Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."


Green Jobs and A Living Planet: Make It Happen

Patricia M. DeMarco

May 20, 2019

The fragrant, lush explosion of growth in the deciduous Pittsburgh landscape reminds me that Nature is resilient and has evolved through millions of years to thrive and flourish. Though the reality that human actions have precipitated existential crises from global warming and global pollution is undeniable, the burgeoning life of Spring brings hope. What humans have caused, humans can change. The laws of Nature are not negotiable, but the laws and policies of nations can be changed to preserve natural systems. The time is ripe and the tools for a sustainable transformation of our economy and our culture are at hand.

The Situation

The natural systems of the earth have evolved to provide everything we need to survive and thrive – the essential conditions for life as we know it: solar energy (both incident and stored), oxygen-rich air, fresh water, fertile ground, and the vast biodiversity of species that constitute the living earth. This essential life support system is under stress from human driven actions: fossil fuel combustion, resource extraction, uncontrolled population expansion, and hyper-consumption, especially in America. Americans comprise about 5% of the world’s population but use 25% of the worlds energy resources.[1]It would take five and a half planets to provide our lifestyle for everyone on earth, but we have only one Earth. The Mauna Loa Observatory has measured carbon dioxide levels at 415 parts per million, an atmospheric concentration not seen on planet Earth for over three million years. [2],[3]We are entering planetary conditions never experienced by current living systems, including human civilizations.

The situation is more urgent than ever. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) issued itsreport on Global Biodiversity compiled by 145 expert scientists from 50 countries. Sir Robert Watson, Chair of the IPBES said: “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide. … it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” he said. “Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably – this is also key to meeting most other global goals. By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”[4]

How can we accomplish this critical task? The Green New Deal framework presents a catalyst to stimulate creative discourse on bringing a positive transformation to our system.[5]Town Hall meetings on the Green New Deal are taking place across the country as people begin to work out the specifics of a green economy. These conversations offer an opportunity to bring many more people to awareness of the severity of the situation we are facing, and to move to action in every aspect of our lives. This problem is too important to leave to “other people” or “whoever is in charge.” Everyone has a stake in preserving a habitable planet for now, and especially for the future. Sustainability must become the new normal.

The Concept of Sustainability

We are not facing a technology problem- we are facing an ethics and a moral problem. There is ample evidence in recent history of America leading transformative changes in a short time when united in purpose and guided by a specific objective, as illustrated by the rapid industrialization of our economy in World War II to defeat Hitler. [6]Sustainability requires that we place a higher priority on taking responsibility to preserve a living earth for future generations. The Brundtland Commission definition of sustainability states simply: “Meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.[7]If we care at all about our children and grandchildren, it is critical to recognize that this an existential challenge for all of life on Earth, and an intergenerational imperative. We already experience the effects of a one degree increase in the average temperature of the earth.[8]To achieve sustainability within the next twenty years, we must pursue system solutions to systemic problems.  

Plan for a Sustainable Economy

A true transformation of our economy and lifestyle requires moving in a new direction on multiple levels. The energy system must shift from a fossil fuel basis, – oil, natural gas and coal – to energy use and production around modular, renewable resources. The food production system must shift from a chemical-dependent process to regenerative agriculture processes that restore the fertility of the land, sequester carbon, and provide food more locally.  The processes that create materials and goods must shift to using resources that do not create toxic products and by-products, such as plastics from fossil feed-stocks, but rather use components that can be broken down in natural systems. Moving these major systems to a different platform does not require new technology, but a commitment to shifting to a life-sustaining system instead.[9]The transformation is in process all over the world and in many places in America as well. When people visualize the changes in a positive light, they will no longer fear moving to the unknown. Workers in the oil, gas and coal industries, in the traditional petrochemical production industries, and commercial scale agriculture industry feel fear and uncertainty about changes proposed to achieve sustainability. The immediate threat of job loss and meeting needs of family overwhelm philosophical attention to the fate of future generations, even the rapidly approaching fate of today’s children. We must replace that fear with concrete plans for a sustainable economy. 

A just transition must include a plan for taking care of the workers in industries that need to change. That means protecting workers and their unions, including their wages, pensions and health benefits, providing meaningful training and re-training, and making investments in communities for new infrastructure, new systems and effective social infrastructure of laws and regulations. Simply mandating fuel substitutions is inadequate to this task. We need to re-frame the problem and reach to the root causes of social justice and environmental justice issues to make a meaningful and effective transition.

Re-Framing the Problem

We measure the well-being of our country on the basis of how well the economy is doing. Consumer confidence, the Gross Domestic Product, the performance of Wall Street, the size of the trade deficit all mark the measure of success. The most widely quoted indicator, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the sum of Consumption (Consumer spending) plus Investment by private companies plus Government Spending plus the net of Exports minus Imports. Our economy basically depends on turning raw material to trash as rapidly as possible with consumer spending at the heart of the system. This approach does not account for the priceless contributions of the living ecosystems that provide fresh water, clean air, fertile ground and support of the entire biodiversity of species. These essential functions are not explicitly reflected in what is measured, and in fact, the destruction of such essential services often counts as a positive value in the GDP, such as filling wetlands for building sites.[10]The priceless services the living Earth provides, like pollination, oxygen creation, water purification and so many others, do not count in the GDP. In a sustainable system, the economic value would be balanced with social and cultural values, and environmental values for a holistic approach to measuring the well-being of society.[11]By placing overwhelming emphasis on the economic value as indicated by the GDP, the balance of society is skewed. 

