Friday, May 15, 2009

In Case You Wondered What Ever Happened to the Seaquest Version of the Future . . . (Ocean Mining)

In case you've ever wondered what ever happened to the Seaquest version of the future (in which the oceans of 2018 were thoroughly colonized), The Economist has just published an article on the state and prospects of ocean mining.

The oil and gas industry, of course, is very active here, but this significant case (and De Beers's scooping up of fairly accessible diamonds off the coast of southwestern Africa) apart, such thinking largely vanished with the '70s.

The article's author isn't predicting a boom right over the horizon, despite interest from companies like Canada's Nautilus Minerals and Australia's Neptune Minerals (and from Russia and China).

Just going by the "big picture" of the world economy, this seems reasonable enough. From the standpoint of the theory of economic "long waves," the slow-growing downward trough in the wave (where we've been since the early '70s) tends to see business favoring "conservative" approaches. Debt-ridden corporations led by "short-termist" management (also the pattern since the '70s) also happen to be an unlikely source of dramatic innovation, especially in a moment like this one, with demand for everything down and the outlook precarious. And the present combination of alternative (e.g. land-based) supplies and the state of the technological art in the field presents little incentive to companies to break with that practice in a rush for the oceans.

Given the complications that might ensue, from international clashes over maritime claims to untoward ecological consequences, it might be just as well that the issue is being deferred to the future. As it is, the path to a viable economic future likely lies more in a more efficient (and sustainable) use of the natural resources already available than a grab for more.

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