Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."


Leave a comment

Imagine Global Cooperation- COP-23

November 9, 2017

by Patricia DeMarco

On his way to the Conference of Parties- 23 (COP-23)  in Bonn, Germany, California Governor Gerry Brown stopped to speak to the Baden-Wurttenberg lawmakers in Stuttgart to address the issue of action on climate change:  “Let’s lead the whole world to realize this is not your normal political challenge,” he added. “This is much bigger. This is life itself. It requires courage and imagination.”[1] Calling for an international movement on behalf of life on Earth as a collective priority can transcend the political divisions that paralyze effective action. Building an international consensus on a way forward can release the inventiveness of human ingenuity in response to a common crisis. The sooner we begin an international collaboration with the goal of preserving the viability of the planet for all life, the sooner we can make real progress as a civilization. We are all more alike in our humanity than different in culture, religion or politics. We all depend on our common life support system: fresh air, clean water, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species with whom we share this Earth.

This is not a partisan issue. Reach across to your neighbors and friends and plan together to make each community more resilient, more sustainable, and less dependent on fossil fuels. We must all demand that Congress place priority on reinvestment in the infrastructure of the future, beginning with communities that have had fossil extractive industries as the base of their economy for so long. It is time to diversify, to re-imagine our future around sustainable systems that restore and regenerate the living Earth which supports our life.

War-torn Syria joined the Paris Agreement at the Bonn gathering of COP-23, leaving President Trump ‘s declaration to remove the United States from the global agreement as the solitary proponent of denial. Hundreds of US Mayors, several states and many hundreds of corporations have declared adherence to the Paris Climate Accord, vowing to take actions to help hold the increase in global average temperature to no more than 2° C or 3.6° F. Reducing the combustion of fossil fuels to lower the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere is the most efficient way to accomplish this goal.  But this is only the beginning of the energy revolution that will re-shape the way civilization relates to the natural world. Once communities and businesses begin to meet their energy needs through renewable systems, rather than destructive combustion, possibilities and innovations will multiply.

Adaptations for efficiency and resilience are already occurring, for example in solar panels where the solar photovoltaic system is integrated into the structure of roofing tiles, rather than affixing them to a roof, and window glass that can generate electricity as sunlight passes through it. The concept of designing buildings that create as much energy as they use- net zero energy buildings- has already taken off as a common sense and cost efficient way to provide space conditioning and electricity in homes and commercial spaces. Research and pilot projects designing electric micro-grids that connect energy generating sources located among the customers is challenging the traditional electric  utility structure.  Some are embracing the innovations and incorporating distributed generation into their operations, finding new categories of service in load management, storage and reliability assurance.  Other utilities are resisting the advance of renewable resources and customer- owned generation with punitive tariffs and restrictive conditions for connecting to the wider grid.  In many such cases, some customers find it easier to install their own storage, and simply drop off the connected grid- true “energy independence.”

The renewable energy industry is growing rapidly. One in 50 jobs in America are in the renewable energy industries.  Solar energy jobs have increased 178% from 2010 to 2016.[2]  The solar industry employs more than 260,000 Americans, a 25% increase from 2015 to 2016, and the average wage in the industry is $28.00 per hour; 25% of the workers are women.[3] If all renewable energy and efficiency improvement industries are included, there are more workers in the renewable energy sector than in coal, oil and gas combined. Deliberate suppression of this initiative by Congressional “Tax Reform” is not productive to a growth industry that also accomplishes greater public interest goals in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In the absence of strong leadership at the federal level, states and individual companies have made a wide range of approaches to using renewable energy systems.( See the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency http://www.dsireusa.org)  It is clear that this transition from a fossil base to a renewable energy system will not proceed smoothly until there is a wider consensus in the United States to commit to a fossil free future.