This one-dimensional way of measuringvalue obscures the full environmental and social consequences of consumer’s decisions. Prices of goods and services to not reflect the cost in environmental damage to land and ecosystems, the cost of air pollution on health, the contamination of water supplies, or the loss of farmland to prolonged drought. In fact, many policies actually supportenvironmental destruction. 

In the energy system, for example, moving toward sustainability requires that fossil fuel combustion must be quickly curtailed. Yet, government policies, some dating back to the early nineteenth century, heavily subsidize fossil fuel extraction.[12]In the U. S. direct production subsidies for oil, gas and coal extraction amount to $20.5 billion per year hard-wired into the tax and budget process.[13]PermanentInvestment Tax Credits for oil, gas, coal development amount to an additional $7.4 Billion/year.[14]This is compared to $1.3 billion/year for all renewables tax credits, which decline on a sliding scale and end in five years unless Congress explicitly extends them. There are additional federal tax credits and loopholes for oil, gas and coal amounting to $10 billion/year:

  • Intangible drilling oil & gas deduction ($2.3 billion)
  • Excess of percentage over cost depletion ($1.5 billion)
  • Master Limited Partnerships tax exemption ($1.6 billion)
  • Last-in, first-out (LIFO) accounting ($1.7 billion)
  • Lost royalties from onshore and offshore drilling ($1.2 billion)
  • Low-cost leasing of coal-production in the Powder River Basin ($963 million)[15][16]

Changing this wide array of subsidies would require explicit changes in the law by an act of Congress. 

Why do all of these subsidies matter? First, 98% of all operating coal plants are unprofitable if environmental controls are updated and enforced, and 50% of yet-to-be-drilled oil and gas wells are not profitable (at $50/barrel oil price) if they do not have tax preferences. [17]The fossil industries spend an enormous amount of money to keep these preferential treatments in place.[18]For example, in the 2015-2016 election cycle, oil, gas, and coal companies spent $354 million on campaigns and lobbying, and received $29.4 billion in subsidies.[19]The laws will not be changed as long as the people in Congress are beholden to the fossil interests. The status quo will not achieve sustainability within a reasonable window of time. It is too late for small incremental changes. Major changes through a comprehensive and bold initiative are necessary. The Green New Deal approaches a solution in a multidimensional way.

The Cost of NOT Acting on Climate

As initiatives ranging from the “cap and Trade” proposals of 2009 to the Green New Deal of 2018 come forward, the prevailing reaction has been that green options are too expensive and therefore impractical. However, failingto address climate change is already very expensive. The Global Change Research Act of 1990 mandated a climate assessment be filed to Congress every four years. The Fourth Climate Assessment was filedin November 2018, by 17 current federal agencies appointed under President Trump. The findings of this report are unequivocal:

  • $160 billion in lost wages a year from heat-induced productivity reduction;
  • $87 billion a year by 2100 in higher energy costs due to mounting demand on a power system made less reliable by extreme weather.
  • $507 billion worth of infrastructure damage from real estate at risk of being inundated by rising sea levels by 2100; and
  • $1.2 to $1.4 Billion/year from Inland flooding destruction of thousands of bridges by 2050
  • $230 million/ year—loss on shellfish harvests. 
  • $140 Billion/year recreation industry losses from disappearing coral reefs alone 
  • cold-water fishing and skiing would also be affected. [20]

These costs are considered to be minimum estimates of the potential damages and resulting costs as the result of climate change. The economic damages on industries, communities, individuals and institutions are already accumulating across the country, and around the world.[21]

Better Choices: The Green Jobs Economy

What is a “Green Job”? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Green Jobs are “Jobs in businesses that produce goods and services that benefit the environment and conserve natural resources.” These are in diverse fields and enterprises ranging from biological materials processing to regenerative agriculture.  For simplicity, I will focus here on the energy sector. 

Green jobs in the energy sector are expanding rapidly as technology costs in renewables are dropping sharply. In 2013, based on unsubsidized life cycle cost analysis by Lazard investment bank, both wind and solar utility scale systems fell below the cost of coal, and the costs have continued to decline against coal, oil and gas.[22]Demand is also increasing for energy efficiency and clean energy solutions as businesses seek to save operating costs. Businesses especially recognize that energy efficiency has rapid returns and is an under-used tool for productivity improvement. Investment in energy management software alone is expected to increase by 10% in the next four years. [23]In many states, more supportive policies encouraging renewable energy use and removing barriers such as restrictive zoning are advancing renewable energy systems.[24]

The green energy field has a diversity of job opportunities in sectors ranging from clean energy production to environmental management. All have shown robust job growth over the last decade, with trends increasingly positive.[25]Renewable energy systemsinclude hydroelectric, wind and solar energy, both passive solar incorporated into building design and active photovoltaic power generation. Solar energy alone employs more people than oil, gas and coal combined with 777,000 jobs posted in 2016. Solar jobs are growing at 25% per year and wind at 16% per year, though the trend has slowed a bit due to federal policy uncertainty and the tariffs imposed on imports of solar panels and components from China.[26]The renewable energy production field employs skilled workers such as Electricians, Electrician helpers, Solar Installers, repairers, and Electric power plant operators. When these renewable energy systems are built in America, they also employ machinists, construction workers, and building trades workers.

Energy Storage and Advanced Electric Gridopportunities showed a 235% surge in growth in 2016-2017with 98,800 jobs in storage and 55,000 jobs in advanced electric grid operations. These fields are critical for building the infrastructure to integrate renewable resources into a smoothly functioning electric system. Adding storage both as utility scale functions and as modular additions to individual buildings creates flexibility, reliability and resilience in the operations of electric service. Using artificial intelligence for grid management and load adjustments also expands the capability of the system. This is an exciting and rapidly growing field.

