Environmental Ethics of Chlorine in the Marine Biome

- Jayapaul Azariah, Ph.D.
Director, School of Life Sciences,
University of Madras \ Guindy Campus, Chennai 600 025, India
Email: jazariah@md3.vsnl.net.in

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 10 (2000), 81-82.

The editorial entitled " Ethics and eco-ethics" (Kinne 1997) is timely. The question that is raised " Have ecologists nothing to say about ethics?" is a very pertinent question for the coming millennium. Ecologists (should) have the final word in any ecosystem since it is the very life support system with which we are concerned. The Greek word OIKOS is the root word for the following three major disciplines: Ecology (bookkeeping of energy), Economics (bookkeeping of currency) (Odum 1971), and Ecumenics (bookkeeping of human love) and these three disciplines interact to make the system a functional whole (Azariah 1991a). In India, it is generally said that economists plan for a five year period by proposing their five year economic plans, but ecologists plan for one hundred years!!

Modern science considers the oceans and oceanic wealth as natural resources. In fact in both Tamil and German languages there is no native word for "natural resource". In German the English word has been Germanized and in Tamil only a nearly equivalent word is available for use and these words have different meanings in themselves. In the first instance these Tamil equivalent word would mean natural innate ability for richness. The oceans have been over exploited, and their natural balance has been upset by the introduction of man-made harmful substances.

It must be understood that there is no development without destruction. That is to say, to construct a marine biological laboratory, one must decide how much of the natural coastal ecosystem can be destroyed to put up the new human developmental system. Secondly, development is one of the three triangles of health, the other two being physical environment and biological environment. All three affect the health of humans and the environment.

From time immemorial, theology has been the base for the development of ethics which is based on the authority of revelation (Kinne 1997), while philosophy (Love of wisdom), as we know it from the time of Socrates, is built on the authority of reason (Kinne 1997). Theology and philosophy are therefore, the two sides of the coin of ethics. Ethical perceptions began to change with the advancement of modern science. The biosphere was understood in terms of Natural History (prior to the 1800s). Natural history becomes ecology when 'how many' as well as 'what kinds' are considered (Odum 1971). Biology as a discipline was still dormant and did not really come to life until the 1830s and 1840s (Mayr 1988). With the publication of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species in 1859, the science of biology began to yield botany and zoology. The term ecology was coined in 1869 by the German biologist Ernst Haeckel (Odum 1971) who also introduced Darwin's work to the Germans (Hardin 1993), and the discipline economics was not so named until about half a century after Adam Smith's death in 1790 (Hardin 1993).

Ecology began to thrive with the advent of the industrial revolution. At this time the early prophet of ecology, Aldo Leopold (Azariah 1994), voiced his views and introduced the terms 'conservation ethics' (Leopold 1933) and 'land ethics' (Leopold 1949). Recently, the term Environmental Biology was introduced to include humans as a part of the ecological world. The ecological actions of human beings were detrimental to the ecosystems. As a result the phrase "environmental ethics" was introduced which is defined as the right and wrong in ecology. The right position tilts towards ecobalance while the wrong position tilts towards pollution. Ecologically the right position indicates the preservation of species diversity and sustaining productivity. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise (Leopold 1949). Leopold also stressed that it is our responsibility to maintain the health of an ecosystem. Essentially there are three approaches to the development of environmental ethics: they are Anthropocentric, Biocentric and Theocentric. The Anthropocentric approach is technology oriented, the Biocentric is Life oriented while the Theocentric has God/Divine spiritual orientation (Azariah 1998). Currently, the whole world in general is going towards anthropocentric approach, with western civilization moving particularly quick, while the East is losing its Biocentric and Theocentric moorings more gradually.

The year 1998 has been declared as the Year of the Ocean (United Nations, 1998) since signs of stress are already visible. The inherent aim of any marine ecosystem is to bring forth ecobalance but what is the aim of the marine scientists? Since 90% of the marine fishery yield is from the 10% of the coastal inshore waters we the marine scientists should evolve an action plan to restore ecobalance and relieve the current stress. In this paper, only one of the concerns which can serve as a basis for the formulation of such an aim on the health of the coastal zone is outlined. The concern is, How can we strike a balance between power (electric) production and the natural health of the oceans?

The above question was addressed by the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Pollution (GESAM 1984), with the publication of report No. 24 "Thermal discharges in the marine environment". According to the world list of power plants there are 433 nuclear power plants (with an additional 133 stations presently under construction). These power stations generate 463, 344 MWe electricity (George 1997). A modern conventional-1000 MW electricity generating station with once-through cooling, discharges to the marine environment approximately 30-60 m-3 s-1 (Whitehouse et al 1985).

