Water Pollution

Key Facts

  • "Water supplies are falling while the demand is dramatically growing at an unsustainable rate [, and] over the next 20 years, the average supply of water worldwide per person is expected to drop by a third. Over 1.5 billion people lack ready access to drinking water and, if current consumption patterns continue, at least 3.5 billion people — nearly half the world’s projected population — will live in water-stressed river basins in just 20 years.”( Water Facts 1).
  • "Asian rivers are the most polluted in the world, with three times as many bacteria from human waste as the global average. These rivers have 20 times more lead than those of industrialized countries"( Water Facts 1).
  • "Water is becoming scarce due to higher pollution levels and habitat degradation. Contamination denies as many as 3.3 billion people access to clean water supplies. In developing countries, an estimated 90% of wastewater is discharged directly into rivers and streams without treatment. Each year there are about 250 million cases of water-related diseases, with roughly 5 to 10 million deaths"(Water Facts 1).
  • “One liter of wastewater pollutes about eight liters of freshwater. An estimated 12,000 km3 of polluted water worldwide, which is more than the total amount contained in the world’s ten largest river basins at any given moment. Therefore, if pollution keeps pace with population growth, the world will effectively lose 18,000 km3 of freshwater by 2050 – almost nine times the total amount countries currently use each year for irrigation, which is by far the largest consumer of the resource” (Water Facts 1).

What is Water Pollution?

Water pollution contributes to the addition of pollutants or foreign substances to the water resources on earth. These contaminants have a detrimental effect on water quality as well as the harmful effects it can have on aquatic life and all living things. Pollution can be introduced to water from both point sources and diffuse sources. Point source pollution reaches a waterway at a localized area like a pipe discharge of man-made industrial waste and domestic sewage, while diffuse pollution takes place when impure and even natural substances seep into groundwater and surface water because of rainfall, runoff, soil erosion and soil infiltration. Point source pollution is a type of pollution that we are more directly capable of preventing, unlike diffuse pollution which we indirectly introduce into our environment. Our blatant ignorance and lack of concern is what keeps point source pollution from subsiding.

There are many different types of water pollution and all have different damaging effects on the environment. Though ethically it does not matter how the organisms die it just matters that they are dying and it is a direct result of human action. Heavy metals from industrial processes and other industrial waste can accumulate in nearby waterways. The toxins are stored in the fatty tissue of marine life such as fish and shellfish, and are then transferred to the rest of the food chain. Some of these toxins can also have detrimental repercussions on or completely hinder the reproductive success of marine life. Microbial pollutants from our sewage can introduce many infectious diseases that spread throughout the aquatic life and earthbound creatures by water. They can be responsible for an increase in the death toll of many species within the environment. Likewise, acid rain introduces sulfate particles into the water that can lower the pH causing it to be more acidic causing increase in the mortality rate. Organic matter and other nutrients cause an influx of algae that depletes the amount of oxygen within the water column. This phenomenon is eutrophication and can suffocate all oxygen-relying aquatic life. Finally, particles suspended within the water column can disrupt the photosynthetic process of many plants and other similar organisms by decreasing the amount of sunlight filtering through the water.

Ethical Approaches


Ecofeminists have come up with multiple approaches for understanding the current global state including the polluted waterways. Similarly, all ecofeminist theories agree that underlying factor is the separation of culture from nature. But how did this happen? Many ecofeminists, like Carolyn Merchant, believe the separation is due to the scientific revolution. “Where nature was previously seen as alive, with the scientific revolution, and most notably the works of Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes, nature was increasingly viewed as a machine which could be analyzed, experimented with, and understood through reason” (Light and Holmes 277). Because the scientific revolution viewed nature as solely extrinsic, animals were no longer seen as sentient beings but instead components of a well-fashioned machine or on a smaller scale the machine itself . So the utilization and destruction of our creatures and ecosystems is “not considered to be unethical, but rather a judicious use of resources” (Light and Holmes 278). The idea of using our planet as a machine or a tool explains the large dumps, the logging sites, and mining sites. Waterways are seen as a tool to diminish our waste (out of sight out of mind). By doing these things, we are producing resources and reducing waste which benefits our consumer society. We are fulfilling our needs and wants from “nonliving” things that are here for our disposal so there is no longer a personal or emotional connection with the natural world, and as long as this continues we will never be able to take the necessary steps to culturally change.

Other ecofeminists feel the separation occurred in historic times when people made a religious transition. They feel the worship of goddesses promoted the concept that nature and fertility were sacred which conveyed the idea that nature and men were equal. Soon men worshipped the “sky god” and nature was his creation. The role of the male was then elevated above all else creating a hierarchy with nature at the bottom. The hierarchy separated culture from nature. Nature is then viewed as beneath man and considered the male’s creation so they do with it as they please. If it’s convenient to just dump your waste in a lake, its ok, we are above nature.

