Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."


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“The Petrochemical Invasion of Western PA- Its environmental consequences and what can be done about it” presented by the Isaac Walton League of America

Tuesday, January 15, 2019 at 7:00 pm

Unitarian Universalist Church of the South Hills (Sunnyhill)

1240 Washington Rd. Mt. Lebanon, PA 15228.

Presenters: 

Matt Mehalik, Executive Director of the Breathe Collaborative and its communications platform, the Breathe Project The Breathe Collaborative is a coalition of local residents, environmental advocates, public health professionals and academics with a common commitment to advocate for the air the Pittsburgh region needs in order to be a healthy, prosperous place. For more information about the Breathe Project and detailed information about the Shell Appalachia Petrochemical Facility see https://breatheproject.org

Patricia DeMarco, IWL Member, Author: “Pathways to Our Sustainable Future – Global Perspective from Pittsburgh“, Forest Hills Borough Council, 2016-2020

Robert Schmetzer, Chairman of the Beaver County Marcellus Community / BCMAC . and Citizens to protect the Ambridge Reservoir. CPAR. 

Terrie Baumgardner – Beaver County activist, Field Organizer for Clean Air Council, volunteer with Beaver Marcellus Community and Citizens to Protect the Ambridge Reservoir. 

Thaddeus Popovich – Co-founder Allegheny County Clean Air Now, Protect Franklin Park, Climate Reality Project 

A major part of this event will be a discussion between audience activists, and the presenters. Please join us for this excellent educational event.

Sponsored by:  The Izaak Walton League of America, Allegheny County Chapter, Harry Enstrom (Green County) Chapter


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Reflections at Winter Solstice 2018

Patricia M. DeMarco

Days and days of rain and clouded skies succeed an early snowfall. The frozen ground deflects water into drains and stream beds winding their way down the hillsides of this tree-covered neighborhood. Here most of the houses are smaller than the overarching canopy and branches interlace across property boundaries. Many neighbors also interconnect at this season, for parties, for informal invitations for coffee or greetings. The interconnectedness does not end with the dreary weather. The evening is brightened with holiday lights in windows and in lighted garden and house displays.

For the deciduous trees and the plants of this biome, this is the time for rest. The sap retreats to the depths of the ground, secure in holding to the Earth until the warmth of Spring signals the time to rise and fill the budding leaves with life-giving nutrients from the depths of the ground. If the leaf fall of the previous season rests on the ground to cover and protect and later to decay and return the elements back to the ground, the cycle is complete enriching the soil with each year. 

In these short days and long evenings of Winter, there is time for reflection, for writing, and laying down thread in a long-delayed quilt. For me, it is a miracle to see this winter after a long nine months of battle with breast cancer. Thankfully, the scourge of this disease has been set at bay one more time, making these Winter days free of pain, free of drugs, free of exhaustion, so much more precious. I think of all the afternoons spent lying on the garden settee or on the grass, gazing through the interlaced branches of the red oak Elders above me, and feeling the thrum of life running from the ground to the utmost edges of their spreading leaves. Trees full of life force, supporting endless numbers of insects, visited by birds and squirrels and chipmunks, included me in their domain. I opened my heart to their healing energy and felt myself a part of this miracle of the living Earth. Healing is a state of mind. The technology of medicines and surgery deal with the mutiny of cancer cell growth, but the battle to overcome and to survive takes place in the mental space that recognizes the force of will to live. 

I realize that these elder specimens have witnessed such great changes in the world around them. They have stood here for more than a century, as seedlings when this area was a dairy farm, growing up amid the smoke-filled air and volatile emissions from the height of the steel mills operating over the hill along the Monongahela River. They witnessed the change from farmland to houses, fortunate that trees were valued in the landscape and were not bulldozed into flat acres when the houses were built. Now, many are experiencing with us the strange weather patterns of a warming planet, driven by the very emissions that stunted their growth in the decades of the Industrial Revolution. Some have fallen to storms and high winds. Some have fallen to drought and strangulation from invasive ivy. Others fell from boring insect invaders. These two red oaks stand as sentinels, guardians at the top of the hill, giving testament to the resilience and stability of the living Earth.

With great humility, I see them now as mentors and models of a way forward. There is no path to a sustainable future that does not include protection for the natural world, the wisdom of ages stored in their collective interconnectedness. It is only humans who are cut apart from the life force of the Earth. We live under the delusion that our technology is our salvation, that human knowledge can outwit the changes we have wrought upon ourselves. It is not so. It is only by embracing the force of the natural world that humans will survive and thrive. The harmony of Natural law has evolved over many millions of years, fine-tuned to the ways each part of the biome affects another, how each small piece contributes to the whole. We see daily reports of how the insects are declining worldwide, how coral reefs have bleached to dead skeletons. With increasing numbness, we hear of the extinction of creatures and plants, of whole ecosystems. We are seeing the harbingers of our own fate. The preservation of the living Earth is our only hope. We must recognize that humans are only a part of the natural world, intimately dependent upon the health of the living things around us. We thrive when the butterflies and birds are healthy. We flourish when the songs of frogs fill the summer night. 

It is my hope for the coming year that I can resume my quest for our communities and our nation to transition to a civilization living in harmony with Nature. I am thankful for the chance to be a part of this great web of life for one more year.

Blessed Be


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Re-thinking Plastics in Our Future

R

Patricia M. DeMarco

December 21, 2018

Presentation is on video by Blue Lens, LLC : https://youtu.be/iJrSADqS9pA 

Our beautiful, fragile, resilient Living Earth provides everything we need to survive and thrive. All the living things on the planet have co-evolved forming an interconnected web of life with a life support system that provides oxygen-rich air, fresh water, and fertile ground. The functions of the living earth – ecosystem services – support life with elegance and simplicity following the laws of Nature. These laws were discovered to human knowledge over many years but still hold many mysteries. The laws of Nature – the principles of chemistry, physics, biology, ecology- are not negotiable, whether humans acknowledge them or not. The human enterprise has brought the delicate balance of the natural world under acute stress in modern times. Overpopulation, resource extraction for minerals and materials, fossil fuel combustion, and hyper-consumption now threaten the stability of our existence. Global warming from the accumulation of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide and methane; and global pollution, especially from plastics, now threaten life on Earth as we have known it. [1]

If the goal of our entire civilization is to achieve sustainability for future generations, some adjustments must be made in the way people relate to the natural world. In a sustainable condition, “people meet the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”[2]This condition of sustainability has a balance among environmental values, social and cultural values and economic values. In today’s civilization, the economic values far outweigh environment and social values, leading to an increase in environmental degradation and social inequity. The damages are distributed unevenly around the globe, with those least responsible for creating the problem most affected by the results of climate change. The children, non-human living things and those unborn of the next generation will pay the heaviest price for decisions made today. Therefore, this is not a technology issue; rather it is a moral and ethical issue: are our decisions going to preserve the wealth and privilege of the fossil industry corporations, or will our decisions move to preserve a viable planet for our children?

Nothing characterizes modern life so well as plastic – long-lasting, resilient, malleable, diverse in applications and uses. We find plastic everywhere from food containers to personal care products, structural materials, fibers and finishes. Whether single use products like plastic bags or structural materials like car dashboards or PVC pipe, all plastics are made from materials found in fossil fuels- natural gas and petroleum. The plastics industry burst forth in the decade following the end of World War II when the industrial might amassed for munitions turned to domestic products like fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, and plastics. Worldwide 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced since then, and over half of that material has been discarded as waste. The problem is only expected to grow as plastic production increases exponentially—from a mere two million metric tons annually in 1950 to more than 300 million metric tons today, and a projected 33 billion metric tons each year by 2050.[3]

NOAA image: Albatross found on Midway Island

Plastics are made of long-lived polymers, they do not break down easily in the environment, neither in landfills nor in the oceans. Plastics are not readily broken down by biological systems- they are indigestible and provide no nutrition when introduced into food chains. Nearly all the plastic ever made is still in the biosphere.Worldwide, factories produce 400 million tons of plastic per year, with plastic bottles produced at a rate of 20,000 per second.Globally, 60% of all plastics ever produced were discarded and are accumulating in landfills or in the natural environment. Americans discard 33.6 million tons of plastic a year; only 6.5% of plastic is recycled for re-use, and 7.7% is burned in trash to energy facilities.[4]Until 2018, most of American recycled plastic was collected as mixed waste and sent to China for processing. However, China is no longer accepting material with more than 1% contamination for recycling.[5]So, most of the plastic waste generated in America is now destined for landfill. Worldwide, plastic demand is expected to drive petroleum and natural gas production to use for feed stocks for many decades, especially to serve growing markets in Asia. 

The ubiquitous contamination of the earth from man-made plastics presents a system problem. We need to seek a systematic solution.The problem of global pollution from plastics has three components: 1. Economic Issues; 2. Environmental and health issues; and 3. Ethics Issues.

