Six months ago the Antarctic Minerals Convention seemed assured of passage. The treaty, eight years in the making, proposed strict—and some say neatly impossible—environmental standards for oil and mineral prospecting in the Antarctic. But today many observers believe the measure is as good as dead. Australia, France, and several other countries have withdrawn their support of the pact under pressure from environmentalists, who fear that if a mechanism—no matter how rigorous—is created to allow mining, then mining will inevitably take place. The dissident nations now call for a total ban on mining and the conversion of the continent into a “wilderness park,” with a perpetual moratorium on mining or drilling for oil.

In Paris last month, at the annual meeting of the 22 nations that set Antarctic policy, supporters and opponents of the mining convention clashed early and often without resolving the issue. Underneath the political debate lay an important...

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!
Already a member?