This is a major step for a country as large and complex as America, but we are also a country known for its ability to rise to hard challenges and to place the common good at the center of public policy initiatives many times in its history. This can be the galvanizing common challenge that unites our spirit in purpose.  Technology is not the impediment. Rather, it is the entrenched interests of the fossil extractive industries in coal, oil and natural gas that have taken a strangle hold on the public policy process.  It is time to call a halt to the suffocation of innovation.  It is time to unleash the forces of ingenuity and creativity that will allow America to resume its leadership role in the world. This is not a matter of “getting regulations off the back of business” but rather a matter of re-designing our laws to support and encourage actions that align better with the laws of nature.  We need to preserve the life support system that provides fresh air to breathe, clean water to drink, fertile ground to grow our food, and the well-being of people and all the other living things that share this earth. This is a challenge worthy of our best efforts.  It is a challenge to inspire our young people to have hope and faith in the future, rather than fear.  It offers a way forward that recaptures the spirit of community in a shared battle that is worth winning.

This alignment of nations in the Paris Climate Accord to address the common goal of preserving a viable planet is rare, and offers an opportunity for common ground unprecedented in our time.  It is not a technology problem. It is an ethics problem we can solve by making a commitment to care for the living earth, and care for each other. A future based on renewable and sustainable systems offers a better future, not one of greater deprivation and distress.  A civilization dedicated to preserving and regenerating the life force of the Earth holds the promise of a great renewal of spirit and a richness of legacy to sustain future generations. We need the courage to move away from what has become familiar over a hundred years and adopt practices that bring the prospect of a better future closer to reality. We need the fortitude to overcome the forces vested in short-term gains at the expense of our very survival.  It is time to leave the dinosaurs at rest in the ground and welcome the sun.

Actions:

  1. Review your own energy use profile and find ways to reduce what you use in your home, your transportation and your business. https://www.nature.org/greenliving/carboncalculator/index.htm
  2. Examine your personal “supply chain” and see what you can change to reduce the amount of material you throw away or waste. Commit to cutting out disposable plastics, and recycle everything you cannot avoid. http://learn.eartheasy.com/2012/05/plastics-by-the-numbers/
  3. Call your Congressional Representatives and Senators and urge them to support climate action, especially retaining the investment tax credits for solar and wind. Punitive removal of these modest measures while adding substantial subsidies to coal, gas and nuclear fuels is an unethical choice for the future. https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials
  4. Ask your local community to make a commitment to the Paris Climate Accord. Make a plan for your local community commitment to the future of our world. https://www.wearestillin.com/us-action-climate-change-irreversible

Remember to find time to experience the wonders of nature all around us every day.  We will preserve what we love. So, do indeed adopt a tree or a stream or a landscape and keep it in your heart.

Blessed Be.

 

[1] Erik. Kirschbaum. “Gov. Gerry Brown Delivers a Blunt Climate Change Message in Germany>” Los Angeles  Times. November 8, 2017.  http://beta.latimes.com/world/europe/la-fg-germany-jerry-brown-climate-change-20171108-story.html  Accessed November 9, 2017.

[2] The Solar Foundation. State Solar Jobs Census. https://www.thesolarfoundation.org/solar-jobs-census/

[3] The Solar Foundation. “The Potential of State Solar Jobs- 2017.” http://www.thesolarfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/TSF-Census-Future-State-Solar-Jobs-2021.pdf


Leave a comment

FDR Four Freedoms of Democracy Revisited

August 28, 2017

The consequences of having a President who condones bigotry and disrespect have come to fruition this troubled summer of 2017. As White Supremacy rhetoric has become accepted as “free speech,” the moral fabric of America is shredded and all of us are more fearful and less secure in our homes, in our lives and in our communities. This violent bombast has obscured more substantive matters. Existential crises for which the possibility of consensus becomes increasingly elusive worsen while public attention diverts to the drama of domestic terrorism.

I view this tragedy of the Trump moral weakness through the lens of a visit earlier this summer to the Normandy World War II Memorial and the Omaha Beach where the U.S. and Allied forces landed in the summer of 1941 to turn the tide of the war against German Nazi armies. So many died there standing

Here Lies A Comrade In Arms Known But to God

in defense of Freedom, a concept sharpened by the contrast in the Western world between the rampages of despot Adolf Hitler, striving for world dominance in the name of an ideology based on exclusivity and hate, and the Allied ideology of liberty, inclusiveness and freedom of belief. I found it instructive to revisit President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union Address to Congress in which he called for a united stand against tyranny.