1. Economic issue: The entire plastics enterprise is based on taking fossil derived raw material extracted from natural gas and petroleum deep underground, refining the products and producing polymers, forming the polymers into the desired product, distributing and trucking to the wholesale and retail operations for a product that is often used once and discarded. 

 Image from PA Department of Commerce and Economic Development https://dced.pa.gov/key-industries/plastics/

This system only works economically when fossil fuels are valued at a relatively low price, and no cost is imposed on the discarded or wasted material. This approach is entirely incompatible with a sustainable society. In many situations, the fossil extraction and production phases are heavily subsidized, and the single-use products are inexpensive to the users, or costs are unseen, as with plastic packaging or plastic bags at the retail check-out counter. In 2014, UN Environment Programme estimated the natural capital cost of plastics, from environmental degradation, climate change and health, to be about $75 billion annually.[6]As of 2018, the hydraulic fracturing sector of the oil and gas industry continued its nine-year streak of cash losses. In 2018 Third Quarter, a cross section of 32 publicly traded fracking-focused companies spent nearly $1 billion more on drilling and related capital outlays than they generated by selling oil and gas.[7]The fracking industry is anticipating the ultimate sale of gas liquids for plastic production in refineries, such as the proposed Shell Appalachia Project, to generate positive revenue from sales of plastic pellets for production of consumer goods, many of the single-use packaging like plastic bottles, bags and flatware.

2. Environment and Health Issue

Many plastics and by-products of their production are directly toxic to humans and other living things. Some are also disruptors of endocrine functions, such as by mimicking hormone activity yielding results that over-stimulate or suppress normal hormone functions. Such compounds have been associated with reproductive and developmental disorders, obesity, fertility, and neurologic disorders. Over 80,000 synthetic chemicals are in common commercial use; of these only 200 have been directly tested for health effects. It is nearly impossible to avoid exposure to chemical contaminants- they are in BPA plastic packaging for food and containers, in consumer products phthalates and parabens as well as plastic microbeads are common; fire retardants in upholstery, curtains, and electronics expose people to PBDE (Poly-brominated di-phenyl ethers), and residues of long abolished chemicals like PCB (used in insulation oil for transformers and banned in 1979) continue to contaminate the food chain.[8]

Should we be concerned? Industry advocates argue that there is no “proof of harm” that any particular chemical caused a specific instance of illness or disease. But human epidemiology studies are uniquely challenging because individuals respond differently to the same exposure, and the effects can vary widely for children, elderly, and especially unborn fetus development.  Furthermore, people are not exposed to one chemical at a time but experience a chemical stew of myriad chemicals, some without their knowledge. The use of animal models where some of the variables can be controlled present problems as well, especially in court where the industry defense can argue that animals are not exactly like humans, and reasonable doubt prevents a clear ruling of harm. The burden of proof is on the consumer, and the case is rarely successful.[9]

People are exposed as minute quantities of potentially harmful materials are magnified through the food chain. Observations in the field conflict with rosy promotion of the benefits of plastics. Attempts to move legislation to protect consumers and prevent widespread exposures to questionable materials become bogged down in a regulatory quagmire. Citizen action groups use information campaigns and argue for better testing, but as industry experts infiltrate the regulatory agencies, the credibility of government agencies is eroding.

3. Ethics Issue 

The entire matter of global pollution, especially from plastics products and the by-products associated with their production, is a question of moral commitment to preserve the life support systems of the Earth, or to allow destruction of the living part of the planet for the sake of short-term profit for a very few corporate interests.  It is really a matter of asserting the right for life to EXIST! The surge in plastic use, especially single-use plastics like plastic bags for purchased items, developed as a consumer convenience. But we are seeing now the unintended consequences of convenience. But is it really from convenience that we see 48 tons of garbage, mostly plastic containers and packaging, left in the parking lot after a concert?[10]Is this convenience, or is it really a consumer sense of entitlement and total oblivious disregard for the consequences of their actions? The freedom to act as we wish without the sense of responsibility for the consequences of our actions yields chaos. As we see the cumulative effects of single-use plastics in the environment, in fish and sea creatures, and even in human bodies, we must begin to question the obligation to control this material at its source. Recognizing that the source is a fossil-based feed stock, the need to re-think plastic reaches a higher plane. Are we killing our planet for convenience?

II. Solutions: 

As horrific images begin to filter into the media, people are beginning to move from awareness to action. The plastic problem will not go away without fundamental changes in expectations and the reality of packaging and single-use materials. According to a United Nations Environment Programme study: “To get the plastics problem under control, the world has to take three primary steps. In the short- term society needs to significantly curtail unnecessary single-use plastic items such as water bottles, plastic shopping bags, straws and utensils. In the medium -term governments need to strengthen garbage collection and recycling systems to prevent waste from leaking into the environment between the trash can and the landfill, and to improve recycling rates. In the long run scientists need to devise ways to break plastic down into its most basic units, which can be rebuilt into new plastics or other materials.”[11]Three kinds of solutions present good options for re-thinking how we develop, use and dispose of plastic:1. Restructure the Value System;2. Use Green Chemistry to prevent environmental and health harms;3. Take precaution in protecting living systems. 

1. Restructure the Value System

To the consumer, and to many manufacturers, plastic looks cheap. The price of the oil or natural gas liquids used as feed stocks for plastic are way too low, compared to the actual cost to extract, refine, process and transport the plastic products.  And, it is cheaper to produce plastic from virgin material than from recycled plastics because recycled material needs to be cleaned, sorted, and is difficult to define precisely.  Plastic was designed to melt at temperatures lower than metals, so metal molds can be used repeatedly to shape plastic into products, conserving the capital needed for the machinery, while using a relatively cheap ingredient. Oil and natural gas have significant price supports for extraction and production embedded in the laws, tax treatments, and land uses that have supported the supremacy of mineral rights since 1837. These subsidies have kept the apparent cost of fossil based products artificially low.[12]The system is set up to reward manufacturers for producing products in the form of profits, but to impose the cost of disposal of waste on the taxpayers. The system gives economic incentives for turning raw (fossil) material into trash as rapidly as possible. Thus, the cost of the entire life cycle of the plastic is not included in the price of the product. If the full life cycle cost of the extraction, production and disposal or recapture of the plastic were included in the price the consumer sees, plastics would not seem so inexpensive, and there would be a greater incentive to avoid waste. In a circular model of materials management, incentives for designing products to be re-used or recaptured and re-purposed would reduce the waste. 

Plastics also seems inexpensive because much of the cost of their production and use is not counted at all. The Gross Domestic Product, one of the most common measures of the economy, does not include the value if services provided by the living earth… essential things like producing oxygen, regenerating fresh water, and providing food, fuel and fiber from natural materials. The Gross National Product as measured for the global economy is about $19 Trillion (US Dollar equivalent) while the services provided by ecosystems have a value of $33 Trillion globally.[13]By comparison, the global plastics industry is valued at $1.75 trillion, growing at an expected 3% annually.[14]The degradation of ecosystems and ignoring the value of essential services we take for granted has allowed products like fossil fuels and plastics derived from fossil origins to seem cheap, when in fact, their use is destroying the priceless life support system of planet Earth. The artificially cheap price of plastics has contributed to the hyper-consumption that is clogging our landfills and oceans with wasted materials that may never completely break down to innocuous components. One large part of the solution would be to adjust the value calculation to reflect the true cost.

2. Use Green Chemistry to prevent environmental and health harms

Just as plastics were engineered to resist breaking down, materials can be designed to serve useful functions without the biological and physical characteristics that make plastics a problem when they interact with living systems.  Risk to health and to the environment is a function of the inherent hazard and the exposure to the hazard. The current regulatory system that controls environmental and health risks from chemicals and materials is based on limiting the amount of exposure, or emissions into the environment. Thus, even very toxic materials can be deemed “safe” if they are limited to a very small release. Under this system, over 5.2 billion pounds of toxic or hazardous material is emitted into the air and water by permit each year.[15]Green chemistry takes the approach of designing chemicals and materials to have inherently benign characteristics. Thus, the risk is reduced by reducing or eliminating the inherent hazard itself, instead of trying to limit the exposure.