The Energy Efficiency fieldincludes diagnostics, engineering modifications, retrofitting, adapting and installing energy efficiency improvements to commercial and residential buildings. This sector employs 2.2 million workers, mostly in construction trades such as Roofers, Roofer- Helpers, Pipe-layers, Plumbers, Pipefitters, Steamfitters, HVAC Mechanics, and HVAC Installers. The opportunities in energy efficiency grow as communities and businesses invest in infrastructure improvements and modernization. Because these jobs are tied to local initiatives, they are an excellent bridge to a more resilient economy.

The transportation sector is undergoing a massive transformation in Advanced Vehicles and Transportation. Developing and manufacturing electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles provided 174,000 jobs in 2016-2017. It is a growing field, for example, Ford announced $11 Billion in investment for 40 EV and Hybrid vehicles targeted to be on the market by 2022.[27]In addition to traditional automotive workers, this sector adds skills in artificial intelligence, engineering and electronics. 

Environmental Managementin the green economy has a role of increasing importance.  This field defines the intersection of change where traditional systems are adapting to incorporate renewable energy, efficiency and operations. [28]Because of the strong financial benefit of sustainability, 43% of corporate executives have placed sustainability on the agenda for their operations. Though the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track “sustainability” jobs at this time, there are strong indicators of rapid growth in this field.[29]Jobs in the energy management field include Hazardous waste management, Refuse Recycling management, Septic system engineers, Plant and system operators, Conservation scientists.[30]This field is evolving and is shaping the direction for future enterprises both from within corporations and as new business areas of opportunity.

Wages and Skills in the Green Economy

An often – repeated allegation about the green economy holds that green jobs don’t pay well.  This is not true. Wages in the clean energy economy are above the national average of $23.86 per hour. For Clean Energy Production (renewables) wages average $28.41 per hour; for Energy efficiency, $25.90 per hour; and for Environmental Management, wages average $27.45 per hour. [31]

The scope and range of job opportunities offer a wide array of skill requirements and opportunities.  This is an area of high diversity and high prospects for growth. Jobs that improve the environment and conserve resources offer a foundation for moving to a sustainable future. The barriers and impediments to this path can be overcome. The problem is much like that of the Suffragettes who had to overcome the objections of the men in power to obtain rights for women to vote. The fossil industry interests hold the power in Congress, and they must be overcome to accelerate the transformation necessary to address climate change and global pollution. Workers in current fossil industries such as coal mining look at green job opportunities through the lens of wages won by long and hard union negotiations, years of organizing for rights and benefits, and a generation of struggle. The jobs of the Industrial Revolution are not the jobs of the future. But the wages, benefits and conditions of work are negotiable, and can be improved. These new jobs have the benefit of being inherently healthier both for the workers and for the environment of the communities. Organizing, negotiating and demanding more equitable wages, fair distribution of resources between workers and corporate owners, and a basic respect for the dignity of work lie at the heart of this initiative for green jobs. The days of man-killing work are over, and we should rejoice that the future holds better choices.

A call to action

There is no reason to delay the rapid transformation to a sustainable green economy. We need only to listen to our children.  From young Greta Thornburg pleading for her future to the United Nations to our own children in lawsuits against inaction by the U.S. Government, children around the world are begging for their future. Our Constitution offers Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness as an inalienable right. If we leave our children a planet so compromised that the life support functions we take for granted do not operate, haven’t we failed in our Constitutional obligation to them? As stated in the International AFL-CIO Confederation climate statement in Copenhagen this year, “Economic transformation cannot be left to the “invisible hand” of the market.”[32]This is a time for workers to unite and organize for the sake of our children and grandchildren, to learn the lessons of the union labor movement and demand a more equitable solution.

The laws of Nature are NOT negotiable. Climate change will continue its inevitable course with ever increasing disastrous consequences for all of life on Earth. OUR Laws must change to enable and promote “Green Jobs” instead of protecting fossil industries. The majority of Americans want action on climate change.  We must find the determination and organize broadly to change the direction of our government policies. The current policies of the United States are moving backward – rejecting the Paris Accord on Climate Action, refusing to sign the Plastics Reduction amendment to the Basel Accord on international trade in hazardous materials, and rescinding 87 environmental and health protections by Executive Order, for example. None of these actions serve the public interest, rather they seek to re-establish a world that no longer exists.

Momentum is building for action on climate change: 22 states, 550 cities, and 900 companies with operations in the US have made climate commitments.[33]All 50 states have some type of policy that could bring about emissions reductions. When people demand action, we can make change happen. The key elements for action on climate change include:[34]

1. Government-driven investments in the Green Economy

2. Innovation and skills development 

3. Social protection- especially pensions and benefits 

4. Consultation with social partners (unions and employers) 

5. Healthy environment for healthy people and planet

6. Equitable redistribution of resources and power.

These are essential to the necessary transformation to a better, sustainable future.

We can DECIDE to leave a Living Earth as a legacy for our children! 

