi.

This year, we’re going through the process of becoming an NGO. We could remain a LLC, but that would greatly limit opportunities for grants and foundational money. Obviously, the most strategic and sustainable way to fund the space is a small donor program, but that takes time to build. The trick is keeping the overhead as low as possible so if/when the foundational money dries up, the space can remain open.

Again, I can’t stress enough the importance of having a space where people can gather, talk, laugh, learn, drink, dance, and create community. It’s also important for organizations and movements to be rooted. In that way, having a space provides a foundation for everything that follows, especially in an era of hyper-alienation.

Over time, we want the space to become a cooperative effort. The idea being that Sergio and I should relinquish control of the space in the coming years and hand over the reigns to a new generation of organizers, artists, and community members who will probably have a different and fresh idea of what the space should become. We welcome the change.

For now, we have all of our regularly scheduled events on the calendar and a few big ones on the horizon. On Saturday, January 20th, 2018, we’re holding a ‘Dump Trump & The GOP’ fundraiser/bash where we’ll have regional musicians performing and local organizers talking about their ongoing work and how people can get involved.

Next month, we have a ‘Medicare For All’ event where we’ll discuss Bernie Sanders’ proposal and how folks can get involved at the local level. I’ve already had a wonderful conversation with a woman form Southeast Indiana who, frustrated with the election results and previously disengaged, took it upon herself to start a free medical clinic in a suburb of Cincinnati where she resides.

I think such projects could be very useful if properly managed. Put differently, it’s clear that certain groups and individuals are simply interested in providing immediate support. Many of the volunteer groups in our city, region, and state focus on providing services, but they rarely, if ever, address the underlying political, economic, and social institutions that perpetuate the very systemic problems they provide immediate relief for. 

In our thinking, progressive groups should be able to do all of the above: provide needed services, oppose and stop immediate threats (development projects, legislation, etc.), and propose reforms while developing long-term alternatives to existing structures (what some would call ‘revolution’). Again, the primary challenges are a lack of capacity, vision, resources, and time. The never-ending question is always: what sort of events will allow us maximum outreach and the ability to gain capacity?


Jane McAlevey makes a clear and important distinction between advocacy, mobilizing and organizing in her latest book, No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age. The reality is that many groups are actually advocating or mobilizing as opposed to organizing. For McAlevey, advocacy is the lowest form of involvement and the least capable of building serious power. Here, one should think of NGOs battling corporations in court, with lawyers and officials making the important decisions.

Mobilizing is a step-up from advocacy, but still fails to meet McAlevey’s threshold for proper ‘organizing.’ In the mobilizing model, organizations (unions, NGOs, neighborhood groups, etc.) regularly preech to the choir and turn out self-identifying progressives to rallies and major events, but this model easily burns people out and doesn’t provide a long-term path to building power at the grassroots level. Occupy and the ‘Right to Work’ protests in Madison, Wisconsin, are good examples of mobilization efforts.

Organizing, on the other hand, is the highest form of engagement and requires the most time, effort, and strategy. The primary goal of true community organizing is empowering the maximum number of people and providing them with the knowledge and tools necessary to win the things they want and need. The aim is to get ordinary people to join existing struggles through identifying “organic leaders” in workplaces and neighborhoods.

To be clear, “organic leaders” are not people who simply show up to every meeting or rally — they are the sort of folks who are highly respected in the community. If an “organic leader” vouches for someone or some cause, people listen. That’s the basic criteria, and people would be wise to immediately identify these individuals as they hold the most valuable social capital.

Right now, we’re capable of small-scale mobilization in Northwest Indiana. We’ve been able to stop GEO from building a private immigrant detention facility in Gary, Indiana. And a new group has formed in Elkhart, Indiana, to stop CoreCivic from constructing a private immigrant detention facility in their county. Currently, we have the power and numbers to mobilize and stop projects or certain pieces of legislation, but not much else.

It would be wise for every organizer in the country to read McAlevey’s book. She highlights and articulates so much of what I’ve encountered and thought about over the past 12 years of organizing with leftwing/progressive groups and movements. It’s truly an amazing piece of work. The only issue that I found in the book is that McAlevey doesn’t necessarily mention what, beyond immediate needs, people should or could be fighting for.

Perhaps this is the limitation of an organizer’s perspective: we have too much to do and not enough time to contemplate what sort of society we’re trying to achieve. But that’s also part of the problem: too many organizers and groups are fighting back, but with little idea of what they hope to create over the long-term. The question remains: what sort of society do we want to live in and how should it be structured?

Those questions shouldn’t only be asked by philosophers or academics — those questions should be answered by anyone and everyone who’s interested in living in a decent world.