In this 21st century, we face global warfare of clashing ideologies, but we also face a common threat to the survival of life on earth from the cumulative effects of human enterprise on the environment and the life support system of the living Earth itself. WWII ended in a declared victory for freedom and a peace that lasted through diplomacy and mutual alliances until the verbal hostilities of the Cold War and arms race. Our nation in 1941 was “threatened from without” and confronted the threat of tyranny with a call for national unity and common purpose. Today we are a nation divided on lines of ideology as well as class, race and view of our role in the world. We are not united in purpose. While Roosevelt opposed the forces that argued for “enforced isolation behind an ancient Chinese wall,” our President is building walls, both physically and rhetorically dividing our nation from allies and presenting blustering threats on all sides. While Roosevelt called for leadership through “responsibility and accountability based on a decent respect for the rights and dignity of all nations large and small,” modern America looks at other nations as resources, markets or targets of opportunity for “deals.” Roosevelt wisely noted, “Enduring peace cannot be bought at the cost of other people’s freedom.”(1)

Roosevelt’s observations about democracy resonate to our time:

“There is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy. The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are

  • Equal opportunity for youth and for others;
  • Jobs to those who can work;
  • Security for those who need it;
  • Ending of special privilege for the few;
  • The preservation of civil liberties for all;
  • The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living for all.” (1)

Achieving these essential components of democracy in the 21st century can build unity of purpose. These are the true values of America that can unite us again. Achieving these freedoms requires that people accept responsibility as citizens to participate in the process of governing. It also requires that those elected to lead must be held accountable to a moral standard that puts the public interest first. Laws alone do not make a country great. It must be the priority of all citizens to protect and defend the basic things that allow all of the people to succeed.

In this current environment, the issue is still jobs. As we struggle to address the real and pressing dangers not to our nation alone, but to the very existence of life on Earth from global warming and global chemical pollution, we must provide for a just and equitable transition to a non-fossil based economy. This path is not only viable, but has proven productive of vibrant economic, social and environmental success.

The quadrennial National Climate Assessment, authorized by Congress in 1990, concludes: “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.” (2) Denial does not change the consequences. The laws of Nature are not negotiable. It is time to accept reality and act responsibly for the sake of life on Earth and all future generations.

Those who see the past as a secure and comfortable condition are often lured by the romanticized myth of “the way it was back in the day” without admitting the reality of living and working in dangerous, polluted and debilitating conditions. Many came to America to better their fortunes and improve the prospects for their children. They endured harsh conditions and dangers to give their children better choices. The altruism of the laborers for their children built the wealth of America, secured by the organized labor movement pressing for fair wages and safety in the workplace. As the strength of unions has eroded over the last thirty years, the wealth has accumulated again in the top 1% of the population, abetted by government policies and the Citizens United ruling determining that corporations have the rights of “persons” under the law. Corporations are NOT people. They do not bleed. They do not feel love or joy or pain. A government controlled by multinational corporate interests does not act in the public interest to secure the conditions of democracy!

1970 Earth Day Protesters

It is time to take the power of governance back to the people! It is time to recognize that the issue is still jobs. Providing good employment for willing workers to provide for their families is the function of the public and private sectors working together for the greater good of all. The trickle down theory has never worked except to enrich the privilege of the few. In the interest of long -term survival of our species, we must make a transition to new ways of running the economy. Establish value based on the natural capital of the living Earth and cease its exploitation and destruction. Convert energy systems from a fossil fueled economy to renewable and sustainable systems. Make products with green chemistry principles using components and processes that do not

Albatross killed by eating plastic debris

create toxic or poisonous products or by-products. Shift our chemical-dependent agriculture system to regenerative practices based on ecology that restore the fertility of the land and conserve water. These pathways offer the promise of shared benefits in economic opportunities, health benefits and environmental stability for another generation.

The Freedoms my father fought for in World War II will elude Americans of the 21st century if we cannot stand to defend the true values that can unite our nation to a renewed common purpose: to preserve a just and equitable future for those who have no voice at the table today. We must renew the altruism for the unborn and the living things of the Earth who depend on the wisdom of people today. It is only with care and foresight for the fate of the Earth that we will leave a legacy worthy of those who fought for our freedom. We must stand up to tyranny and demand accountability for the true freedoms that make America great. The Woodland Hills Academy seventh graders held a march on Earth Day 2016 to declare that “Guns and Violence Do NOT Define US!” We should heed their passionate leadership!