Citations and Resources:


[1]http://www.worldwatch.org/node/810

[2]Scripps Institution of Oceanography. CO2 Reading for May 11,2019. Mauna Loa Data Center. https://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/

[3] https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/carbon-dioxide-hits-level-not-seen-3-million-years-here-ncna1005231 

[4]https://www.ipbes.net/document-library-catalogue/summary-policymakers-global-assessment-report-biodiversity-ecosystem)

[5]H. Res. 109. Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal. 116thCongress, 1stSession. February 7, 2019. https://www.congress.gov/116/bills/hres109/BILLS-116hres109ih.pdf

[6]https://prospect.org/article/way-we-won-americas-economic-breakthrough-during-world-war-ii Accessed May 15, 2019

[7]  World Commission on Environment and Development Report “Our Common Future.” 1987. https://www.sustainabledevelopment2015.org/AdvocacyToolkit/index.php/earth-summit-history/historical-documents/92-our-common-future

[8]See discussion of effects of elevated carbon dioxide levelshttps://www.cnn.com/2019/05/13/health/carbon-dioxide-world-intl/index.html)

[9]For more examples see P. DeMarco. Pathways to Our Sustainable Future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. 2017 University of Pittsburgh Press.

[10]R. Costanza, R. deGroot, P.Sutton, S.vander Ploeg, S. Anderson, I. Kubeszewski, S. Farber, R.K.Turner. “Changes in the global value of ecosystem services.” Global Environmental Change. 2014. 26:152-158.   https://community-wealth.org/sites/clone.community-wealth.org/files/downloads/article-costanza-et-al.pdfAccessed May 17, 2019.

[11]Pennsylvania Land Trust Association. “Economic and Environmental Benefits of Biodiversity”   https://conservationtools.org/guides/95-economic-benefits-of-biodiversity Accessed May 19, 2019.

[12]The National Energy Act of 2005 explicitly granted exemptions from seven federal environmental and worker safety protections to allow natural gas extraction from deep shale formations by hydraulic fracturing. 

[13]http://priceofoil.org/fossil-fuel-subsidies/

[14]https://www.treasury.gov/open/Documents/USA%20FFSR%20progress%20report%20to%20G20%202014%20Final.pdf

[15]https://www.eia.gov/analysis/requests/subsidy/  also   https://www.nature.com/articles/s41560-017-0009-8

[16] http://priceofoil.org/2017/10/03/dirty-energy-dominance-us-subsidies/

[17]http://priceofoil.org/2018/02/07/new-study-shows-axing-fossil-fuel-subsidies-could-deliver-major-climate-benefits-but-press-release-says-the-opposite/

[18]https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/mar/03/oil-and-gas-industry-has-pumped-millions-into-republican-campaigns

[19]https://www.opensecrets.org/industries/indus.php?Ind=E01

[20]https://nca2018.globalchange.gov

[21]https://www.ipbes.net/news/Media-Release-Global-Assessment

[22]Lazard. Levelized Cost of Energy Report. 2018. https://www.lazard.com/perspective/levelized-cost-of-energy-and-levelized-cost-of-storage-2018/

[23]https://www.energymanagertoday.com/11-experts-predict-the-future-of-energy-management-in-2019-0180643/

[24] Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy  http://www.dsireusa.org

[25]https://www.labor4sustainability.org/post/green-jobs-in-a-global-green-new-deal/

[26]https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2017/01/25/u-s-solar-energy-employs-more-people-than-oil-coal-and-gas-combined-infographic/#7cc2b7228000  

[27]Ford announces $11 Billion investment in 40  hybrid and electric vehicles by 2022. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autoshow-detroit-ford-motor/ford-plans-11-billion-investment-40-electrified-vehicles-by-2022-idUSKBN1F30YZ

[28]https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability/our-insights/sustainabilitys-strategic-worth-mckinsey-global-survey-results

[29]https://www.bls.gov/green/sustainability/sustainability.htm

[30]https://www.bls.gov/green/

[31]https://www.brookings.edu/research/advancing-inclusion-through-clean-energy-jobs/

[32]AFL-CIO Climate statement at Copenhagen  https://www.scribd.com/document/96838350/Final-Report-from-the-AFL-CIO-and-International-Trade-Union-Confederation-on-the-Copenhagen-Accord-on-Climate-Change

[33]Bloomberg Philanthropies. Fulfilling America’s Pledge: How States, Cities, and Businesses are Leading the United States to a Low-carbon Future. 2018. https://www.bbhub.io/dotorg/sites/28/2018/09/Fulfilling-Americas-Pledge-2018.pdf  Accessed May 22, 2019.

[34](for more ideas on a just transition see https://climatejusticealliance.org/just-transition/


The Rights of the Living Earth

Today is Earth Day 2019. It is time to move from awareness to action as we face the existential crises of our time – global warming and global pollution. It is time to recognize and assign a high value to the rights of the Living earth that provides our own life support system – fresh water, clean air, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species that comprise the ecosystems of this living planet. We must shift from making our decisions around only economic determinations of profit for corporations and bring back the balance that values a healthy environment, healthy ecosystems, and strong cultural and social resources. We cannot sustain our civilization in a world wrung dry and rendered barren from unfettered resource extraction and human greed. Only communities of caring people, respectful of the rights of the living earth as essential as our own , will preserve our options for the future. Our children deserve the right to fresh water, clean air and fertile ground. Let us stand today on this Earth day 2019 to defend the rights of Our Living earth.
Listen here

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2VPVHlrQ6E&feature=youtu.be


Waste and Recycling- Turning Problems into Opportunities

April 9, 2019

Patricia DeMarco statement to Allegheny County Council

As a fellow elected Official from the Borough of Forest Hills, I recognize the obligation we have to plan for the needs of our community, for both the current and future citizens. We in the local government level are closest to the needs of people, and have the best opportunity to engage in enlightened change.  We are facing twin existential crises in our time in global warming and global pollution, especially from plastics.  Changes in federal trade policies and in China’s restrictions on accepting waste with less than 1% contamination have created a looming crisis in trash management as municipalities across the country face significant changes in the rules. Most material collected through single stream recycling becomes cross-contaminated and increasingly ends up in landfills.