I’ll be writing more essays in the weeks and months to come. I hope to keep folks informed of our mistakes and progress, challenges and successes. In the meantime, I hope this finds all of our brothers and sisters in the struggle in good health and spirits. It takes great motivation and discipline to remain engaged in such cynical times.

Vincent Emanuele is a writer and community organizer. He is the co-founder of P.A.R.C. (Politics Art Roots Culture), a political-cultural center in Michigan City, Indiana. He’s a member of the Michigan City Social Justice Group, Veterans For Peace, and the National Writers Union – UAW Local 1981. He can be reached at

Posted on Znet
The Green Deceit of Deep Sea Mining

The Green Deceit of Deep Sea Mining

Editor’s note: Already threatened by overfishing, acidification, overheating, the collapse of coral reefs, declining plankton populations, plastic pollution, and deep sea oil drilling, the world’s oceans now face a new threat: mining, disguised as “green.”

This piece, originally published in Counterpunch, describes the threat of deep sea mining. If you want to help protect the oceans from this threat, email or find Deep Sea Defenders on Facebook and Twitter @deepseadefender

By Joshua Clinton

“To build a green future, in the next couple of decades the world will need to mine more metal than we’ve mined in our entire history” says Gerard Barron, CEO of The Metals Company.

There’s some truth to that statement – if we wish to meet the rising demand for new technologies, we’d need to see a sharp increase in metal extraction. After all, electric vehicles require 4x the amount of metals found in standard cars, and a single wind turbine requires 340 tonnes of metal.

Here’s the problem: the ‘green future’ he’s selling us is a lie, because what Barron fails to divulge in his upbeat sales pitch, is the ecological upheaval that his company’s plans would surely wreak.

The Metals Company plans to mine the seabed for polymetallic nodules; potato-sized objects containing metals like nickel, copper, and cobalt; essential in the production of the lithium-ion batteries being used for electric cars and (so-called) renewable energy storage.

They’re located (among other places) in the Clarion-Clipperton zone, an area of the Pacific Ocean equivalent in size to the entire Indian Subcontinent. The seabed here (despite the claims of company officials) isn’t simply a ‘vast marine desert’, it’s home to a wide variety of species whose existence depends upon the presence of these nodules.

So, what would the mining process actually look like?

They’re building house-sized machines which would indiscriminately vacuum-up the contents of the seabed and send it to a ship on the surface. This includes an estimated 2 to 6 million cubic feet of marine sediment (granulated rock) per day for every machine in operation, only then to be subsequently dumped right back into the ocean.

It’s been stated that the sediment will be returned to a depth below 1200m. That’s called the Bathypelagic zone (Midnight Zone) – and some animals who live there include viperfish, anglerfish, frill sharks, eels, and sperm whales. These would be among the first creatures to acquire a gill-full of gravel.

But furthermore, the floating particles could be carried throughout the entire water column by powerful currents in a natural process called ‘downwelling’ & ‘upwelling’ – damaging (perhaps fatally) the respiratory systems of billions of fish.

This, plus the impact that light & sound disturbances from mining equipment would have on creatures adapted to conditions of silence & darkness, raises the likelihood of ecosystem collapse. Ocean ecosystems are already threatened by multiple stressors like overfishing, ocean acidification, & plastic pollution – do we really want to add anything else to the list?

The Metals Company claims that seabed extraction is a more ‘sustainable’ method of sourcing metal than land-based mining. Whenever anyone pulls-out the ‘sustainability’ buzzword, two premises need to be addressed:

#1: what are they sustaining? – clearly not biodiversity.

#2: how long do they wish to sustain it for?

The answer to the first question: an industrial way of life. The way of life which propels us to greedily squander nature’s bounty.

The answer to the second question: for as long as there’s anything left of the living world to convert into commodities.

This isn’t about saving the planet. It’s about creating new technologies which will prolong & exacerbate the destruction of the planet, and a false narrative that this is all somehow morally justifiable. Here’s a basic rule: if we consume the Earth at a rate faster than it can regenerate – eventually there won’t be anything left to take. Even Gregory Stone (chief scientist at The Metals Company) acknowledges this:

“On-land commodities are being exhausted…and [the deep sea] is the natural next place to look…these are some of the last resources that the Earth has to give us”.

Are we really prepared to blow-through everything that’s left? To leave no stone (or nodule) left unturned, just so that we can continue driving around in cars & tooting our horns?

The ends don’t really justify the means. Any right-minded, white westerner can reflect upon the cruelty of the transatlantic slave trade and conclude: “Yikes, my ancestors should’ve left the people of West Africa alone”.

Jazz music probably wouldn’t have existed without the transatlantic slave trade. Do I like jazz music? Sure, but you know what I like better? Thriving communities living in environments to which they’re socially and biologically adapted.