The volume of sea water in all oceans is 1370.323 X 106 km3. The three major oceans have an individual break up volume of water as follows: Atlantic 354.679, Pacific 273.699, and Indian Ocean 291.945 X 106 km3 (Sverdrup et al 1961). If the world power requirement were only 1000 MWe, requiring 60 m-3 s-1 of coolant sea water for a once-through flow system, it would take about 724.2 yr for the entire volume of sea water of the globe to be chlorinated by a power plant. For a total of 433 units requiring 60 m-3 s-1 of coolant sea water then it will require just 2.096 yr for total chlorination. With the addition of another 133 units then it will take just 1.563 years for total chlorination. Furthermore, there are about SEVEN countries which have more than 20 power plant units each, with a total capacity of 269,055 MWe. This would require just 2.691 yr to chlorinate all the sea water on the planet. By 2002 AD, India will produce less than half of its total estimated power requirement of 57,734 MWe with nuclear power. With a growing demand for the global energy, it is likely that every 1.5 yr global sea water will be cumulatively chlorinated with the addition of about 62 million Kg of chlorine per year.

Although chlorination is commonly used in biofouling control in cooling systems, the by-products of chlorination, dihalomethane and trihalomethane (THMs) are carcinogenic promoters (Azariah 1991b, Azariah and Nair 1995). However, the exact metabolic pathway of chlorine in a marine ecosystem and its precise mode of action have not yet been understood. Furthermore, chlorinated drinking water also has its own load of THMs which will eventually find their way into the marine system (Rajan et al 1990). Therefore, such environmental loading of chlorine not only causes the elimination of non-target organisms but also causes much environmental damage. If there is a change in human lifestyle i.e. to power down the way we live to consume then that would serve as a break to halt total chaos in marine ecosystem? What is required is, simple living with high thinking. Therefore, any responsible marine scientist must stop and think whether the marine system can bear this type of lifestyle related environmental pollution load and still be healthy.

The health of the marine system can be assessed by three parameters: (1) The number of biological species component in the system. (2) System's ability to swing between the upper and lower limits of tolerances - the sigmoidal curve, yielding in the process, a condition of ecobalance and (3) The system should exhibit it's ability for creativity (Azariah 1994). Not long ago I was at the sea shore of Cuddalore, south of Chennai, which is one of red-areas in industrial pollution. I saw a woman collecting live Donax specimens in sizable numbers. I asked her why such a large number? She said " My husband is a fisherman and for three days he couldn't catch any fish". The fish yield of East coast has come down (This statement can be documented). The curriculum of Marine Biology should have a human welfare interest coupled with a deep concern for the health of the oceans. How to link human values with marine environmental values is a concern?

Poverty of the environment leads to poverty in people. Poverty stricken people will also contribute much to the poverty of the ecosystem. Muller-Hill (1993), pointing out " To understand how nature works provides deep pleasure, and to understand a beautiful detail that nobody else has ever understood provides ecstasy... Self-deceit is a very common trait... ". Religious values have been eroded, for he wrote " But I know pretty well that very few scientists read the Old Testament and know the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Laws. I know to say "Read the Old Testament' or 'respect the commandments' will result in laughter. So I have to retreat to my last line of defense and say: Listen carefully to your conscience! It is a voice that sometimes says: NO. It never says "YES"... This NO is the only break when all other breaks are gone. This voice can be silenced. Do not silence it." Realizing the pathetic state in which human civilization is in, Mayr (1988) wrote " We have just passed through a period in which exaggerated importance was placed on the so called freedom of the child, allowing him to develop his own goodness. We have made fun of the moralizing in children's book and have tended to remove all traces of moral education from the schools... In view of our better understanding of the origin of morality of the individual, would it not seem time to place greater stress on moral education?"

We need to reorient our marine science education with a moral content. Such a move will blend human curiosity "to understand how nature works" with human values. Concurrently it may also bring about a change in our current life style - a life style that consumes more electric energy than what is needed. In this context, a new " All India Bioethics Association (AIBA)" has been formed (1998). The first Indian book on "Bioethics in India" was published (Azariah et al 1998) and put in World Wide Web site <http://eubios.info/index.htm">. AIBA in India, in association with Eubios Ethics Institute of Japan, Centre for Asian and International Bioethics in Israel and Eco-Ethics Task Force" of Germany can organize eco-ethical and human value added workshops in marine ecology to blend philosophy, marine science and religion for the creation of a new base for achieving the health of the ecosytem/environment and human beings.


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