References:

  1. Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1941 State of the Union Address “The Four Freedoms” (6 January 1941). Voices of Democracy. Oratory Project. https://fdrlibrary.org/four-freedoms
  2. Quadrennial National Climate Assessment, DRAFT. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/08/07/climate/document-Draft-of-the-Climate-Science-Special-Report.html?mcubz=0


1 Comment

AESS Wlliam Freudenburg Lifetime Achievement Award Acceptance- Moving from Awareness to Action

 

Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences Meeting, Tuscon, AZ, June 23, 2017

Patricia M. DeMarco, Ph.D. Visiting Researcher and Writer, Carnegie Mellon University, Senior Scholar at Chatham University and Council Member of Forest Hills Borough Council, 2016-2020 was given the 2017  William Freudenburg Lifetime Achievement Award.

Moving from Awareness to Action

It is with great humility and gratitude that I accept this award made in honor of AESS founder William Freudenburg. I did not have the pleasure of knowing him, but in looking at his work, I recognize a kindred spirit in the battle to connect the systems thinking of ecology and the problems of society.

 

Receiving this award has surprised me because mine has not been a traditional academic career. Indeed, a promising beginning in the early days of molecular genetics was derailed when I stepped off the tenure track for four years to have two children in close succession. Then I found out that there was no way to go back. Receiving a doctorate in biology prepared a person to expect a career in research and teaching where merit is determined by the number of peer-reviewed publications, the size of research grants received and the number and prestige of graduate students mentored. All of that was suddenly closed to me. I was supposed to become a nice doctor’s wife doing good works and keeping a place in society. Right! I was looking through the newspaper for jobs and came across a small advertisement in the Hartford Courant: ”Vacuuming- $3,000 per hour” from Northeast Utilities. It turned out to be a call for people to be trained to vacuum up radioactive spills at Millstone power plant, and I was deemed unqualified. So I sent a neighbor’s 20 year-old son to collect all the paperwork and SIGN NOTHING, and I took the whole thing up to the Connecticut Legislature Energy and Commerce Committee and asked for an investigation. As a newly minted Ph.D. in genetics, I held my own with the Northeast Utilities lawyers, and legislation was passed for nuclear power plant workers protection.

William Freudenburg Lifetime Achievement Award

I finally found my place in society: as a translator between lawyers, engineers and economists; as a citizens voice for policy to protect workers and communities; as a policy analyst bringing science to weigh on energy, environmental, and social justice actions. The skills acquired through a thorough liberal arts education and the discipline of achieving a doctorate, post-doctoral research position and fellowship in biology turned out to be transferable to a wide array of non-academic pursuits. I struggled throughout my career to maintain connections to the academic world I love.

If I have been successful in these endeavors at all, it is because of the roots of my training. First, I inherited my Father’s poet heart and understanding of the power of well-chosen words; from my Mother, the spirit of rebellion to stand for those without voice and the value of organizing. Most critically, I was raised in an environment that encouraged curiosity and discovery under the tutelage of my wise Nona whose lessons in patience, generosity and compassion crossed generations. Hers was the lesson that sustained my course when roadblocks loomed: “The men may rule, but women govern,” she told me. I watched how all the major decisions of the family took place over the dinner table on Sundays, my Pop decreed, but my Nona guided the discussion that shaped his pronouncement.