Communities like the ocean-dwelling phytoplankton who generate 80% of the Earth’s oxygen, who play a crucial role in atmospheric carbon regulation, and whose future hangs in the balance should deep-sea mining go ahead.

So, what can we do to stop this from happening?

The country of Nauru, which (having signed a contract with The Metals Company) would stand to benefit financially from deep sea mining, have declared that operations will go ahead in 2024, within waters assigned to them by the ISA (International Seabed Authority) – that means we have about two years to stop this.

So far, campaigners such as Greenpeace, WWF, and the government of Fiji have collaborated on a proposed 10-year moratorium (temporary ban) on deep sea mining until more is known about its effects on deep sea ecosystems.

Going a step further, organisations like Blue Planet Society and Pacific Blue Line are calling for an outright ban.

You (the reader) can help by educating yourself more on the subject, by spreading awareness, by signing online petitions, and by joining or organizing demonstrations against deep sea mining…but before you go and do those things, let me finish with a final appeal:

As environmentalists, we might not instinctively care quite as much about the deep sea as we do about other landscapes like rainforests or prairies. We’re land mammals after all; we don’t belong down there, and neither should we strive to assimilate. However, it’s important that we look beyond our human bias, because the deep sea comprises 60% of Earth’s surface. This means that the wellbeing of the ocean is crucial for the wellbeing of the planet as a whole.

Industrialists can’t understand this. They look upon the deep sea as a challenge, as another frontier just waiting to be conquered, and none of the native beings who live there will stand in their way.

We can stand in their way.

Help to stop deep sea mining, before it starts.

Joshua Clinton is a long-term environmental devotee, campaign organizer, & freelance writer. He can be reached at:

Featured image by Jim Beaudoin at Unsplash.

Deep seabed mining is risky. If something goes wrong, who will pay for it?

Deep seabed mining is risky. If something goes wrong, who will pay for it?

This story first appeared in Mongabay.

Editor’s note: O Canada! Welcome to the new wild west. If you liked Deepwater Horizon you will love Deep Sea Mining. This statement pretty much sums it up, “countries could have their chance to EXPLOIT the valuable metals locked in the deep sea.” Corporations love to deal with poorer, less developed countries  who can do less by way of supervision because they lack greater resources and capacity.     

“Like NORI, TOML began its life as a subsidiary of Nautilus minerals, one of the world’s first deep-sea miners. Just before Nautilus’s project in Papua New Guinea’s waters failed and left the country $157 million in debt, its shareholders created DeepGreen. DeepGreen acquired TOML in early 2020 after Nautilus filed for bankruptcy, the ISA said the Tongan government allowed the transfer and reevaluating the company’s background was not required.”

And mining royalties are paid to the ISA. If this doesn’t sound fishy, I don’t know what does. There never should be a question as to what a corporation’s angle is. Their loyalty always is to the stockholders.       


  • Citizens of countries that sponsor deep-sea mining firms have written to several governments and the International Seabed Authority expressing concern that their nations will struggle to control the companies and may be liable for damages to the ocean as a result.
  • Liability is a central issue in the embryonic and risky deep-sea mining industry, because the company that will likely be the first to mine the ocean floor — DeepGreen/The Metals Company — depends on sponsorships from small Pacific island states whose collective GDP is a third its valuation.
  • Mining will likely cause widespread damage, scientists say, but the legal definition of environmental damage when it comes to deep-sea mining has yet to be determined.

Pelenatita Kara travels regularly to the outer islands of Tonga, her low-lying Pacific Island home, to educate fishers and farmers about seabed mining. For many of the people she meets, seabed mining is an unfamiliar term. Before Kara began appearing on radio programs, few people knew their government had sponsored a company to mine minerals from the seabed.

“It’s like talking to a Tongan about how cold snow is,” she says. “Inconceivable.”

The Civil Society Forum of Tonga, where Kara works, and several other Pacific-based organizations have written to several governments and the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to express concerns that their countries may end up being responsible for environmental damage that occurs in the mineral-rich Clarion-Clipperton Zone, an expanse of ocean between Hawai‘i and Mexico.

“The Pacific is currently the world’s laboratory for the experiment of Deep Seabed Mining,” the groups wrote to the ISA, the U.N.-affiliated body tasked with regulating the nascent industry. As a state that sponsors a seabed mining company, Tonga has agreed to shoulder a significant amount of responsibility in this fledgling industry that may threaten ecosystems that are barely understood. And if anything goes wrong in the laboratory, Kara is worried that Tonga’s liabilities could exceed its ability to pay. If no one can pay for remediation, Greenpeace notes, that may be even worse.

“My concern is that the liability from any problem with deep-sea mining will just be too much for us,” Kara says.

Another Pacific Island state, Nauru, notified the ISA in June that a contractor it sponsors is applying for the world’s first deep-sea mining exploitation permits. The announcement triggered the “two-year rule,” which compels the ISA to consider the application within that period, regardless of whether the exploitation rules and regulations are completed by then.