The 139 communities in Allegheny County are each struggling to understand options and cost impact of the changes in recycling rules.  People want to recycle, but “aspirational recycling” leads to inappropriate mixing of materials that are not accepted. The change in the rules of recycling present an opportunity for us to work together collectively to find a better solution. 

  1. Better metrics.  We do not have a good understanding of the components of the entire waste stream. The last comprehensive study was published by the EPA in 2009, and updates are not available to date. That study indicates that Municipal Solid Waste is a small part of the overall waste problem. There may be significant regional and local variations in the components of the waste stream that will be important to understand. The US produces around 236 million tons of municipal waste each year, but numbers for industrial waste are less clear, with some estimates as high as 7.6 billion tons per year. Plastic packaging represents about 65% of household trash. https://recoverusa.com/industrial-waste-management/It is important to know what we are dealing with both in amounts and sources. 
  • Restrict single-use plastics. Several communities have enacted bans on the use of single-use plastics such as shopping bags, plastic straws and stirrers, and Styrofoam containers. Over 95 pieces of legislation have been enacted in 2019 addressing recycling and single-use plastics ranging from the Maine requirement to provide receptacles for convenient return of plastic bags to California where several restrictions passed by referendum. Models of actions taken at all levels of government are available, and options tailored to the waste stream of this area can be developed. http://www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resources/plastic-bag-legislation.aspx
  • Increase fines for litter.A huge amount of plastic materials litter the streets and are washed into the rivers. We have seen the graphic and tragic results of ocean creatures harmed and killed by ingesting plastic material. Plastics that will endure for hundreds of years are used for short-term, single purpose objects like plastic bags, plastic straws, plastic or Styrofoam containers. The material has not been suited to the function intended. So much material ends up on the edges of roads, streets, yards, blowing around to be caught in tree branches.  If we raise the fines for littering to $1000 per incident and enforce the law by making offenders clean up litter, we can raise awareness of the harm from throwing material into public spaces.
  • Create economic opportunities for circular material management. Less than 0.1% of recycled material is returned to a useful product. Fossil resources from natural gas liquids or petroleum distillates are manufactured into products designed for a single use, and then become trash. There is an ethical component of this business model that uses plastics – a material that will last for hundreds of years in the environment- for products designed to be used for minutes. As the frantic build-out of the ethane cracker plant complex in western PA and Ohio and West Virginia continues its slog through the regulatory process, we who have responsibility to the citizens’ health and well-being must ask the questions about designing these products to be re-used, re-purposed or re-claimed. Does the output need to be feedstock for further single-use packaging material? Can we intervene in this process and require accountability for the design so the end result is not an additional billion tons per year of material designed to be trash?
  • Reclaim and re-use.If we can separate and collect materials such as glass and certain parts of the plastics stream, there are opportunities for new business development.  Pittsburgh was once a center for glass manufacture and has a long legacy of innovation in materials management.  Pittsburgh has nine EPA Green Chemistry Award winners in both academic and private sector categories. Can we develop a materials industry that does not rely on fossil feed stocks? Can we use some waste plastics to fabricate feed for 3-D printing? Are there other industries that can emerge around a circular materials management system?  We need to explore these ideas as a way to generate economic opportunities drawn from what is now a growing problem.

Clearly a matter of such complexity will not be resolved by any municipality acting alone.  I would like to ask the Allegheny County Council to establish a Special Task Force to investigate the best ways to address the waste issue, both from the perspective of source reduction and from the perspective of creating a path to reuse and repurposing materials.  We must address both industrial and municipal wastes. And we must create a culture of care among the public to stop the wanton discard of trash. The 29 CONNECT municipalities surrounding Pittsburgh have established a new Working Group on Economic Development and the Environment to begin addressing these issues together.  I hope the Allegheny County Council can establish leadership in addressing this issue.


2019 Carnegie Science Award- Environment to Patricia DeMarco

March 13, 2019

PATRICIA M. DEMARCO SELECTED TO RECEIVE CARNEGIE SCIENCE AWARD
ENVIRONMENTAL ADVOCATE LAUDED BY PEERS AND REGIONAL LEADERS
FOR ACHIEVEMENTS ON FOREST HILLS BOROUGH COUNCIL

PITTSBURGH, March 13, 2019 – Each year, Carnegie Science Center’s Carnegie Science Awards recognizes and celebrates innovative and inspiring leaders in western Pennsylvania who are on the cutting edge of the science and technology industries. At a private reception at the Science Center on March 12, 2019, officials announced that Patricia M. DeMarco, PhD, will receive a Carnegie Science Award in the Environmental category for her achievements as a member of the Forest Hills Borough Council.

Winners of Carnegie Science Awards, presented by Eaton, were selected by a committee of peers—past awardees and industry leaders—who rigorously reviewed nominations and selected the most deserving winners. This year, the program will honor awardees in categories ranging from Corporate Innovation, Start-Up Entrepreneur, Life Sciences, Science Communicator, and several educator and student categories. In addition, a Chairman’s Award is presented to an individual or an organization that has made outstanding contributions in science, either through exemplary work in one field or through transcendent leadership, commitment, or achievement.