Green chemistry uses the kind of processes found in nature- ambient temperature and pressure, catalysts and enzymes, biological processes, and non-toxic ingredients and by-products.[16]Creative application of green chemistry principles has produced exciting innovations and has the potential for changing the way we produce and use materials.[17]Green chemistry uses bio-mimicry as an inspiration for making new materials. Using catalysts simulating the processes of living systems to address the breakdown of organic chemical contaminants has proven productive. Using plant-based feed stocks instead of fossil resources has produced many innovations in both pharmaceutical applications and in materials. The whole field of bio-plastic is emerging with very promising innovations using algae, hemp, and bamboo. Taking the approach to design for benign, or even helpful, effects on the natural world will revolutionize materials management.[18]The waste stream is part of the cost. The circular economy that can emerge offers productive and sustainable ways to meet the need for materials without increasing the burden on living systems from materials that cannot be used or broken down by living systems.[19]

3. Precaution in protecting living systems

The problem of global pollution from plastics will not go away without specific and deliberate intervention both from individuals and from governments. An ethic that places value on retaining and re-using materials that will not degrade in the environment must replace the expectation of convenience regardless of the true cost. The demand for convenience has come at a terrible price for the oceans, for the health and well-being of millions of creatures, including people. For the millions of people for whom using plastic is the only choice for clean water, or single-servings of essential items of food or sanitation, the systemic problems of wealth distribution must be addressed. There is an obligation upon the industrialized societies to resolve the material problem created initially as a by-product of industrialization. Making massive amounts of plastics without considering the implications of their disposal places an ethical burden upon the producers to protect the living systems that are being choked by the waste. Waste has become a cultural norm of modern life, but it is not a condition that can persist if survival of life on the planet is to be sustained.

The regulatory system must also be adjusted to require independent testing for health and biological effects in advance of mass production, not only after consumer complaints materialize. The burden of proof of safety must rest on the producer, not on the consumer. It is critical to protect workers from chronic exposures and to evaluate by-products and wastes for the potential to cause harm as well. 

Consumers have a role to play in moving both the markets and the regulatory infrastructure of plastic. In re-thinking plastic, we can refuse single-use plastics. Ask yourself how materials will be disposed of at the point of purchase. Plan ahead when shopping to take a reusable bag, water bottle, cutlery with you. When in a restaurant, before the server brings anything just say, “No plastic, please,” and you will not have a plastic straw. You can carry bamboo or re-usable straws with you easily. While some situations may be challenging, it can become a focus for family joint activity to seek creative ways to avoid plastic in everyday functions. (You may find helpful suggestions here: https://myplasticfreelife.com/plasticfreeguide/)

It is important for consumers to communicate to manufacturers and stores that the excessive plastic used in packaging everything is not acceptable. Challenge the grocery manager for wrapping individual vegetables in shrink-wrap. Ask for less packaging, and bring your own for as many items as you can. Obtain re-usable containers for storing produce and other foods at home instead of plastic wrap, bags or single-use containers. For things like yogurt or other dairy products, re-use the plastic containers for storage, re-purpose them for take-out containers; or craft projects. A little preventive thinking can eliminate much of the single-use waste stream: No K-Cups-  use a single serve brass insert instead. Get out of the habit of buying beverages in plastic bottles. Cook real food to avoid excess packaging and choose bulk food items.

Re-use and re-purpose as many items as possible. It is becoming fashionable again to use real dishes and glassware and cutlery. These need not be heirloom porcelain to be effective, and dishwashers without the heat element use less resources than the extraction, production and disposal of plastic goods. Choose quality forever items. You can swap or re-design clothing and visit consignment shops, especially for things that you will wear infrequently.

It is more important than ever to recycle correctly. Many recycling requirements have changed recently, as mixed waste streams are harder to separate into useable product lines. It is most important to avoid Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC), Styrofoam and styrene because these are the most difficult to recycle, and they have a 450-year life in the landfill. These materials are especially noxious when they arrive in the ocean, delivered there from materials washed down to the rivers and through the waterways to the ocean. Remember that the Mississippi River drainage covers more than one third of the U.S. land. Clean plastic for recycling and separate it from non-recyclable trash. Cross-contamination will disqualify an entire load. Recycle electronics at a recapture facility where the components are recovered and returned to the production cycle. These are not always free, but the cost is an important part of moving to a circular economy.

Finally, to protect the living systems of the planet, it will be important for consumers to support policies that require less packaging, establish markets and procedures for recovery and re-use of materials, and align the value to reflect the true life-cycle cost of the plastic burden on the Earth. 