Among the rules that may not be decided upon by the deadline is liability: Who is responsible if something goes wrong? Sponsoring states like Nauru, Tonga and Kiribati — which all sponsor contractors owned by Canada-based DeepGreen, now The Metals Company — are required to “ensure compliance” with ISA rules and regulations. If a contractor breaches ISA rules, such as causing greater damage to ocean ecosystems than expected, the contractor may be held liable if the sponsoring state did all they could to enforce strict national laws.

However, it’s not yet clear how these countries can persuade the ISA that they enforced the rules, nor how they can prove that they are able to control the contractors, when the company is foreign-owned. The responsibility of sponsoring states to fund potentially billions of dollars in environmental cleanup depends on the legal definitions of terms like “environmental damage” and “effective control,” which may be as murky two years from now as they are at present.

Myriad problems may occur in the mining area: sediment plumes may travel thousands of kilometers and obstruct fisheries, or damage could spread into other companies’ areas. Scientists don’t know all the possible consequences, in part because these ecosystems are poorly understood. The ISA has proposed the creation of a fund to help cover the costs, but it’s not clear who will pay into it.

“The scales of the areas impacted are so great that restoration is just not feasible,” says Craig Smith, an oceanography professor emeritus at the University of Hawai‘i, who has worked with the ISA since its creation in 1994. “To restore tens or hundreds of thousands of square kilometers would be probably more expensive than the mining operation itself.”

Nauru voices concerns

Just over a decade ago, before Nauru agreed to sponsor a deep-sea mining permit, the government worried that it was going to find itself responsible for paying those damages. The government wrote to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, voicing concerns about the liability it could incur. As a sponsoring state with no experience in deep-sea mining and a small budget to support it, the delegation wanted to make sure that the U.N. did not prioritize rich countries in charting this new frontier in mineral extraction. Nauru and other “developing” countries should have just as great an opportunity to benefit from mining as other countries with more experience in capital-intensive projects, they argued.

Sponsoring states like Nauru are required to ensure their contractors comply with the law but, the delegation wrote, “in reality no amount of measures taken by a sponsoring State could ever fully ‘secure compliance’ of a contractor when the contractor is a separate entity from the State.”

Seabed mining comes with risks — environmental, financial, business, political — which sponsoring states are required to monitor. According to Nauru’s 2010 request, “it is unfortunately not possible for developing States to perform their responsibilities to the same standard or on the same scale as developed States.” If the standards of those responsibilities varied according to the capabilities of states, the Nauru delegation wrote, both poor and rich countries could have their chance to exploit the valuable metals locked in the deep sea.

“Poorer, less developed states, it was argued, would have to do less by way of supervision because they lacked greater resources and capacity,” says Don Anton, who was legal counsel to the tribunal during the decision on behalf of the IUCN, the global conservation authority.

The tribunal, issuing a final court opinion the next year, disagreed. Each state that sponsored a deep-sea miner would be required to uphold the same standards of due diligence and measures that “ensure compliance.” Legal experts generally regarded the decision well, because it prevented contractors from seeking sponsorships with states that placed lower requirements on their activities. However, according to Anton, the decision meant that countries with limited budgets like Nauru have only two choices when they consider deep-sea mining: either sponsor a contractor entirely, or avoid the business altogether.

According to the tribunal’s decision, “you cannot excuse yourself as a sponsoring state by referring to your limited financial or administrative capacity,” says Isabel Feichtner, a law professor at the University of Würzburg in Germany. “And that of course raises the question: To what extent can a small developing state really control a contractor who might just have an office in that state?”

Nauru had just begun sponsoring a private company to explore the mineral riches at the bottom of the sea Clarion-Clipperton Zone. Nauru Ocean Resources Inc. (NORI), initially a subsidiary of Canada-based Nautilus Minerals, transferred its ownership to two Nauru foundations while the founder of Nautilus remained on NORI’s board. As a developing state, Nauru said, this kind of public-private partnership was the only way that it could join mineral exploration.

Nauru discussed the tribunal’s decision behind closed doors, according to a top official  there at the time, and the government sought no independent consultation, hearing only guidance from Nautilus. Two months after the tribunal gave its opinion, Nauru officially agreed to sponsor NORI.


After the tribunal’s decision, the European Union recognized that writing the world’s first deep-sea mining rules to govern companies thousands of miles away would be a tall order for countries with little capacity to conduct research.

The EU, whose member states also sponsor mining exploration, began in 2011 a 4.4 million euro ($5.1 million) project to help Pacific island states develop mining codes. However, by 2018, when most states had finished drafting national regulations, the Pacific Network on Globalization (PANG) found that the mining codes did “not sufficiently safeguard the rights of indigenous peoples or protect the environment in line with international law.” In addition, in some cases countries enacted legislation before civil society actors were aware that there was legislation, says PANG executive director Maureen Penjueli.

