Deep Sea Uncertainty. Studies in Environmental Ethics and Decision-Making
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The Pilot Programme on Deep Sea Mining The research for this dissertation was conducted as part of an interdisciplinary research project at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), called the Pilot Programme on Deep Sea Mining (referred to hereafter as the Pilot).1 The Pilot is a collaboration between the Faculty of Humanities, the Faculty of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering, the Faculty of Engineering, and the Faculty of Natural Sciences. It is part of the NTNU strategic area NTNU Oceans and includes research in geology, geophysics, engineering, history, environmental studies and philosophy. An aim of the Pilot is to develop ‘new solutions for evaluation, exploration and extraction of sea-based minerals’. Moreover, the Pilot seeks to investigate impacts on the environment and society. The ‘ethics and social responsibility’ part of the project, which the current dissertation falls under, is meant to look at ‘normative questions involved in the development of new technology in general, and within deep sea mining in particular’. Deep sea mining, which is the process of retrieving mineral deposits from the deep sea, is not yet an established commercial practise. Why is it important to discuss it from an ethical point of view at this early stage? As pointed out by David Collingridge (1980), policy decisions about new technologies involve a dilemma. At an early stage of research and development of a new technology, we cannot know for certain what its most important impacts will be. Hence, we cannot know which ethical issues are most important to address, or even in some cases what the issues are. However, if we wait and see what the impacts are, it is often too late to do anything about them. For instance, at the dawn of the industrial revolution, no one foresaw the effects that the rise in greenhouse gas emissions from major industries would have on the global climate When scientists in the 20th century discovered the connection between anthropogenic emissions and climate change, however, some climate change was already underway and could not be stopped. The Pilot was formed on the background of the influential Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) paradigm for interdisciplinary research.2 A basic idea behind RRI is that when we inevitably encounter the quandary of Collingridge’s dilemma, it is best to err on the side of precaution: issues of ethical, social or political importance should be investigated and, if possible, addressed at an early stage in researching and developing new technologies, even if there is uncertainty about their impacts. This provides an important rationale for including research in philosophy and other humanistic and social science disciplines in predominantly technological projects such as the Pilot (Lucivero, Swierstra, and Boenink 2011). 1 Webpage: https://www.ntnu.edu/oceans/deep-sea-mining (accessed 01.04.2019). Quotations in this paragraph are from the webpage.