The Moral Imperative

America operates under the banner of freedom, but has not embraced the concept that freedom without taking responsibility for consequences yields chaos. Technology used without accountability and wisdom yields disaster. We are seeing all around us today the unintended consequences of convenience. It is time to take responsibility for the trash. Everyone can dispose of plastic responsibly- litter kills. We can connect to the natural world and recognize its true value to our life, our survival, and the dependence we have as humans on all the other living things with which we share this time and space. We can find the courage to defend and protect the living Earth

~~~~

Citations and Sources:


[1] https://www.ipcc.ch/2018/10/08/summary-for-policymakers-of-ipcc-special-report-on-global-warming-of-1-5c-approved-by-governments/

[2]DeMarco, Patricia. “Listening to the Voice of the Earth.” Pathways to Our Sustainable Future-  Global Perspective from Pittsburgh.2017. (University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh) Pages 13 to 35. 

[3]Andrea Thompson. “Solving Microplastic PollutionMeans Reducing, Recycling – And Fundamental Re-thinking.” Scientific American November 12, 2018. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/solving-microplastic-pollution-means-reducing-recycling-mdash-and-fundamental-rethinking1/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=policy&utm_content=link&utm_term=2018-11-12_featured-this-week&spMailingID=57769378&spUserID=MzUxNTcwNDM4OTM1S0&spJobID=1521540986&spReportId=MTUyMTU0MDk4NgS2 Accessed December 18, 2018.

[4]Geyer, Jambeck, and Law, “Production, Use, and Fate of All Plastics Ever Made,” Science Advances 3, no. 7 (July 2017)http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782

[5]Laura Parker. “China’s Ban of Plastic Trash Imports Shifts Waste Crisis to Southeast Asia and Malaysia.” National Geographic. November 16, 2018. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/11/china-ban-plastic-trash-imports-shifts-waste-crisis-southeast-asia-malaysia/China refusal of mixed plastic waste

[6]UNEP. 2014. Valuing plastics: the business case for measuring, managing and disclosing plastic use in the consumer goods industry. United Nations Environment Programme. https://wedocs.unep.org/rest/bitstreams/16290/retrieve

[7]Clark Williams-Derry. “Nine-Year Losing Streak Continues for US Fracking Sector.”  Sightline. December 5, 2018. www.sightline.org.)

[8] Irfan A. Rather et. Al. “The Sources of Chemical Contaminants in Food and their Health Implications.” Frontiers in Pharmacology. 2017. 8:830  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5699236/

[9]Sam Levin and Patrick Greenfield. “Monsanto Ordered to Pay $289 million as Jury Rules Weedkiller Caused Man’s Cancer.” The Guardian. August 11,2018. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/aug/10/monsanto-trial-cancer-dewayne-johnson-ruling

[10]http://triblive.com/news/allegheny/10719475-74/concert-alcohol-amount

[11]UNEP. 2014. Valuing plastics: the business case for measuring, managing and disclosing plastic use in the consumer goods industry. United Nations Environment Programme. https://wedocs.unep.org/rest/bitstreams/16290/retrieve

[12]Geyer, Jambeck, and Law, “Production, Use, and Fate of All Plastics Ever Made,” Science Advances 3, no. 7 (July 2017)

[13]Costanza, R., R. de Groot, L. Braat, I. Kubiszewski, L. Fioramonti, P. Sutton, S. Farber, and M. Grasso. 2017. “Twenty years of ecosystem services: how far have we come and how far do we still need to go?” Ecosystem Services. 28:1-16.

[14]Clare Goldsberry. “Global market for plastic products to reach $1.175 trillion by 2020” BusinessExtrusion: Film & SheetExtrusion: Pipe & ProfileInjection Molding. December 17, 2017 https://www.plasticstoday.com/author/clare-goldsberryAccessed December 19, 2018.

[15]EPA Toxic Release Inventory. National Analysis 2015. www.epa.gov

[16]For an explanation of Green Chemistry Principles see Paul Anastas and John Warner. 12 Design Principles of Green Chemistry. American Chemical Society. https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/greenchemistry/principles/12-principles-of-green-chemistry.html

[17]DeMarco, Patricia. 2017. “Preventing Pollution.” Pathways to Our Sustainable Future – A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. (University of Pittsburgh Press. Pittsburgh PA) Page140-169. 

[18]Lord, R. 2016. Plastics and sustainability: a valuation of environmental benefits, costs and opportunities for continuous improvement. Trucost and American Chemistry Council. https://plastics.americanchemistry.com/Plastics-and-Sustainability.pdf

[19]A detailed description of the circular economy can be found in EMF, 2013. Towards a circular economy – opportunities for the consumer goods sector. Ellen MacArthur Foundation. https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/publications/TCE_Report-2013.pdf


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Practicing Peace in a Culture of Hate

Patricia M. DeMarco

{Written on Saturday, October 27, 2018 after hearing of the tragic shooting of 11 people and wounding six others during a Shabbat service and Bris at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill.  I walked and drove past this Synagogue many times, over years.  Squirrel Hill is the place of my childhood ballet lessons, my college gatherings, and my shopping and lunch hang-out with friends.My heart is heavy for my neighbors and friends in the midst of this tragedy.}

Violence and hatred once again rend the peace of a community as a lone bitter gunman fired upon a Tree of Life Synagogue in the middle of Shabbat service. As our entire civilization faces the existential challenges of climate change and global pollution, the stress on society increases. Fear and hatred spew from the cracks. When the President uses rhetoric of “Nationalism” and white supremacy to rally and focus fear and hatred, outbursts of malice are the consequence.

Our Constitution protects freedom of speech and of religion and protects the right to assemble in peace. When Daily vilification of the press becomes normal from the President, when those who disagree or criticize are demonized, when immigrants fleeing oppression are profiled as criminals, the very foundations of our civilization are shaken.

In the wake of this tragedy in Squirrel Hill we have the opportunity to show that solidarity overcomes hate. Just as standing for Antwon Rose led to serious debate and emerging solutions for guns in schools, this tragic event can build momentum for reasonable restraints on weapons. Racism, anti Semitic, gender based hatred, all the hatred born of fear have no place in a participatory democracy. Where hate lives freedom dies.

We must recognize that diversity is our strength. Restoring mutual respect as the primary driver in civil discourse allows open debate toward solutions. Acknowledging the basic dignity of every person recognizes that we are more alike as humans than different in philosophy, appearance, culture or even politics. We all depend on the Living Earth for our life support. We are all part of the interconnected web of Life. Our community will gather to grieve, to offer support and to heal. The response to hatred is resistance, firm rejection of violence as a solution, and a call for accountability to those who directly or indirectly foment a culture of fear.

We must give our children the example of teaching tolerance and practicing civility. We must make America polite, kind and respectful again.

In Solidarity

Blessed Be


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The Tipping Point: A Life or Death Decision Point on Global Pollution and Climate Change

Patricia M. DeMarco

September 8, 2018

The summer of 2018 goes down in my life history as the turning point in my fifteen-year fight with cancer.   After being free of any disease from 2001 to 2017, I have faced two cancers in the last two years.   Knowing that I have been living on borrowed time changed the direction of my life. In 2006, I left the corporate world, divorced from a destructive relationship, and came home to my roots as an environmental activist. I vowed to stop trying to be “successful” and wealthy, but to do work that has meaning and purpose for the future. I came home to Pittsburgh, to Rachel Carson, and to a life devoted to preserving the living earth. Now as my strength is waned through a 24 week regimen of chemotherapy, I find that my role has shifted once again from the strong voice, standing with raised fist to one who writes the words, and empowers others to speak.

After a decade of public activism, the message echoes back to me through my students, through my family, and through my community. I see the power of many voices joined in demands for clean air, fresh water and fertile ground. The hopeful vision of a future where people can make better choices for energy, food, and materials emerges one community at a time.

A life and death decision point acts as a catalyst to crystallize priorities. There is no time left to wait for others to act. When you have nothing to lose, there is no point to preserving proper dignity or protocol. And this is exactly the situation of the world we are living in today.  We face a life and death decision point on global warming and global pollution, yet people still act as though the ponderous machinations of due
process will get us to a solution. But the laws of nature proceed without “due process.” Greenhouse gases accumulate; the atmosphere warms; the oceans acidify;  glaciers and ice caps melt; storms intensify. People as well as plants and animals cannot adapt quickly to the intensity or speed of these changes.  But, we can act much more effectively than is the case now if we act together, with common purpose and directed intent.

So in this tortured summer of 2018, I feel my strength wane, but I see the strong voices of my students- Eva Resnik-Day in the Fight for 100% renewable energy; Seth Bush coaching and empowering entrepreneurs and activists; Kacie Stewart taking a role in renewable energy in manufacturing with Epic Metals. I see young colleagues making a huge impact through film and media- Mark Dixon with Blue Lens, LLC documenting the movement and calling others to action; Kirsi Jansa making documentaries and pushing creativity in response to crises and becoming a new citizen activist; Maren Cook holding gatherings to keep the movement together; Matt Mehalik working for clean air through the Breathe Project; Mike Stout documenting the struggle of organized labor and the importance of democratic process through unions; Charlie McCollester, Wanda Guthrie, so, so many others raising the call to action. Jackie Dempsey and the Indivisible Forest Hills movement, mirroring a whole country of people taking politics seriously.

The human spirit is hard to quench. Re-defining aspirations to value preserving the living Earth as a critical need above profits in a monetary measure alone may take a generation. We have no time for gradual transitions.  A crisis point is upon us, now, in this generation.  We have tools at hand to solve the problems of climate change and global pollution.  There is no longer time to reverse the trajectory toward a hotter drier planet, but action can still be effective to mitigate the worst of the effects and preserve viability for the next generation.  This is not a technology problem- it is an ethical and moral challenge: Do we living today make decisions that preserve the option of life for the next generation? Or do we persist on a path of instant gratification and greed, heedless of known disastrous consequences of our actions?

Energy Transfer Corporation pipeline explodes days after installation in Beaver PA

Protestors arrested at PA Pipeline Task Force meeting