“In our region, most of our legislation assumes impact is very small, so there’s no reason to consult widely,” she says. “We found in most legislations is that it is assumed it’s only where mining takes place, not where impacts are felt.”

For Kara, mining laws are one thing, but enforcement is another. Sponsoring states must have “effective control” over the companies they sponsor, according to mineral exploration rules, but the ISA has not explicitly defined what that means. For example, the exploration contract for Tonga Offshore Mining Limited (TOML) says that if “control” changes, it must find a new sponsoring state. When DeepGreen acquired TOML in early 2020 after Nautilus filed for bankruptcy, the ISA said the Tongan government allowed the transfer and reevaluating the company’s background was not required.

Kara questions whether Tonga can adequately control TOML, its management, and its activities. TOML is registered in Tonga, but its management consists of Australian and Canadian employees of DeepGreen. It is owned by the Canadian company. Since DeepGreen acquired TOML, the only Tongan national in the company is no longer listed in a management role.

“It’s not enough to be incorporated in the sponsoring state. The sponsoring state must also be able to control the contractor and that raises the question as to the capacity to control,” Feichtner says.

When Kara’s Civil Society Forum of Tonga and others wrote to the ISA, they argued Canada should be the state sponsor of TOML, considering TOML is owned by a Canadian firm. In response, the ISA wrote that the Tongan government “has no objection” to the management changes, so no change was needed.

“Of all the work they’re doing in the area, I don’t know whether there’s any Tongan sitting there, doing the so-called validation and ascertaining what they do. We’re taking all of this at face value,” Kara says. With few resources to track down people who live in Canada or Australia, Kara is worried that Tonga will not be able to hold foreign individuals accountable for problems that may arise.

In merging with a U.S.-based company, DeepGreen became The Metals Company and will be responsible to shareholders in the U.S. The U.S., however, has not signed on to the U.N. convention that guides the ISA, and as such is not bound by ISA regulations, the only authority governing mining in the high seas.

“What I think is pretty clear is that ‘effective control’ means economic, not regulatory, control,” says Duncan Currie, a lawyer who advises conservation groups on ocean law. “So wherever it is, it’s not in Tonga.”

The risks

On Sept. 7, Tonga’s delegation to the IUCN’s global conservation summit in France joined 80% of government agencies that voted for a motion calling for a moratorium on deep-sea mining until more was known about the impacts and implications of policies.

“As a scientist, I am heartened by their decision,” says Douglas McCauley a professor of ocean science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “The passage of this motion acknowledges research from scientists around the world showing that ocean mining is simply too risky a proposition for the planet and people.”

Tonga’s government continues to sponsor an exploration permit for TOML. According to the latest information, Tonga and TOML have agreed that the company will pay $1.25 in royalties for every ton of nodules mined. That may amount to just 0.16% of the value of the activities the country sponsors, according to scenarios presented to the ISA by a group from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Royalties paid to the ISA and then distributed to countries may be around $100,000.

Nauru’s contract with NORI stipulates that the company is not required to pay income tax. DeepGreen has reported in filings to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that royalties will not be finalized until the ISA completes the exploitation code. With the two-year rule, NORI plans to apply for a mining permit, regardless of when the code is written.

“The only substantial economic benefit [Nauru] might derive is from royalty payments, and these are not even specified yet. and on the other hand, it potentially incurs this huge liability if something goes wrong,” Feichtner says.

Like NORI, TOML began its life as a subsidiary of Nautilus minerals, one of the world’s first deep-sea miners. Just before Nautilus’s project in Papua New Guinea’s waters failed and left the country $157 million in debt, its shareholders created DeepGreen.

“I am afraid that Tonga will be another Papua New Guinea,” Kara says. “If they start mining and something happens out there, we don’t have the resources, the expertise, because we need to validate what they’re doing.”

DeepGreen has said it is giving “developing” states like Tonga the opportunity to benefit from seabed mining without shouldering the commercial and technical risk. DeepGreen did not respond to Mongabay’s requests for comment.

“I’m still trying to figure out their angle. Personally, I think DeepGreen is using Pacific islanders to hype their image. I’m still thinking that we were never really the target. The shareholders have always been their target,” Kara says.

She says she doubts the minerals at the bottom of the ocean are needed for the world to transition away from fossil fuels. In a letter to a Tongan newspaper, Kara wrote, “Deep-sea mining is a relic, left over from the extractive economic approaches of the ’60s and ’70s. It has no place in this modern age of a sustainable blue economy. As Pacific Islanders already know — and science is just starting to learn — the deep ocean is connected to shallower waters and the coral reefs and lagoons. What happens in the deep doesn’t stay in the deep.”