“The Carnegie Science Awards provide an opportunity to celebrate the remarkably talented individuals and organizations in our region’s science community,” said Jason Brown, Henry Buhl, Jr., Interim Director of Carnegie Science Center. “These innovators have had immeasurable impact on Pittsburgh’s healthcare, manufacturing, energy, environmental, and education industries. Their achievements, dedication, and perseverance are truly inspiring.”

As a professor, mentor, author, radio host, and more, Patricia M. DeMarco, PhD, has established herself as a passionate environmental leader in the Pittsburgh region and beyond. After her election to the Forest Hills Borough Council in 2016, Dr. DeMarco conducted a lifecycle cost analysis for a solar photovoltaic system to be included in the design of the new borough building. The construction of the passive solar design building has a geothermal heating and cooling system with an average annual net zero energy performance. As part of the Borough commitment to environmental quality she re-established the borough’s Environmental Advisory Council, which has offered public awareness programs on recycling, plastics, and energy efficiency as well as a community clean-up.

On receiving the award, DeMarco said: “Moving a community to commit to sustainability through an innovative building design takes a whole team and a sustained effort. My role has been one of a catalyst to mobilize a shared vision and the talents of many people to bring this vision forward. Members of the Borough Council past and present, the Borough Manager Mr. Morus, architect Rob Pfaffmann, general contractor Volpatt Construction, and EIS Solar who installed and financed the solar roof, all worked to make this possible. Assistance from Senator Jay Costa supported inclusion of the Library section within the constraints of the budget. I hope the reality of the net zero energy Forest Hills Borough Building will inspire others to make a similar choice.”

The Carnegie Science Awards Celebration on May 10 will feature a strolling dinner, silent auction, and awards presentation full of inspiring stories about the region’s top minds in science, technology, research, and education. As Carnegie Science Center’s signature celebration of innovation and annual fundraiser, the event attracts 500 business, medical, academic, and community influencers from across the region, and raises funds to support education programs that nurture the next generation of science and technology leaders. For more information about the awards celebration, go to www.CarnegieScienceCenter.org/ScienceAwards.

###


1 Comment

Clairton Coke Works- An Air Quality Challenge

The Borough of Forest Hills voted to file the enclosed statement in support  of the Allegheny County Health Department Recommendations for better air quality in our area.  The comment period is open until February 28. Statements of support can be sent to jdawes@pahouse.net 


February 20, 2019
To: PA House and Senate Democratic Policy Committee

Senator Jay Costa, Representative Summer Lee
Cc: Rich Fitzgerald, County Executive
Dr. Karen Hacker, Allegheny County Health Department


Re: Comments of Borough of Forest Hills on Clairton Coke Works

The Borough of Forest Hills thanks Senator Jay Costa, Representative Summer Lee and all the members of the Democratic Senate and House Policy Committee for holding public hearings on the matter of air quality in Clairton. We have taken this opportunity to send comments for your consideration based on the needs of our community as directly affected by the US Steel Clairton Coke Works plant operations.
The Borough of Forest Hills is located 13 miles from Clairton in the immediately adjacent valley. The 6,354 citizens of the Borough of Forest Hills are directly affected by the air quality degradation due to increased emissions from the loss of the de-sulphurization equipment at the fire-damaged Coke Works in Clairton.


On December 24, 2018, a fire and explosion at the Clairton Coke Works damaged the air pollution control de-sulphurization system as well as a portion of the plant structure. (1) Since the date of this accident, we have experienced 28 days of unhealthy air quality. (2) US Steel, the plant owner, does not expect repairs to be completed until May of2019. Although the company has adjusted operations to somewhat abate emissions, coke production continues and our citizens are likely to be exposed to unhealthy air conditions for the duration of this repair period.

The 2005 National Air Toxics Assessment report listed Clairton and nearby Glassport as having the 3rd and 4th highest rates of cancer risk from air pollutants in the nation, respectively. (3) While there were improvements in the most recent 2011 report, Allegheny County is still in the top 2% of risk nationally, with much of the area above the threshold the federal government considers acceptable (1 00 in a million).

 According to a study of 1,200 local elementary school children conducted by Dr. Deborah Gentile of the Division of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology for Pediatric Alliance:(4)

• Nearly 39 percent of schoolchildren in the study were exposed to unhealthy levels of outdoor air pollution above the threshold set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while almost 71 percent of the students were exposed to levels above the threshold set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
• More than 22 percent of the study participants had physician-diagnosed asthma, but the asthma was uncontrolled for nearly 60 percent of those students.
• Children from eight school systems exposed to the highest levels of PM2.5 from industrial sources had 1.6 times the risk of an asthma diagnosis.
• There was a nearly 5 times greater prevalence of uncontrolled asthma linked to outdoor air pollution, but not to other triggers such as obesity and environmental tobacco smoke exposure, after adjustment for demographics of gender, race, and pove1iy.
• The asthma prevalence rate of22.5 percent among the students evaluated is more than double the Pennsylvania Depmiment of Health’s statewide figure of 10.2 percent for children and the federal rate of 8.6 percent for children, according to the CDC. An Allegheny County Department ofHealth survey for 2015-2016 found that 15.1 percent of adults in the county have a history of asthma. (5)

This study was completed in 2014-2016 when the Clairton Coke Works had pollution abatement equipment in place. Note that this plant is believed to use old desulphurization technology on its batteries, not the “Best Available Control Technology” which is required in similar operations in modern progressive countries such as Sweden and other European countries.6 Repairing the pollution control equipment with old technology, not best available technology, is not acceptable. Now that the control devices and monitoring recorders within the plant are inoperative, the health impact is only exacerbated by the increase in sulfur dioxide and other noxious fumes normally reduced during operations.