This is the time- our time- to face the existential crises of climate change and global pollution, especially from plastic.  This is our time to take the actions needed to curtail fossil resource extraction and combustion. Climate change and environmental destruction must be on the central political agenda in every election, every race, every town hall.  We who care about the future cannot stand silent while those in power continue to pretend there is a positive outcome for continuing on the fossil path.  We will follow the dinosaurs into extinction if we continue burning their remains. It is time to place priority on the vital functions of the living Earth – the ecosystem services – embedded in the interconnected living systems on the surface of the earth.  Instead of criminalizing those who stand to protect watersheds, wetlands, forests, farmland and refuges, we should be prosecuting those who rip fossil materials – oil, coal, fossil methane- from the depths of the earth. The 1837 laws that gave mineral rights superiority over surface rights continue to subsidize and destroy our life support system. The Pennsylvania laws that demand access to mineral “rights” over the objections and concerns of landowners and citizens, in violation of our own Constitution, need to be overturned.  The federal law and regulations that made exemptions for natural extraction from deep shales legal in spite of environmental harms need to be overturned. It is time to place the health and safety of people and the living planet above the short-term profits of multi-national corporations.

 

Take these three actions today:

  1. Make sure climate and environment issues are in the discussion for every candidate for office.  Demand a position statement- hold them accountable for votes taken against sustainability actions. Find your elected officials here:
    For PA: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/findyourlegislator/  
    For federal https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members 
  2. VOTE in every election, every time! work to Get Out The Vote for candidates that stand for climate action and environmental justice. (There are MANY action groups!) Find a local action group here:https://350.org
  3.  Pledge to take action in your personal life to move toward a more sustainable lifestyle. Recruit your family, friends and neighbors to do the same.  Find more suggestions here:   https://www.greenpeace.org/archive-international/en/campaigns/climate-change/Solutions/What-you-can-do/              and here  https://www.lifewithoutplastic.com/store/10_easy_tips_for_living_with_less_plastic#.W6PeWC2ZOL8

I will be working to preserve our Living Earth every day for the rest of my life.  My book, “Pathways to Our Sustainable Future” lays out the argument and tells some stories of success. I hope you will join me and tell me of your own journey.


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Inclusion, Legitimacy and Socio-Environmental Justice

July 2018

I am delighted to share this month a summary of the Plenary Panel discussion from the annual meeting of the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS) held in June 2018 at American University.  Our topic for deliberation was Inclusion and Legitimacy as the organization addressed the structural issues of racism, entitlement and exclusion that afflicts many organizations and institutions in America today. Environmental organizations in particular face challenges from a traditional perception as “white, liberal, elites”, yet at no time in our history have the issues of environmental justice loomed more starkly as existential issues for many communities.  Connecting the value of clean air, fresh water, fertile ground and biodiversity of species to the social equity issues afflicting people and communities of color is an essential part of finding a way forward that encompasses all people and reserves a viable future for all of our children. Patricia M. DeMarco

Inclusion, legitimacy, diversity and socio-environmental justice in professional organizations
Elizabeth Beattie1, Michael Finewood2, and Teresa Lloro-Bidart3

 The theme for the 2018 AESS Conference was “Inclusion and Legitimacy.” This was prompted by out-going AESS president David Hassenzahl’s comments on the need for professional and scholarly associations concerned with environmental issues to “understand who participates in asking questions and developing answers and whose information is used to inform decisions. That is, who is included and how they are included, and what information is deemed legitimate” (Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences, 2017). This theme is timely and critical, both in terms of the wider political climate in America and within the field of environmental studies and sciences. Environmental organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency are under attack and being stripped of their power, commitments to reducing greenhouse gases such as the Paris Accord are being ignored or revoked, and xenophobia is touted as acceptable foreign policy.

We opened the conference with a panel composed of Patricia DeMarco, PhD, Jacqueline Patterson, Ian Zabarte, and Elizabeth Beattie, discussing strategies for achieving inclusion, diversity, and legitimacy in AESS and similar organizations. Like many in our field, they are each working to increase the diversity of voices involved in conversations about environmental challenges and socio-environmental justice.

DeMarco has dedicated her life to improving communities through social and environmental action and policy-making. To learn about her work, see https://patriciademarco.com.She opened the panel with a reflection on Hassenzahl’s remarks about the theme of the conference and the panel.

Thank you to Dave Hassenzahl for the vision of this conference and commitment to addressing the many issues where sustainability and environmental studies and sciences cross not only the silos within academia but also the great gulf between the academic and wider communities we all serve and are part of. His guide for our deliberations was the compelling observation that “those who are at greatest risk often have disproportionately less voice in policy making processes and less access to scientific, legal, and other expertise” (Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences, 2017). Inclusion and Legitimacy is a huge topic that encompasses so many issues. But the heart of the matter boils down to two driving questions: Who sits at the table where decisions are made? Who has standing to speak?

This arena is no longer the purview of ‘old White men.’ It is enriched and expanded to include stakeholders whose voices cannot be stilled: those who speak for women, for people of color, for Indigenous peoples, for the unborn of the 21st century, for the ecosystems of the living Earth. Academic specialists in environmental studies and sciences have an especially compelling place in the struggle to expand inclusion and legitimacy not only within the halls of academia but also in the global community, to give voice to the needs of all living things as part of the interconnected web of life.”

To close the panel, DeMarco asked the panelists,“What can organizations like AESS and their members do to be more inclusive and enhance legitimacy?”

In this post, we draw on the words of the panellists, to consider some of the ideas that emerged from their conversation in response to this question. While these are most certainly not all of the ideas that were discussed during the panel, they do provide guidance for how professional organizations such as AESS, in seeking to overcome our “unbearable Whiteness” (AlterNet Media, 2018), can explore strategies for becoming more diverse and inclusive. Having these important conversations is a necessary part of the ongoing process, and we must continue to engage in them. As AESS’ 2018 William Freudenberg Award winner, Dr. Dorceta Taylor, expressed, AESS still has a significant amount of work to do in these regards. Dr. Taylor is an environmental sociologist who examines environmental justice, particularly in the context of racism. Find more information about her work at http://seas.umich.edu/research/faculty/dorceta_taylor.

Zabarte is the Principal Man of the Western Bands of the Shoshone Nation of Indians and a board member of the Native Community Action Council. He works to challenge governmental and industry claims about the risks to western Native American Nations associated with uranium mining, nuclear weapons testing, and nuclear waste disposal, and also advocates for Native American land rights. Find out more about Zabarte’s work at http://www.nativecommunityactioncouncil.organd https://www.unr.edu/nevada-today/news/2018/ian-zabarte. During the plenary panel, Zabarte spoke of the need to recognize the corrosive power of patriarchal institutions that substitute cruelty for strength. He emphasized that many Indigenous societies are matrilineal and highlighted the importance of listening to women. Additionally, he has provided the following response to the question of how we can advance legitimacy and inclusion:

As an Indigenous person, my goal is to share the story of my Indigenous people, the Western Bands of the Shoshone Nation of Indians. While some error occurs through the use of the term ‘Indian,’ it is important to recognize, figuratively and literally, that the names we as Indigenous people are recognized by in Treaty negotiations with America are the names that identify us as legitimate sovereign nations with the ability to enter into international Treaty negotiations with other countries, such as America. The term ‘tribe’ is a more recent construct used to divide one people into groups based on the subjective organizational and managerial vision of the United States. The Western Bands of the Shoshone Nation of Indians has been divided into many ‘tribes’ and placed onto different reservations along with members of other ‘tribes,’ creating confusion. Stop using the word ‘tribes’ and look to the past to understand the organic, natural, and cultural origins of the Indigenous people of this land.

I can only hope that my speaking to the members of AESS provides some measure of understanding of the fact that Indigenous people walk in two worlds, holding both ancient knowledge and modern competency, and can provide leadership in an ever-changing world. To that end, we all benefit from vigorous debate. In his book, Indigenous Sovereignty in the 21stCentury, Michael Lerma, PhD, explains that the farther a people go from their own creation story, the easier it is for them to take Indigenous peoples’ land and justify the taking. My goal is to help everyone, Native Americans and settlers in America, find and connect to their Indigenousness. What is your story? Finding your roots will help you or at least give you some understanding of Indigenous peoples’ perspectives and purposes in maintaining a connection to the places we are connected to Mother Earth.

Beattie is a doctoral candidate at the University of British Columbia, which is on part of the traditional, ancestral, unceded lands of the Musqueam Nation. She is a privileged, White female, as well as a Canadian settler. She believes that acknowledging the colonial history of the lands we occupy, as well as how our own privileged positionalities shape our own understandings of Place, is one way to begin to legitimize Indigenous voices as valuable and worthy of consideration within the academy. In her work, Beattie also considers how we can learn from children and from Place when we think about and teach about the environment. For example, she attends to the relationships between children and the many non-human elements that combine to create a Place, and the ways that Places act as agentic teachers, offering children different opportunities for learning through the presence of trees that can be climbed, animals that can be known and communicated with, and other direct, embodied experiences that shape the children’s meaning-making. The field of ESS can then learn from the meanings and understandings the children have developed. Find Elizabeth Beattie’s work at https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Elizabeth_Beattie2.

In order to ‘include’ these and many other voices, she believes we need to go beyond ‘inclusion,’ which suggests that we add seats to the table, but does not mean that we make structural or cultural changes ourselves or in our organizations. Instead of requiring under-represented groups to conform to the dominant ways of knowing and being, to sit at the table so to speak, we need to make changes that create a space that doesn’t have a table at all, and that welcomes multiple and diverse presences in the ways that they choose to come forward. Thus, Beattie suggests we talk about ‘diversity,’ and not ‘inclusion.