Solving for the wrong variable

Solving for the wrong variable

This is an excerpt from the book Bright Green Lies, P. 20 ff

By Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith and Max Wilbert

What this adds up to should be clear enough, yet many people who should know better choose not to see it. This is business-as- usual: the expansive, colonizing, progressive human narrative, shorn only of the carbon. It is the latest phase of our careless, self-absorbed, ambition-addled destruction of the wild, the unpolluted, and the nonhuman. It is the mass destruction of the world’s remaining wild places in order to feed the human economy. And without any sense of irony, people are calling this “environmentalism.1 —PAUL KINGSNORTH

Once upon a time, environmentalism was about saving wild beings and wild places from destruction. “The beauty of the living world I was trying to save has always been uppermost in my mind,” Rachel Carson wrote to a friend as she finished the manuscript that would become Silent Spring. “That, and anger at the senseless, brutish things that were being done.”2 She wrote with unapologetic reverence of “the oak and maple and birch” in autumn, the foxes in the morning mist, the cool streams and the shady ponds, and, of course, the birds: “In the mornings, which had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, and wrens, and scores of other bird voices, there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marshes.”3 Her editor noted that Silent Spring required a “sense of almost religious dedication” as well as “extraordinary courage.”4 Carson knew the chemical industry would come after her, and come it did, in attacks as “bitter and unscrupulous as anything of the sort since the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species a century before.”5 Seriously ill with the cancer that would kill her, Carson fought back in defense of the living world, testifying with calm fortitude before President John F. Kennedy’s Science Advisory Committee and the U.S. Senate. She did these things because she had to. “There would be no peace for me,” she wrote to a friend, “if I kept silent.”6

Carson’s work inspired the grassroots environmental movement; the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); and the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Silent Spring was more than a critique of pesticides—it was a clarion call against “the basic irresponsibility of an industrialized, technological society toward the natural world.”7 Today’s environmental movement stands upon the shoulders of giants, but something has gone terribly wrong with it. Carson didn’t save the birds from DDT so that her legatees could blithely offer them up to wind turbines. We are writing this book because we want our environmental movement back.

Mainstream environmentalists now overwhelmingly prioritize saving industrial civilization over saving life on the planet. The how and the why of this institutional capture is the subject for another book, but the capture is near total. For example, Lester Brown, founder of the Worldwatch Institute and Earth Policy Institute—someone who has been labeled as “one of the world’s most influential thinkers” and “the guru of the environmental movement”8—routinely makes comments like, “We talk about saving the planet.… But the planet’s going to be around for a while. The question is, can we save civilization? That’s what’s at stake now, and I don’t think we’ve yet realized it.” Brown wrote this in an article entitled “The Race to Save Civilization.”9

The world is being killed because of civilization, yet what Brown says is at stake, and what he’s racing to save, is precisely the social structure causing the harm: civilization. Not saving salmon. Not monarch butterflies. Not oceans. Not the planet. Saving civilization. Brown is not alone. Peter Kareiva, chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy, more or less constantly pushes the line that “Instead of pursuing the protection of biodiversity for biodiversity’s sake, a new conservation should seek to enhance those natural systems that benefit the widest number of [human] people…. Conservation will measure its achievement in large part by its relevance to [human] people.”10 Bill McKibben, who works tirelessly and selflessly to raise awareness about global warming, and who has been called “probably America’s most important environmentalist,” constantly stresses his work is about saving civilization, with articles like “Civilization’s Last Chance,”11 or with quotes like, “We’re losing the fight, badly and quickly—losing it because, most of all, we remain in denial about the peril that human civilization is in.”12

We’ll bet you that polar bears, walruses, and glaciers would have preferred that sentence ended a different way.

In 2014 the Environmental Laureates’ Declaration on Climate Change was signed by “160 leading environmentalists from 44 countries” who were “calling on the world’s foundations and philanthropies to take a stand against global warming.” Why did they take this stand? Because global warming “threatens to cause the very fabric of civilization to crash.” The declaration con- cludes: “We, 160 winners of the world’s environmental prizes, call on foundations and philanthropists everywhere to deploy their endowments urgently in the effort to save civilization.”13

Coral reefs, emperor penguins, and Joshua trees probably wish that sentence would have ended differently. The entire declaration, signed by “160 winners of the world’s environmental prizes,” never once mentions harm to the natural world. In fact, it never mentions the natural world at all.