Personal Thoughts:

Ecofeminists address a good point that the underlying factor which causes a lack of concern for the environment is that of separation of culture from nature whether it is due to the scientific revolution or the development of an anthropocentric hierarchy. Yet regardless, their explanations for how the problem arose to begin with are far-fetched and not current in understanding this modern society. The development of our environmental crisis is way more complex than the adverse male reactions to movements like the scientific revolution and the development of a singular god. Each may play a role in thoroughly understanding our environmental circumstances, but our impact grows substantially everyday bringing about new problems and new demands of an ever-changing civilization. Furthermore, these two approaches failed to include a way to fix the problem. Identifying the problem is only the first step. How can the effects of these “awful” males be reversed?


Anthropocentrism is believed by many to be that main problem in environmental ethics and the root cause behind our ecological problems. Anthropocentrism is the belief that humans are the single most important entity on earth and that our needs out weight all others (Harris). Many defend the concept of anthropocentrism and state that the health and sustainability of our environment is very important for human well-being and survival, yet we still keep destroying our planet. We do have concern for our well-being, but it is only our well-being and at that very moment. It is apparent that we do not care for our future generations and continue to pollute our ecosystems, thus reducing our resources such as fresh water. In order for the concept to be beneficial for our environment we will have to alter our definition of well-being and focus sustaining our resources or the consequences could be devastating.

Care Ethics

Care ethics is an animal ethic based upon emotional feeling specifically sympathy discussed by Josephine Donovan. Instead of promoting Kant’s Ideal of rationality (Deontological Ethics) which states that animals deserve respect because they are rational beings, she feels the road to morality and justice is through empathy and sympathy. She states that sympathy “involves an exercise of the moral imagination, an intense attentiveness to another’s reality, which requires strong powers of observation and concentration, as well as facilities of evaluation and judgment. It is a matter of trying to fairly see another’s world, to understand what another’s experience is” (Fellenz 177). Through understanding comes greater value.

The basic concept is trying to see things from another’s perspective or placing your self in their shoes. John A. Fisher, stated it perfectly, “a sympathetic imaginative construction of another’s reality is what is required for an appropriate moral response” (Fellenz 179). By sympathizing with the animal or aquatic creature one is more inclined to treat them with respect and less likely to pollute its home because we would not want that for ourselves. This goes to show that bonding with our natural world can ultimately lead to an active role in protecting our environment because it is instinctive to protect something you care about. By becoming aware of an animals plights and emotions, you create a personal attachment to animal, thus seeing them as something more than a beneficial resource rather a creature just like yourself. “The organism [then] comes to mean something to one as unique [and] irreplaceable [as an] individual" (Fellenz 191).

However, Mercer, another who believes in care ethics, claims that “‘sympathy’ has regard for ‘the other’ solely in respect for his capacity to feel and to suffer… the sympathetic agent must be a ‘thinking and feeling being’ and the object of sympathy must be ‘at least a feeling being’” (Fellenz 183). Mercer’s concept seems to differentiate animals and humans based upon rational abilities thus emphasizing a gap between animals and humans. Though animals’ capability of rational thought and emotion is controversial, it is impossible to argue that they cannot feel pain, so Mercer is still inclined to feel sympathy towards creatures in a sense closing the gap he seeks to create. Further, it completely disregards the flora aspects of the environment and only allows us to feel sympathy for feeling beings or animals.

Personal Thoughts:

Though I still feel that care ethics are the most practical way to slowly diminish the pollution for not just our waterways but also our earth. The justification for not polluting our waterways is that it will kill the organisms living there with feelings just like us. People are more inclined to take action when feelings are involved so care ethics would be the most successful approach. An appeal to a person’s emotions is usually more effective than appealing to an individual’s reason or morality, so an emotional approach seems the most practical. It is the only ethical approach that placed hope on our continually growing environmental disaster and proposed a way to fix it!

For more information or to connect to a page click: Terms Defined


"The Effect of Water Pollution on the Environment." Guide to Water Pollution. Web. 15 Apr. 2010. <http://www.water-pollution.org.uk/environment.html>.

Fellenz, Marc R. The Moral Menagerie: Philosophy and Animal Rights. Urbana: University of Illinois, 2007. Print.

Harris, Adrian. "Anthropocentrism." The Green Fuse Glossary. Web. 7 May 2010. <http://www.thegreenfuse.org/glossary.htm>.

Light, Andrew, and Holmes Rolston. Environmental Ethics: an Anthology. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2003. Print.

"Sources of Pollution - Diffuse Pollution." Www.euwfd.com. The Foundation for Water Research. Web. 15 Apr. 2010. <http://www.euwfd.com/html/sources_of_pollution_-_diffuse.html>.

"WATER FACTS AND FIGURES." Assets.panda.org. World Wildlife Fund International. Web. 15 Apr. 2010. <http://assets.panda.org/downloads/world waterforumwaterfacts.pdf>.

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