Beattie puts forward three crucial steps that members of the ESS community, who are overwhelmingly White North American settlers, can take to welcome diversity in our professional organizations. First, listen to people of colour, Indigenous people, and people from other frontline and under-represented groups. Listen so that we begin to understand what their needs really are, rather than assuming that we already know. Second, learn about the history of oppression in North America and how it is so closely tied to the environment. Third, give up our own privilege and power, and work toward the empowerment of under-represented communities.

Patterson, the Senior Director of the Environmental and Climate Justice Program at the NAACP, spoke specifically about Black American communities which are so close to nuclear power plants that Red Cross aid workers aren’t allowed to set up relief stations in their neighbourhoods. She told of Black neighbourhoods denied levees, although it was certain that they would be destroyed by flood waters, because the cost of installing the levees was greater than the calculated economic productivity of the neighbourhoods. These examples of environmental racism, and the imbalance of power that allows people of colour’s lives to be judged and found wanting on an economic basis are appalling.

Patterson reminded us that the words we use don’t ultimately matter if the intention to make change isn’t also there. She also suggested that intentions need to be translated into actions, and that talking isn’t enough. Patterson gave examples of actions that can contribute to increasing socio-environmental justice, such as when White, male directors of organizations give up their positions and intentionally appoint highly qualified Black women to these leadership positions, knowing that Black women’s accomplishments and achievements are often overlooked or under-valued. Actions like these have a ripple effect, as organizations that welcome diversity in their leadership are more likely to attract a diverse group of applicants or members. Further, leaders from under-represented groups are strong role models for the children and students who may be interested in environmental fields, and will be encouraged by seeing people who resemble them in highly visible positions in environmental studies and sciences. Follow Jacqueline Patterson on Twitter at @jacquipatt and learn more about the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program at http://www.naacp.org/issues/environmental-justice/.

DeMarco closed the panel with these words:
As we struggle to examine our own ingrained prejudices and biases, it is helpful to recognize that we are all more alike as humans than different in culture, religion, race or political persuasion. In our common humanity we can respect the dignity and value of all humans, and empower voices to speak of their experiences with the confidence of being heard as legitimate witnesses. As environmental scholars and scientists, we can bear the common responsibility to give voice to the living Earth so the decisions made in the halls of power will preserve Earth’s life support system for current and future generations.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

1Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia, Musqueam, lizbeattie@alumni.ubc.ca

2Environmental Studies and Science Department, Pace University

3Liberal Studies Department, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

References

Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences, (2017). “Plenary Panel Announcement for the Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences 2018 Annual Meeting,” [website]. Retrieved from https://aessconference.org/2017/12/aess-conference-plenary-panel/on July 3, 2018.

AlterNet Media, (2018). “The Unbearable Whiteness of Green,” [website]. Retrieved from https://www.alternet.org/story/52166/the_unbearable_whiteness_of_greenon July 16, 2018


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“We don’t know what we’ve lost till it’s gone.” World Ocean Day 2018

“We don’t know what we’ve lost till it’s gone”
World Ocean Day – June 8, 2018
Patricia M. DeMarco

“Don’t it always seem to go that we don’t know what we’ve lost till it’s gone?”  Joni Mitchell

Photo: winner in the Youth Category
of World Oceans Day Photo Competition/Jack McKee.[1]

“The Ocean is a place of paradoxes.  It is the home of the great white shark, two-thousand-pound killer of the seas, and of the hundred-foot blue whale, the largest animal that ever lived. It is also the home of living things so small that your two hands might scoop as many of them as there are stars in the Milky Way.”Rachel Carson[2]

Walking along the edge of the sea in the early morning after a storm reveals the power and the wonder of Nature. Long ribbons of winged kelp, Alaria, with rock clinging to their moorings wrenched from the depths by the power of the storm clump along the tide line.  Strewn among them are the spiral egg cases of the Channeled Whelk, stranded jellyfish, or sea urchins along with bits of shell and an occasional starfish cast out of its depth.  The sanderlings and gulls prod through the debris running back and forth, or swoop and dive into the shallows. The detritus of humanity is there too, adding unnatural bright colors of plastic bottles, straws, styrofoam cups, toys, tampons, plastic containers of joint compound or kitty litter, shards and pieces of plastic goods once used and discarded. Indigestible even by the bacteria and detrital consumers of the ocean deep, this accumulated debris of human convenience chokes the life out of the creatures of the sea.  Inevitably, it will choke the life out of all of us, too

The ocean as we have known it for hundreds of years now exhibits the effects of careless and deliberately harmful human actions. The ocean has been considered so vast that no amount of contamination could possibly affect it.  Now the effects of endless dumping, runoff from chemical agriculture, and the acidification of the water from absorbing carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels are degrading vast areas of the ocean.  Coral reefs stand bleached and dying over 50% to 80% of their reaches.[3]No coastline on earth is free of plastic debris washed to the ocean from land.

Since 1983, the United Nations has celebrated World Oceans Day on June 8thto help raise awareness of our dependence on the ocean for most of the oxygen in the atmosphere, food for millions of people, tempering our climate and contributing endless connections in the global web of life.  The ocean covers 70% of the surface of planet Earth. Though part of the Earth from the time of its ancient origins, vast expanses of the ocean remain unexplored, shrouded in mystery.  All of life on Earth depends on the functions of the ocean and the myriad of living things embraced in its waters.  Most critically, 50% of the free oxygen in the atmosphere comes from phytoplankton living in the top 18 inches of the ocean water. These small life forms convert sunlight to sugars and oxygen as they float on the surface of the sea.  At the ground base of the food chain, plankton feed creatures from beluga whales, to sockeye salmon to small fry of fishes. Millions are suffocated by oil slicks. Worse, the plankton are now joined by micro-plastic particles, ground into bits from years of tossing in the ocean, now intermixed with the life forms, reducing the food value and offering surfaces on which toxic bacteria and toxic pollutants accumulate. Some of the plankton will ingest the micro-plastic, and thus incorporate this material into their own systems.[4]The feeding fishes and whales do not distinguish the plankton from the plastic micro-particles, ingesting huge quantities of the increasingly contaminated material to the point of starvation. Plastic has been found in the bodies of fish caught for human consumption also.[5]

Plastic pollution is causing tremendous harm to our marine resources. For example:

  • 80% of all pollution in the ocean comes from people on land.
  • 8 million tonnes of plastic per year ends up in the ocean, wreaking havoc on wildlife, fisheries and tourism.
  • Plastic pollution costs the lives of 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals per year.
  • Fish eat plastic, and we eat the fish.
  • Plastic causes $8 billion in damage to marine ecosystems each year.[6]

The global contamination of the ocean from single use plastic is an especially poignant tragedy because it represents the epitome of the unintended consequences of modern progress. Plastic came into the market as a convenience, a wonder material that could lower cost and bring myriad improvements in critical things such as health care, packaging and disposable consumer products. Since the 1950s, plastic use has grown exponentially. While the uses of plastic have grown, there has been no concerted effort to address the waste stream that now reaches 300 million tons per year of plastic waste.[7]The uses of plastic and their production represent a $184 billion industry, with exports expected to grow by 7% per year until 2030 based on increased use of shale gas as a feedstock.[8]But the reclamation, recycling, or re-use of the raw petrochemical derived material has no value as a profit center, and thus accumulates as trash, and erodes the public amenities of water, land and ocean ecosystems. The unintended consequence of creating a material that is strong, non-biodegradable, light weight, formable into a variety of shapes are the same properties that make plastics a scourge when discharged into the oceans.

Without concerted action, we face the tragedy of a loss beyond measure – an ocean sterile of life, bereft of the resilience and regenerative power of millions of living things from the smallest plankton to the mightiest of whales that rise from the depths to breathe. There is no way to “recycle” out of this problem, though recapturing plastics for re-use is one part of the solution.  We must address the need to design systems for the capture of waste, so the “garbage” of modern life does not end up in the ocean. We must address the problem of excess plastic at the source. We must adopt policies and systematic solutions that prevent further pollution from plastic, and begin to clean up what has already accumulated in the ocean.

The United Nations has adopted an action focus for 2018: preventing plastic pollution and encouraging solutions for a healthy ocean. Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment, said, “It is past time that we tackle the plastic problem that blights our oceans. Plastic pollution is surfing onto Indonesian beaches, settling onto the ocean floor at the North Pole, and rising through the food chain onto our dinner tables. We’ve stood by too long as the problem has gotten worse. It must stop.”[9]At the closing of the G-7 meetings in Charlevoix, Canada, six of the countries, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, adopted an Ocean Plastics Charter: “Plastics are one of the most revolutionary inventions of the past century and play an important role in our economy and daily lives. However, the current approach to producing, using, managing and disposing of plastics poses a significant threat to the environment, to livelihoods and potentially to human health. It also represents a significant loss of value, resources and energy.” [10]The charter includes a five- part commitment to take action toward a resource-efficient lifecycle management approach to plastics in the economy by:

  1. Sustainable design, production and after-use markets
  1. Collection, management and other systems and infrastructure
  2. Sustainable lifestyles and education
  3. Research, innovation and new technologies
  4. Coastal and shoreline action