Are leatherback turtles, American pikas, and flying foxes “abstract ecological issues,” or are they our kin, each imbued with their own “wild and precious life”?14 Wes Stephenson, yet another climate activist, has this to say: “I’m not an environmentalist. Most of the people in the climate movement that I know are not environmentalists. They are young people who didn’t necessarily come up through the environmental movement, so they don’t think of themselves as environmentalists. They think of themselves as climate activists and as human rights activists. The terms ‘environment’ and ‘environmentalism’ carry baggage historically and culturally. It has been more about protecting the natural world, protecting other species, and conservation of wild places than it has been about the welfare of human beings. I come at from the opposite direction. It’s first and foremost about human beings.”15

Note that Stephenson calls “protecting the natural world, protecting other species, and conservation of wild places” baggage. Naomi Klein states explicitly in the film This Changes Everything: “I’ve been to more climate rallies than I can count, but the polar bears? They still don’t do it for me. I wish them well, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that stopping climate change isn’t really about them, it’s about us.”

And finally, Kumi Naidoo, former head of Greenpeace International, says: “The struggle has never been about saving the planet. The planet does not need saving.”16 When Naidoo said that, in December 2015, it was 50 degrees Fahrenheit at the North Pole, much warmer than normal, far above freezing in the middle of winter.


1 Paul Kingsnorth, “Confessions of a recovering environmentalist,” Orion Magazine, December 23, 2011.

2 Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publishing, 1962), 9.

3 Ibid, 10.

4 Ibid, 8.

5 Ibid, 8.

6 Ibid, 8.

7 Ibid, 8.

8 “Biography of Lester Brown,” Earth Policy Institute.

9 Lester Brown, “The Race to Save Civilization,” Tikkun, September/October 2010, 25(5): 58.

10 Peter Kareiva, Michelle Marvier, and Robert Lalasz, “Conservation in the Anthropocene: Beyond Solitude and Fragility,” Breakthrough Journal, Winter 2012.

11 Bill McKibben, “Civilization’s Last Chance,” Los Angeles Times, May 11, 2008.

12 Bill McKibben, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” Rolling Stone, August 2, 2012.

13 “Environmental Laureates’ Declaration on Climate Change,” European Environment Foundation, September 15, 2014. It shouldn’t surprise us that the person behind this declaration is a solar energy entrepreneur. It probably also shouldn’t surprise us that he’s begging for money.

14 “Wild and precious life” is from Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day.” House of Light (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1992).

15 Gabrielle Gurley, “From journalist to climate crusader: Wen Stephenson moves to the front lines of climate movement,” Commonwealth: Politics, Ideas & Civic Life in Massachusetts, November 10, 2015.

16 Emma Howard and John Vidal, “Kumi Naidoo: The Struggle Has Never Been About Saving the Planet,” The Guardian, December 30, 2015.

Experts see no way back for NZ firm blocked from trying to mine the seabed

Experts see no way back for NZ firm blocked from trying to mine the seabed

This story first appeared in Mongabay.

By  Elizabeth Claire Alberts

  • The New Zealand Supreme Court recently blocked consent for a seabed mining operation that would annually extract 50 million tons of iron ore from the seabed off the coast of South Taranaki.
  • Environmentalists see this decision as a clear victory, but the mining company has stated its intention to reapply for mining permission.
  • But experts say it’s unlikely the company, Trans-Tasman Resources Limited (TTR), will be able to regain consent due to fundamental issues with its application, such as the distinct lack of baseline studies on resident marine life and the potential impacts of mining.
  • Conservationists say seabed mining in this part of New Zealand would cause irreversible damage to the ecosystem and threaten many rare and endangered species.

Conservationists have expressed hope that a New Zealand company whose bid to mine the seabed was blocked by the country’s highest court last month has little chance of winning approval.

The Supreme Court of New Zealand ruled unanimously on Sept. 30 to block consent for the mining operation that would extract millions of tons of iron ore from the seabed off the coast of South Taranaki on the nation’s North Island. Experts say that the decision was primarily based on the finding that mining company Trans-Tasman Resources Limited (TTR) could not illustrate that its activities would not cause “material harm” to the environment.

While TTR seems confident that it will be able to reapply for mining consent, conservationists who have spent years campaigning against seabed mining in New Zealand say the company will not find an easy path due to fundamental issues in its application. For instance, they point out that TTR’s most recent application lacked studies about resident marine life and the impacts of mining on species and the overall ecosystem.

“The company hadn’t done its homework,” Cindy Baxter, chair of Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM), one group that opposed the mining application, told Mongabay in an interview. “It didn’t even have baseline data for where it wanted to mine, so no one can even measure what the [impacts] would be if it went ahead.”

Duncan Currie, an international environmental lawyer who acted as counsel to KASM and Greenpeace Aotearoa, said it would be “extremely difficult” for TTR to get its application reapproved due to this lack of baseline data. He added that researching to obtain this data would be like “throwing the money away” since it would still be unlikely for TTR to prove that mining would not cause material harm to marine life.

