While the idea of extracting deep-seabed resources dates back to as early as the 1960s, it remained pure fiction for decades due to limited technical possibilities and prohibitive costs. In recent years, against the backdrop of changing technical possibilities and a persistently high demand for raw materials, deep-seabed mining (DSM) has returned to the international political agenda. While numerous fact-finding missions engage in mapping the ocean's resources and public–private partnerships prepare to make an active engagement in mining the seabed, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) is entrusted with the development of a legal framework for possible future mining in accordance with the requirements defined under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The preparations for DSM are accompanied and ultimately shaped by a discourse on possible opportunities and risks of mining the deep seabed. The paper at hand traces dominant discursive positions and their narrative structures as a way of explaining the relative success or failure of DSM proponents who speak in favor of mining the seabed and DSM critics who warn against its striking environmental impacts and inestimable risks. We proceed from the observation that the historic discourse on the deep sea beyond national jurisdiction was rooted in what we call “narratives of promise” regarding global procedural and distributive justice, environmental health, and peaceful international cooperation. Our findings show how in today's debates the theme of global marine justice, which dominated the historic DSM discourse, is close to a “nonstory”. DSM is commonly narrated as a merely technocratic and apolitical process that appears to be free of social and environmental conflict. We conclude by arguing that to arrive at more successful critical narratives on DSM will require more pronounced depictions of the negative consequences in particular for humans, exposing the “politics” in DSM policy making and developing more competitive stories on alternatives to DSM.
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Schmidt, O., & Rivera, M. (2020). No people, no problem. Narrativity, conflict, and justice in debates on deep-seabed mining. Geographica Helvetica, 75(2), 139-150. doi:10.5194/gh-75-139-2020.
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