As we enter the summer season, many people travel to the seashore to enjoy the beaches, or fishing, or just being at the seaside. It is important to recognize that the simple pleasures we derive from experiencing the coast depend on much larger forces at work. The unthinking carelessness and wasteful practices surrounding our conveniences in using plastic take a relentless toll on essential life systems.  We cannot live without the complex living ocean, but we can certainly live without plastic straws, plastic bags and hundreds of other single-use items. For hundreds of suggestions about reducing plastic in your life, see https://myplasticfreelife.com/plasticfreeguide/  The most important step is to care about preserving the life of the ocean, to care about preserving our planet for our children. The   mysteries of the ocean depths are worth preserving, worth fighting for, and worth making changes in the “convenience” we take for granted without counting the cost.

“But even with all our modern instruments for probing and sampling the deep ocean, no one can say that we shall ever resolve the last, the ultimate mysteries of the sea. … For the sea lies all around us. The commerce of all lands must cross it. The very winds that move over the lands have been cradled on its broad expanse and seek ever to return to it. The continents themselves dissolve and pass to the sea, in grain after grain of eroded land. So the rains that rose from it return again in rivers. In its mysterious past it encompasses all the dim origins of life and receives in the end, after, it may be, many transmutations, the dead husks of that same life. For all at last return to the sea – to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end.”  
Rachel Carson. 1951. The Sea Around Us- Commemorative Illustrated Edition. Oxford Press. (2003) Page 259.

 

References and Citations:

[1]As the photographer of this young yellow boxfish (Ostracion cubicus) said, small marine creatures as well as large ones are fascinating and worth protecting. The fish was in a rocky crevice in the Tweed River, New South Wales, Australia.

[2].” Rachel Carson “Undersea” Nawaukum Press. Santa Rosa. 2010.

[3]https://www.insidescience.org/news/bringing-plight-coral-reefs-our-screens

[4] https://inhabitat.com/plankton-pundit-video-shows-exact-moment-plastic-enters-the-food-chain/

[5] Chelsea M. Rochman,Akbar Tahir,Susan L. Williams, Dolores V. Baxa, Rosalyn Lam,Jeffrey T. MillerFoo-Ching Teh, Shinta WerorilangiSwee J. Teh. “Anthropogenic debris in seafood: Plastic debris and fibers from textiles in fish and bivalves sold for human consumption.”

Scientific Reports. volume 5, Article number: 14340 (2015) https://www.nature.com/articles/srep14340#auth-8

[6]http://www.un.org/en/events/oceansday/

[7]Briony Harris. This is what countries are doing to fight plastic waste.” World Economic Forum. June 8, 2018. https://medium.com/world-economic-forum/this-is-what-countries-are-doing-to-fight-plastic-waste-d7673132230b

[8]https://www.americanchemistry.com/Trade-Overview/

[9]http://web.unep.org/unepmap/un-declares-war-ocean-plastic

[10]https://g7.gc.ca/en/official-documents/charlevoix-blueprint-healthy-oceans-seas-resilient-coastal-communities/#a1


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Stop the Cruel and Inhumane Separation of Families

I am sick at heart and furious at what is being done in the name of “National security” and border safety.  America is a country of immigrants, successfully integrated into society, adding diversity , resilience and strength over the years.  The current punitive, racist, and cruel policies toward immigration must stop.  The entire administrative process must receive full scrutiny of a Congressional investigation, if not a United Nations investigation as crimes against humanity!.

“The Trump administration is seeking to criminally prosecute everyone who crosses the US-Mexico border, including parents. The policy is likely to separate thousands of families who arrive at the border by placing parents into the criminal justice system. Without their parents, children will be placed into the custody of ORR.” https://action.aclu.org/petition/separating-families

DO NOT STAND PASSIVELY WHILE THIS IS DONE IN YOUR NAME!  Take action, Object. Demand accountability for this outrageous policy. Human dignity and basic human rights cannot be subverted for spurious allegations of security. We will be converted from “America the Land of Opportunity” to “America the Land of Tyranny.” When basic respect for human dignity dies, there is no freedom.

Find actions here:

#WhereAreTheChildren: How to Help

 

Contact your Senators and Representative Immediately.  Here is my letter:

 

Dear Senator Toomey, Senator Casey, Representative Doyle:

I am a first generation American, daughter of Italian immigrants who came to America to seek a better life and to flee the rise of Fascism.  My grandmother arrived with a two year old, my Aunt Rosa, and a five year old, my Father Michael. If they had come to America today, the separation of parent and children at the border would have scarred our lives forever. I am outraged and horrified at the cruel practices in the name of “national security” being pursued at the Mexican border under the Trump Administration. People who come seeking political asylum from persecution and horrific conditions are being treated as criminals and imprisoned with no due process, no investigation of the validity of their need, and being torn from their children, who are sent into custodial care. Now over 1,500 children are somewhere, with no way for parents to know where they are, and no way to find them.  This is a cruelty unworthy of anything American.

I am furious that such abominable practices are being pursued under the guise of national security.  I demand that you open a complete Congressional investigation of this practice and halt this family separation immediately for the duration of the investigation. At the minimum, families should be reunited as soon as possible, and parents must know the fate of their children. The cruelty of this practice rises to the level of crimes against humanity.

Think of the sacrifices these people made to travel to our border in the hope of asylum and the possibility of making a better life in a safe place only to be cast into prison as criminals and have their children torn from them.  Imagine the total fear of those children in a place without a common language and in unfamiliar circumstances to be ripped from the arms of their mothers and sent to strangers, or an institutional holding place. This is not the America my grandfather and my Father fought for.  This is not the America that grew to its height on the contributions of immigrants from around the world. This is not the America I have served all my life.

The Trump Administration must be held to account for this cruelty.  Failure to act makes you complicit in this abhorrent behavior.

Sincerely,

Patricia M. DeMarco, Ph.D.
May 31, 2018

 

 


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A Reflection on Memorial Day 2018

A Reflection on Memorial Day 2018

by Patricia M. DeMarco

May 28, 2018

I was born in the “Baby Boom” following the end of World War II – a defiant and hopeful declaration by my parents that the world could still hold love, and grace and beauty.  My Father served in Donovan’s paratroopers unit, behind enemy lines fighting with the Resistance in France and Italy.(1) He never spoke of his time in the War, even when we as children would ask about it. The book was closed, and the scars of his experience haunted him until the end of his life.  Yet, he served in the United States Information Service (now part of the CIA), and in the U.S. Foreign Service with dedication and commitment to build an America that would fulfill the promise offered to immigrants and citizens.  As a first- generation Italian/American, I have carried the commitment to public service for most of my own life.  Always the ideal that government serves the collective public interest and protects the weak and vulnerable from the tyranny of self-interested power has driven my own personal and professional decisions.

The generation that fought together in World War II shared a bond of common commitment to face down evil and stand for the moral high ground of humanity.  Service above self, to the ultimate sacrifice of life itself, bound the citizen-soldiers of that time together, and set up the conditions that built the greatness of America as a world leader, and as a model for progress. But, in the aftermath of that war, the spirit of cooperation in governance, in institutions, in aspirations began a slow erosion decade by decade.  My Father would not recognize the America he fought for, and the government policies prevalent today would shock his sensibilities to the core.

The sense of making life better for our children, the sense of making life better for everyone together has evaporated into a governance framework driven by corporate interests. Business and government have fundamentally different objectives.  The special interests of multi-national corporations now drive public policy to the detriment of the health and welfare of the people, as a collective whole. Tax and financial policies have deliberately skewed the distribution of wealth to an increasingly bloated top 5% of the people, leaving more and more people in the clutch of poverty, even if they are working full time, or have multiple jobs. The system is rigged for people who make money from the returns on their invested money. Corporate profits are at an all-time high, while wages stagnate or fall. Working hard does not guarantee success, or even a viable life.  The poverty in America is a deliberate political decision.  Likewise, the assumption that clean air and fresh water are guaranteed is fraying in America.  As pollution runs rampant with regulatory controls rolled back, rescinded or unenforced, millions of Americans suffer from living in polluted air and unsafe water.  Contamination from industrial operations disproportionately affects communities of color, and people who cannot afford to move away.  The environmental injustice compounds the insult of having to live in unhealthy places, with no recourse, and no hope of escape.

Unlike the specific, horrific crimes of Nazi Germany, the slow violence of corporate greed raises few objections.  The country increasingly splits over ideology, politics, race and religion. There is no sense of urgency to move in a collective effort to preserve a fair, equitable, healthy future for our children.  Everything rests on short-term benefits.  There is no sense of collective action to make better options for our children. Any policies that purport to curtail the “rights” of individuals or corporations to profit, regardless of the consequences, are viewed with derision and trounced as burdens on business.

What of the burdens on the next generation?  What of the obligation to protect the innocent and help the indigent?  Where is our higher calling to improve the community in which we live?  As the conditions of the world continue to deteriorate, it is necessary for everyday people to take up the mantle of moral conviction to make things better.  It is imperative that people learn from the brave men and women who laid down their lives for justice, freedom and respect for human dignity.  The rampant racism underlying many of the current policies in America must be called out, and trounced for the precursor to tyranny. Democracy is not automatically viable, it requires active participation by an informed and caring citizenry.  There is no way to honor those who stood for the America that stood together to defeat tyranny without reclaiming the moral imperative.  We must be willing to stand and fight for the dignity and respect of all people, for the right for life to exist as intact living systems that serve our Earth, for the fair and equitable distribution of the nation’s wealth, and for the rights of people to express their opinions openly and to receive respect.

As we take a few moments over Memorial Day to remember and honor those who died for our country in World War II and in the many conflicts since then. We must remember that we are a nation stronger as a community joined in common purpose that as a group of individuals, each striving for his or her own goal. It is the common sensitivity of caring communities, built on mutual respect and recognizing the inherent dignity of each person, that will prevail over tyranny.  The injustice visited on any one of us is owed an answer by all of us. That is what makes a nation great.

I thank my Father and his many comrades in arms who came home from serving our country and left a legacy of hope for the future.

 