South Taranaki coast near Patea, New Zealand. Image by Phillip Capper / Flickr.

TTR’s application proposed to extract 50 million tons of iron-rich sand from a 66 -square -kilometer (23-square-mile) area of the seabed each year over a period of 35 years. But it would take just take 5 million tons of iron-ore each year and dump the remaining 45 million tons of sand back into the ocean.

Conservationists say the mining would have caused irreversible damage to the environment by smothering sensitive rocky coral reef systems with sediment plumes. Mining residue and noise pollution could also threaten the survival of many species, including New Zealand’s little blue penguins (Eudyptula minor) and critically endangered Māui dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori maui), experts say. The region has also recently been recognized as a foraging ground for a newly identified population of pygmy blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda).

In the lead-up to the Supreme Court decision, there were weeks of hearings and submissions by conservation groups such as KASM and Greenpeace Aotearoa, iwi (Maori tribes), independent scientists and even the fishing industry.

“I’ve campaigned on bottom trawling, and there we were hand in hand with the fishing industry,” Baxter said. “But the fishing industry can see the potential impact to their business … and I think we won really in the process because our environmental arguments were so strong.”

In 2017, New Zealand’s Environmental Protection Agency granted TTR consent on its application to mine the seabed off the coast of South Taranaki. But in 2018, New Zealand’s high court reversed the EPA’s decision. TTR then made an appeal to New Zealand’s court of appeals, but the company was not successful.

“What was interesting there is that the [decision-making] committee specifically said in the recommendation [for the first application] that the applicant should go back and do some of these studies because basically, they hadn’t done [them],” Duncan said. TTR’s latest application still lacked these baseline studies, but did include “new plume modeling,” according to Duncan.

The new plume modeling suggested that the sediment would not cause as much harm to the marine environment as previously thought. Yet Phil McCabe, the Pacific liaison for the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, told Mongabay that the modeling was “questionable.”

TTR did not respond to Mongabay’s request for comment. But in a statement published shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision, Alan J. Eggers, executive chairman of TTR, said the company was “satisfied” with the court’s decision since it would have the opportunity to reapply.

If TTR does resubmit an application for mining, Baxter said, it will face the same opposition from environmental groups, scientists, iwi and the fishing industry.

“We’re not going to go away,” she said. “We’re not going to suddenly give up and not bother to oppose any application. We’re going to be there every single step of the way.”

McCabe said a way to ensure that deep-sea mining will not occur in the future is for New Zealand to enact a total ban on the activity.

“The world views us as a country that has a pretty strong moral compass for the environment,” McCabe said. “So I think it’s appropriate for us to stand in place of caution on this issue.

Only a few other nations have pursued plans to allow seabed mining within their territorial waters, although none of these ventures have been allowed to proceed due to environmental concerns. For instance, in 2018, the Mexican government rejected a permit for Exploraciones Oceanicas, a subsidiary of U.S.-based Odyssey Marine Exploration, to start mining for phosphate in the seabed of Mexico’s exclusive economic zone, due to the damage it could cause to habitat for loggerhead turtles, gray whales and humpback whales, as well as local fishing grounds. And in Namibia, the high court recently found the company Namibian Marine Phosphate in breach of its license when it conducted trial mining, which put a halt to its activities.

In 2019, the now-defunct company Nautilus received the first ever license to begin seabed mining in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and started exploratory drilling near a network of hydrothermal vents. But before Nautilus could start extracting any minerals, the company went bankrupt, leaving the PNG government with millions of dollars of debt and the local marine environment severely damaged. David Heydon, the former CEO of Nautilus, went on to found Canada-based company DeepGreen, which recently became The Metals Company when it merged with NASDAQ-listed Sustainable Opportunities Acquisition Corporation.

While seabed mining in nations’ territorial waters faces delays, there is a move to start mining in international waters within the next two years. The Pacific island nation of Nauru, which sponsors the Nauru Ocean Resources Inc. (NORI), a subsidiary of The Metals Company, recently triggered a “two-year rule” that would require the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the U.N.-mandated body overseeing seabed mining in international waters, to allow mining to commence with whatever rules and regulations are in place by then.

There is considerable opposition to deep-sea mining in international waters from scientists, conservationists, governments and civil society. At last month’s congress of global conservation authority the IUCN in Marseille, France, delegates voted overwhelmingly in support of a motion that called for a moratorium on deep-sea mining and the reform of the ISA. Government agencies from 37 states voted in favor of the motion, including Germany, a sponsoring state for a deep-sea mining company.

“There’s a number of things that are stacking up in favor of a moratorium,” McCabe said. “And this New Zealand case is another solid, concrete example of this activity being shown to be too destructive.”

Elizabeth Claire Alberts is a staff writer for Mongabay. Follow her on Twitter @ECAlberts.