This chronic situation, punctuated by periodic excursions of severe pollution over the years, is overdue for permanent redress. This plant initially operated in 1867 and has had only minimum upgrades to control pollution, and then only under direct orders and fines from regulators. Since the passage of the Clean Air Act of 1964, and the toxic emissions standards adopted in 1977 this plant has had continuing violations. United States Steel entered a consent decree in 1970 to clean up the pollution from its plants, but later failed to comply with the decree they had signed. They have contested and appealed every order requiring them to end pollution from operations, including an appeal to the one million- dollar fine recently imposed by the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) for the continuing violation ofthe Title V Permit. They have contested enforcement actions, paid fines grudgingly, and threaten shutdown to maintain their
position of entitlement to use the air and rivers for disposal of the waste products of production since 1867. Modern technology is available and in use in other similar facilities that prevent the serious emission profile of the Edgar Thompson Coke Works. The coke operations are not entitled to unlimited use of the air and water for absorbing their pollution. The citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are entitled to clean air and pure water under Article 1, Section 27 of the Constitution which states:
The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values o f the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property ofall 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.
This standard of entitlement to a healthy environment also extends to the workers in the plants who often experience elevated pollution levels as part of their normal working environment.


Maintaining 19th century industries as we move into the 21st century requires adjustments to reflect the reality of this time. The ACHD has jurisdiction over enforcing the environmental and health standards pertaining to the operation of this plant and other industries in the County. However, the ACHD has only the authority granted in law and under the regulations promulgated for enforcement ofthe law. There are limitations and weaknesses in these laws and regulations that preclude optimum actions to control air and water emissions from industrial operations. It is especially important to address these deficiencies at this time because US Steel has allowed a lease for hydraulic fracturing extraction ofnatural gas operations to commence on its property at Edgar Thompson Works in the immediate future. Without amendments to the controlling laws, the new industrial sources will have the same deficiencies in public health protection that have prevailed for decades, perpetuating the lax control system well into the future. As we in Forest Hills Borough hope to expand high technology and green businesses in our area, we recognize that maintaining a high quality of life standard is critical to the future of our community as well as to the health and safety of all of our citizens.

We offer the following recommendations in support of a positive vision for a more resilient and sustainable future:
We support the recommendations of County Health Director Karen Hacker, presented at the public hearing of the Pennsylvania Operations and Policy Committee on February 7, 2019 at the Clairton Municipal Building,(7) and add some additional recommendations:
1. Amend the 1990 PA Clean Air Act to update the “episode criteria” definition. The current criteria forbid ACHD from taking action unless the pollution level exceeds 800 parts per million. ACHD cannot take necessary actions to protect public health unless the event qualifies as an “episode”8 A pollution ‘Episode’ is defined as occurring ‘when meteorological conditions are conducive to poor dispersion … and the County is under a county-wide ‘air pollution watch.’ Since Clairton pollution does not affect Fox Chapel and Sewickley due to air flow patterns, you will never have a ‘County wide air pollution watch.’
2. No regulation allows ACHD or a court to order the pollution source to do an immediate shut-down or lessening ofproduction (such as going to hot idle for the coke production batteries) if clean air standards are exceeded at monitors. ACHD is required by regulation to issue Title V ‘Permits to pollute’ to large volume sources. These permits are issued pursuant to County Code and the Allegheny County Air Control Regulations, Article XXI, Ch. 505 sec. 16 to 19. State and County regulations need to be strengthened to

allow immediate shutdown of any industrial operation if monitors reveal a pattern of regular violations of emission standards incapable of being controlled by the existing pollution control equipment, regardless whether the source is a major source with a permit to pollute under Title V, or a minor source which is not required to have a Title V Permit. 9
3. Change the regulations so that coke plants and other industries are forced by law to reduce production immediately on any day deemed to be an ‘air action day.’ These air action days include those on which weather and meteorological conditions create inversions that hold pollution close to the ground. The pollution plumes then cannot be dispersed by winds to be diluted in the upper atmosphere. The air pollution then stays close to the ground creating the smelly “smog” that smells of rotten eggs and exacerbates asthma and pulmonary problems.
4. More stringent requirements are needed to deal with fugitive emissions such as those that occur every time the ovens are opened to load or remove coke. Two of the batteries at Clairton are known to have faulty door seals which allow fugitive emissions. Article XXI currently regulating fugitive emissions must be tightened to require compliance with air quality standards when foreseeable events like charging of coke ovens or removal of coke products results in air pollution.
5. The notice of a major event must be shortened. ACHD was not advised until Friday, January 4, 2019 of how seriously the December 24, 2108 fire damaged the pollution control desulphurization equipment, and how huge an effect the loss of this equipment had on the coke works pollution emissions. The current notice provision states that an industry has seven days to notify the ACHD when an ‘incident’ occurs. Allegheny County regulation needs to be amended to require 24-hour notice to ACHD for any pollution event and a strict four- hour notice if a pollution event occurs during any air quality action day. (10)
6. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and ACHD must increase the monetary fines for air quality violations. The current system allows an industry an advantage to pay the minimum fines rather than address the repairs or abate the pollution by using best available control technology 11 .

Additional Ideas to enhance protections of public health:
1. Amend Section 505-13 definition of”air pollution episode.” An episode is currently defined to occur only when meteorological conditions are conducive to poor dispersion. An air pollution episode is defined to occur only when a Countywide air pollution watch is in effect.” Due to the way air flows in the Monongahela Valley, it would be extremely rare to have pollution in Sewickley and Fox Chapel therefore a county-wide watch will never happen. The regulation should be changed so any “air quality action day” will allow definition of an ‘air pollution episode’ in the affected area.