  1. Meredith Wheeler. “OSS ReBorn: the OSS OG  PAT Mission 1944” http://www.ossreborn.com/files/OG_PAT_A_Fresh_LookPhotos1.pdf  “4,500 German Wehrmacht soldiers surrendered to 12 OSS PAT soldiers and about 100 French Maquis at LeRailet, in the Tarn region of France.”


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The Power of Joined Voices

 

The Power of Joined Voices

By Patricia M. DeMarco
May 20, 2018

 “It took hundreds of millions of years to produce the life that now inhabits the earth –    eons of time in which that developing and evolving and diversifying life reached a state of adjustment and balance with its surroundings. Given time – time not in years but in millennia – life adjusts, and a balance has been reached. For time is the essential ingredient; but in the modern world there is no time.” [1]Rachel Carson

Daily headlines document the gleeful devolution of our environmental protections, even as the conditions of climate and pollution grow worse.[2]A numbing effect sets in; beyond disbelief, a paralysis of will sends people into a shocked retreat. We pretend that some visionary leader will step in to save us. Or that a yet undiscovered technology will emerge to reverse the effects of global warming and global plastic pollution. We pretend it will all be fine, and try to go on with our lives while the basic life support system of our earth is torn to shreds. It is the children who are outraged, who bring suit and scream for justice.[3] It is the Native American defenders of water and land who rise up with their lives on the line to protest and object.[4]When rules protecting endangered species, drinking water, farm workers and children are dismantled in the name of immediate profits, or the lure of jobs, where is the outrage against the harm? Against the injustice? In nine states laws are under consideration that would make protesting energy infrastructure a criminal act, subject to prison as domestic terrorism.[5]Where is the outrage against the basic violation of First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly? When did cruelty become a value that makes America “Great”?

No visionary leader is going to come forth to save us. We must take responsibility to object directly to those in office at all levels who are making these decisions. We must take action ourselves, in our daily lives. There is no way to generate the necessary uprising of protest against the outrageous actions of this Administration and those complicit by silence without each one of us standing up and declaring ENOUGH!  There is a better choice for a way forward.  We have better options for our economy, for our way of life, for our children’s future. We do not need to destroy the Earth to have a thriving civilization. Indeed, we must preserve and restore the living systems of the Earth if we are to survive at all.

On this day, my 72ndbirthday, I call on all of my colleagues and friends, collaborators and associates to Stand Up! Speak Up! End the complacent silence that gives tacit permission for the destruction of our world to continue. We must exercise our obligations as citizens, as caring human beings, as children of Mother Earth to preserve the life support system of our planet. I urge a call to action as a manifesto for the environment.[6]

The rationale for this call to action rests on the following facts:

  1. The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania States The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.” Article 1, Section 27.[7]
  2. All forms of exploitation, abuse and contamination have caused great destruction, degradation and disruption of Mother Earth, putting life as we know it today at risk through phenomena such as climate change.[8]
  3. Communities and people of color have been disproportionally affected by the environmental, health, social and cultural effects of energy and resource exploitation and development. [9]
  4. Burning fossil fuels, the principal cause of global warming, compromises the life support system of all oxygen-breathing, freshwater-dependent organisms, including humans, while global pollution from man-made chemicals, especially those with endocrine disrupting properties, threaten the health of creatures throughout the world. [10]
  5. The health and well-being of people and especially children are significantly degraded[11]:
    • One in 12 Americans suffer from asthma[12]
    • In 2018, an estimated 1,735,350 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and 609,640 people will die from the disease [13]
    • Newborn babies have more than 200 synthetic chemicals in their blood, 75 of which are known to cause mutations and cancers. [14]
    • Sperm counts have declined by 50% to 60% in the last 40 years in America and other Western countries.[15]

It is critical to seek and support people in office at all levels who support the following positions:

  1. To protect, restore and preserve for future generations the fresh water, clean air, fertile ground and biodiversity of species of Pennsylvania, the United States and the world.
  2. To promote urban and rural ecological policies to clean up and rebuild our cities and rural areas honoring the cultural heritage of all our communities
  3. To support investment in renewable energy systems and regenerative agriculture and train workers to pursue careers in these fields.
  4. To oppose destructive practices such as slick water hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas, destructive coal mining practices, and wanton pollution of water, air and land.
  5. To promote non-toxic manufacturing with an economy designed to reclaim and reuse materials, such as recycling of glass, plastic, paper and metals, and to limit or eliminate single-use plastics.
  6. To promote policies based on mutual respect and justice for all peoples, free from any discrimination or bias.

Only with the joined voices of all people who care about the future, about our children, and about the quality of life for all living things can we overcome the culture of greed that has evolved in America. The only value that matters in the current decision-making process is the dollar, the short-term economic benefit to interests vested in the existing political power structure. It is time to reassert the values of social equity, care and concern for the elderly, ill, weak and the children of our country. Many people in past generations — especially unionized workers — have fought for the protections put into place over the past 100 years. Their efforts changed the laws to protect worker health and safety, cleaned up the air and the water, established wage and labor protections so that life expectancy increased, worker safety and health become a priority, and broadly shared prosperity was accomplished alongside of real progress in cleaning up the environment. Those successful battles also made it possible for people to enjoy our national and state parks, not only because these areas were protected but also because of the negotiated rights of workers to have time away from work available for themselves and their families.  [16]

Everyone alive today has received the legacy of the struggles of the activists who came before us. What has been so hard won with blood, sweat and tears can be lost through indifference, and complacency. It is time to reclaim and rebuild a public education system that prepares all Americans to respond to a changing future. It is time to have healthy people and a healthy environment as a right for everyone. It is time to reclaim America as a land of hope, empowerment and caring communities instead of a place of ignorance, deprivation and fear.

We must each stand up for what is true and right, with courage, determination and passion. It is not enough to grumble to each other, to wring our hands and complain. It is time to act boldly. We do not want to see hard-won environmental protections rolled back to 1985, or worse. We do not want to see worker and child labor laws weakened or rescinded. We do not want to have education become a privilege of the elite. We do not want toxic emissions to air, water and land to become even more pervasive. A true democracy depends absolutely on an informed and engaged citizenry, on freedom of speech and of the press. We must stand up for our America, or we will be inhabitants of a despoiled and tortured land, her wealth squandered, her beauty plundered, her heart broken. To accept tyranny in silence is to become compliant in the slow murder of our culture.

I will fight for clean air, fresh water, fertile lands, and to preserve the beauty and wonderful intricacy of Nature to my last breath. Join me, for now, and for the unborn children of the 21st century whose fate we shape by our action, or by our silence. Joined voices of the People will prevail over tyranny and greed.

Blessed Be

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Citations

[1]Rachel L. Carson.Silent Spring. (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston,1962) 6.

[2] White House, Briefings and Statements. Energy and Environment Archive. 2017-2018 https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/?issue_filter=energy-environment

[3]Juliana vs. The United States. Constitutional Climate Lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in the District Court of Oregon. 2015.  https://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/us/federal-lawsuit/

[4] Grant Crawford. “Tri-Council Passes Resolution supporting Standing Rock Sioux.” Talequah Daily Press. May 1, 2017. http://www.tahlequahdailypress.com/news/tri-council-passes-resolution-supporting-standing-rock-sioux/article_89c0d220-2e88-11e7-9633-17825b450097.html

[5]Daniel Walmer. “PA Senator wants protestors to cover costs if they break the law.”  Lebanon Daily News. August 26, 2017. https://www.ldnews.com/story/news/local/2017/08/26/pa-senator-wants-protesters-cover-costs-if-they-break-law/601452001/

American Legislative Exchange Council. “Model Policy: Critical Infrastructure Protection Act” https://www.alec.org/model-policy/critical-infrastructure-protection-act/(Under consideration in nine states, including Pennsylvania.)

[6]Portions of this statement were developed in collaboration with Mike Stout, Anita Prizio, Jay Ting Walker, Cole McDonald, with input from Jules Lobel and Mark Dixon as part of a proposed Platform for the Community Power Movement.  See www.xxxxxfor details and more information.

[7]Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Article 1, Section 27.

[8]World Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. Cochabamba, Bolivia. April 22, 2010.   https://therightsofnature.org/universal-declaration/

[9]First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, “Principles of Environmental Justice.” Washington, D.C. October 27-29, 1991. https://www.ejnet.org/ej/principles.html

[10]Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report, Contribution of Working Groups I, II, and III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC Plenary 27, Valencia, Spain, November 12-17, 2007, page 36.

[11]Crimmins, A., J. Balbus, J.L. Gamble, C.B. Beard, J.E. Bell, D. Dodgen, R.J. Eisen, N. Fann, M.D. Hawkins, S.C. Herring, L. Jantarasami, D.M. Mills, S. Saha, M.C. Sarofim, J. Trtanj, and L. Ziska, Eds.  The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, 312 pp.  http://dx.doi.org/10.7930/J0R49NQXhttps://health2016.globalchange.gov:

[12]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Vital Signs- Asthma in the United States.” May 2011. https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/asthma/index.html

[13]National Institute of Health, National Cancer Institute. Cancer Statistics. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/statistics

[14]Sara Goodman. “Tests find more than 200 chemicals in newborn umbilical cord blood.” Scientific American. December 2009.    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/newborn-babies-chemicals-exposure-bpa/

[15]Hagai Levine Niels Jørgensen Anderson Martino-AndradeJaime Mendiola Dan Weksler-Derri Irina Mindlis Rachel PinottiShanna H SwanTemporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis. Human Reproduction Update, Volume 23, Issue 6, 1 November 2017, Pages 646–659, https://doi.org/10.1093/humupd/dmx022

[16]Matthew Mehalik, Executive Director, The Breathe Project contributed to this discussion.