Doing More Harm than Good

The term “natural resource” is associated with looking at nature from an economic perspective – exploitation, benefit and profit. This perspective lacks any ethical or moral point of view that will question our basic permission to use one resource or another. Instead this narrow economic perspective assumes that humans have the right and authority to use all the planet’s resources for their own needs.

The current condition of the Dead Sea is an example of the problem with a solely economic point of view on nature. The Dead Sea is shrinking – it has dropped by about 20 meters in the past 30 years and is now at 416 meters below sea level. The dramatically drop in the Dead Sea level was caused by reasons related to the use of water resources in the region. First, the amount of freshwater that fed the Dead Sea has declined considerably due to water pumping from the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River for human consumption. Second due to pumping large quantities of salt water from the Dead Sea itself by the Dead Sea Works Company for use in evaporation pools to produce minerals such as potash and bromide.

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The Dead Sea. Illustration by Med-Dead Cooperative Initiative.

The declining of Dead Sea water levels led to a separation between its southern, shallower, basin and its northern basin. Eventually leading to the southern basin drying up. The decline in water level in the northern basin of the Dead Sea has led to a decline in the levels of the fresh water aquifers under the Dead Sea. “As this fresh water diffuses into salt deposits beneath the surface of the shoreline, the water slowly dissolves the deposits until the earth above collapses without warning, creating sinkholes.”[1]

The Dead Sea reached its current state due to the short-term vision of the private water sector and the Dead Sea Works Company. No one had thought about the long-term implications of unsustainably using the Dead Sea’s natural resources, and as a result the entire ecosystem at the region is in danger.

In December 2013 representatives of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority have signed agreement to build the Red Sea – Dead Sea Canal in hope to save the Dead Sea from drying up. Under the agreement, a desalination plant will be build in Aqaba and water will be pumped from the Red Sea, some of which will be used by Israel and Jordan and the remaining will be pumped into the northern basin of the Dead Sea.

Though the Red Sea – Dead Sea Canal might sound like a good solution in reality it is nothing more than a weak attempt to promote peace in the region through economic and environmental cooperation. The canal will pump about 100 million cubic meters of water to the Dead Sea every year, whereas its level are going down by 1.6 billion cubic meters per year. Moreover, there is a real danger both the Dead Sea and the Red Sea ecosystems will be harmed, as the waters of the two seas are entirely different in their salinity.[2]

This is not the only time that a solution to a man-made environmental problem might have harmful implications on the environment. In last December the Trans-Israel crud oil pipeline burst in southern Israel. The Israeli Environmental Protection Ministry referred to the oil spill as “The worst pollution event in the history of Israel.” As the Trans-Israel oil pipeline burst millions of liters of crude oil were spilled over about seven kilometers into the Evrona Nature Reserve near Eilat. The Nature Reserve is home to a rare population of Doum Palm trees, Acacia trees, and Dorcas gazelles. It was estimated that rehabilitation of the reserve would take several months. But more concerning is that beside the immediate damaged cause by the spill, the cleanup efforts can lead to further damage to the reserve. Yehoshua Shkedi, the Chief Scientist of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, claims that cleaning all the oil isn’t as simple as it might seem. The acacia trees in the reserve feed from narrow flow channel. Letting tractors and trucks into the reserve to clean the ground might harm these delicate channels, and as a result affect trees that haven’t been directly harmed by the spill.[3]

Evrona Nature Reserve. Photo by The Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
Evrona Nature Reserve. Photo by EPA.

Recent research on the cleaning efforts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which occurred in 2010 at the Gulf of Mexico, Showed that chemical dispersant Corexit 9500A (CE), which was “used to break down the oil on the surface and to increase its degradability” can “increase gill epithelial edema and human epithelial monolayer permeability, suggesting an acute injury caused by CE exposure.”[4]

Those examples show that the environmental damage cause by exploiting natural resources is sometimes not fully reversible. Even our best attempts to fix the harm we done can compromise and damage other parts of the ecosystem. I believe that the problem lays in our basic economic centric point of view on nature. We need not just to fix the damage we caused to nature but also to fix our entire perspective of it. Maybe if we realize that nature and it so-called resources were not created solely for us we will think twice on how and to what extent we can use them.

[1] Hammer, Joshua. “The Dying of the Dead Sea.” Smithsonian. Oct. 2005. Web.

[2] Maariv. April. 2015. Web.

[3] Ynet. Dec. 2014. Web.

[4] “Heme Oxygenase-1 Protects Corexit 9500A-Induced Respiratory Epithelial Injury across Species.” PLOS ONE, Apr. 2015. Web.