2. Amend Section 505-86 the Clean Air Fund regulation to provide that money in the Clean Air Fund collected from air emission violations can be distributed as a loan to any municipality whose solicitor is authorized to file suit for air pollution violations which constitute a public nuisance. Change the regulation to provide that “In the event that the ACHD hearing examiner or a Court determines that a pollution source constitutes a public nuisance, the municipality is entitled to recover all attorney fees and expenses of the suit, including all amounts loaned to it from the Clean Air Fund.” The purpose of this amendment is to help communities bear the burden of financing public nuisance lawsuits to cure air pollution.

3. Revise the permit requirements for major sources in Allegheny County Air Pollution Code Article XXI. CH. 505 Sections 17-18 dealing with major sources (those emitting more than 100 tons per year of certain hazardous pollutants.) Set forth a revised permit structure to require Best Available Control Technology for all new sources, all major repairs of existing sources, and all modifications of existing sources. The regulation should require Best Available Control Technology, and specifically not allow “Commercially Feasible Technology” which is currently specified in the regulation. The Mon Valley has been a nonattainment region for decades. Requiring ‘Best Available Control Technology,’ not ‘Commercially Feasible’ old technology can fix our pollution problems and prevent worsening conditions from new industrial sources, such as proposed hydraulic fracturing activities in Braddock Hills, Penn Hills and Versailles.
We request that the Allegheny County Health Department conduct specific health surveys in the affected communities surrounding the Clairton Coke Works during the pendency of repairs. The Clean Air Fund will allow expenditures for studies to assess the health effects of pollution and specifically examine the effect that loss of the desulphurization equipment at Clairton Coke Works has had on the Mon valley. Baseline data are available from studies conducted by Dr. Gentile and others, but specific monitoring of the health of the children, elderly, and sensitive populations must occur to maintain a good profile of the harms to the community that occur from the direct effects of this increase in air emissions. This study should include increased monitoring of air quality in the communities correlated with weather patterns and ambient air conditions. Inversions and still air that holds pollutants close to the ground in the valleys surrounding Clairton and throughout the Monongahela Valley can amplify the effects of air emissions on health. Funds for health surveys and community notification are available from
the Clean Air Fund and should be made available for this purpose.
Finally, we request The Clairton Coke Works should be placed in hot idle mode until the repairs to the pollution control equipment are competed. Delays of weeks in reporting incidents of spikes in air pollution are not acceptable. A system of reporting air quality has emerged from citizen observers through social media. However, formal advisories are important, and recommendations for action beyond “stay indoors” must be advanced. It is unreasonable to expect people to avoid outdoor activity for the duration of repairs at the Clairton Coke Works until May 20 19.


Maintaining a high quality of life is critical to our community in Forest Hills Borough as we advance into the 21st century. Attracting families and clean technology businesses to our area is more difficult when there are constant air quality alerts due to operations of a plant designed for the 19th  century. We are adamant about making a just transition to a more resilient and sustainable future for our citizens. That future depends on enhancing the quality of our air, assuring the safety and abundance of drinking water, and preserving park land and an urban forest canopy in our community. It is our obligation as representatives ofthe people we serve to protect their health and safety.


Adopted by vote of Borough Council, February 20,2019

Members:
Nina Sowiski, President
William Tomasic, Vice President William Burleigh
William Gorol
John Lawrence
Dr. Patricia DeMarco
Member of Council on behalf of Members listed above

Citations and References
1. Fire and Explosion at Clairton Coke Works. https://www.bizjournals.com/pittsburgh/news/2019/01/16/u-s-stee1-identifies-likely-cause-of- fire-repairs.htmI
2. Submission Mission air monitors for Dec 24 to Feb 5
3. National Air Toxics Emissions Report- Allegheny county
4. American Lung Association “State of the Air Report 2018” https://www.lung.org/local- content/ content-items/about-us/media/press-releases/pa-pitts-area-worsen-2018.htmI
5. Deborah Gentile study of asthma in children https://www.ahn.org/news/9-8-2017/studv-local- schoolchildren-reveals-alarming-rat s-uncontrolled-a,·Lhma-exp sure-to
6. Michael Hein and Manfred Kaiser. “Environmental Control and Emission Reduction for Coking Plants.” http://cdn.intechopen.com/pdfs/38333/intech-
environmental control and emission reduction for coking plants.pdf
7. Testimony of ACHD Director Karen Hacker begins at 1:22:07 to 1:44:15 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41AD11WE7YU&fbclid=lwAR2VG CWNyFg- MTj8XOqXj51XshNyvmxruG2wv4opGyC-vY7epbzoPw pYw
8. See the PA regulations, 25 PA Code 127.301-303 and also Allegheny County Code’s Air Pollution Control Act, CH 505-13.
9. Andrew Godstein. “Health Department Fines US Steel Clairton Works $1 Million: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. June 28, 2018. https://vvww.po t-
gazett .com/n w /environm nt/2018/06/28/Health-department-fines-U-S-Steel-Clairton-Coke- W orks-1-million-environmental-compliance/stories/20 1806280180
10. See Allegheny County Air Pollution Control Act Ch 505-13
11. The Post-Gazette news article 2-19-1991 noted it was cheaper to pollute and pay the fines than to eliminate the pollution with best available control technology.


Leave a comment

“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


Leave a comment

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


1 Comment

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


Leave a comment

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