For a ship designed to drag rigs of oil out to sea, the valuable cargo on the ship anchored in the San Diego Bay was surprisingly modest. Thousands of kilometers into the Pacific, machines linked to this huge ship had lifted boulders the proportion of a child’s fist of the ocean floor. The expedition was delicate and contentious, with far-reaching consequences for the planet.

Investors are investing millions of dollars that tiny black nodules packed with the metals utilized in electric vehicle batteries are the key for the US to reclaim green economic supremacy — and keep up with a worldwide transportation revolution initiated by California. Gerard Barron, CEO of the Metals Co., stood alongside his docked ship, holding one of the nodules he claims can help save the earth. “We must be courageous, and we must be willing to explore new frontiers,” he remarked. “Climate change isn’t going to wait for us to sort it out.”

Oceanographers and campaigners are concerned about the speed with which his firm and several others are pushing to begin scraping the bottom for these elements, warning that they are entering uncharted territory. There’s a lot we don’t know about existence on a deep sea floor, and sucking large sections of it clean could have unanticipated and far-reaching implications. The deep-sea drama is just one act in a fast-moving, ethically demanding, and economically complex argument that spans the globe, from Congo’s cobalt mines to the Biden White House corridors to delicate desert habitats throughout the West where massive reserves of lithium lie beneath the ground.

This drama is inextricably linked to the state of California. Not only because extraction corporations are scouring the state’s landscapes for chances to mine and extract the resources, but also because the state’s economy is booming. However, California is at the forefront of the electric vehicle revolution. California has exported additional policy innovations than any other state, including on the environment, equity, and the economy, a trend that is expected to continue under the Biden administration. The state enjoys its role as the country’s think tank, even if the path it designs for the country has occasionally taken unexpected turns.

Of the plans to scrape the bottom, a marine science professor at the UC Santa Barbara, Douglas McCauley, said, “The ocean is the place on the globe where we know the least about what organisms exist and how they function.” “It’s like unwrapping Pandora’s box…. We’re concerned that while this won’t help with climate change, it will have irrevocable consequences for the ocean.”

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