I want to comment for a moment on the importance of role models and the inspiration for young women to enter sciences as a lifelong pursuit. The role models of my life were first Rachel Carson whose book Silent Spring I received as a high school graduation present. I had read The Sea Around Us years before when traveling by ship from Brazil to New York. Her words resonated so deeply because we had often lived by the sea as my Father’s job in the diplomatic service took him around the world. As I graduated from high school, Rachel Carson’s success flickered in my mind as a beacon. Second, I was inspired by Eleanore Roosevelt. I had met her briefly as a seventh grade student when my Father took me to hear her speak at the University of Pittsburgh. Later in my time of despair after losing my academic path, I took heart from her courage in speaking out to the world. Her biography moved me to develop my own voice as a speaker and as a public figure. Finally, Connecticut Governor Ella Tambussi Grasso showed me the tough, hard edge of public policy. As one of her technical staff in the Office of Policy and Management, I learned the importance of listening to the voices of the people. She liked to hold “public hearings” on the call-in radio talk shows, to the great consternation of the lawyers: “but Your Honor, this will not be on the record!” to which she replied “How do I know what matters “on the record” if I don’t know what the people think?” She sent me to the National Governors Association deliberations on the low level nuclear waste compact with her staff attorney and in sending me off she said, “Being female is a fact of life. What you do with it is up to you. Cut your hair, get out of those high heels, buy a red suit, and get a briefcase. And be sure you ask the toughest questions in a loud strong voice.”

In receiving this award I have puzzled over my connection to the academic world. While Will Freudenburg made great efforts from within academe to reach into society, my problem has been the reverse. I have been immersed in society, bringing academic training to the problems encountered, and have had to reach into the academic world to remain connected. Of the many colleagues I have worked with over the years, Dave Hassenzahl while Dean at Chatham University and Terry Collins, the Theresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University have helped me in bridging this divide. Mark Collins at the University of Pittsburgh gave me an adjunct teaching position for a course on directed study in science, ethics and public policy, which became the basis for my book.

The situation of the world today has never needed more advocates and systems thinkers to address the confluence of problems humanity has wrought upon itself and upon the whole living Earth. I believe that we who study ecosystems and sustainability have a unique capacity to shape a new direction toward solutions.

In a world wildly out of balance from the ideal of sustainability where environment, economics and culture are mutually supportive, the economic parameters dominate all else. The problems of our time derived from human enterprise – global warming and global pollution with synthetic materials – are not technology problems, for many of the solutions are well known and within reach. We are facing an ethics problem.

I would like to share a paragraph from the opening chapter of my book, Pathways to Our Sustainable Future -A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh:

“The complex interconnections among living things form Earth’s life support system, necessary for all of today’s creatures and for future generations – fresh air, clean water, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species that comprise the interconnected web of life. The challenges of climate change and chemical contamination present a call to preserve the living Earth. It is a call to temper the prowess of technology with wisdom and precaution to protect Earth’s living systems. It is a plea for justice for those who will be most acutely affected, the non-humans and the unborn whose voices are not included in the debate, and those who are disproportionately vulnerable. It is a plea for accountability in the way people have used the natural resources of the earth for short-term benefits. It is a plea for life to exist.”

It is time for us in the sustainability profession to move from awareness to action. Our path cannot remain within the academy, safe in the halls of universities and colleges. Communicating important findings about the state of the living systems of the Earth must reach beyond the peer-reviewed journals that are the currency of the academic realm. In a political atmosphere charged with “fake news” the line between reality and fiction has blurred. But the laws of Nature are not negotiable. Chemistry, physics and biology will prevail regardless of political declarations or legislated stupidity.

We as scientists have a tremendous task to bring facts to the front of the discussion, to engage the conversation not only in the classroom but also in the living rooms where families gather, in the churches and social gatherings, in the union halls, in the neighborhoods where people talk to each other. Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time, but it is not discussed. We need to break it down so it is less intimidating. We can begin to understand how to preserve the gifts of this living Earth for another generation.

There are four ways to move from awareness to action effectively.

  1. Set an example, and talk about it. We are facing global challenges of climate change and pollution, so people think their own efforts are too insignificant to matter. It all matters. Every plastic bottle dropped on the street can end up in the great plastic gyres of the oceans. Use your own non-plastic bags, and give the little homily to the vendor. Decline the BPA laced receipt, and ask the vendor to wear gloves to protect their own exposure. You can imagine millions of ways to do this. Street theater works! Make it OK for successful white guys in business suits to bring a recyclable bag to the store. When building new campus or municipal facilities, use a net zero energy design and include citizen information in the lobby. Inspired by the Phipps Conservatory Living Building and the Chatham University Eden Hall Campus, my town of Forest Hills Borough is building a net zero energy municipal building. So far, four other communities have come to us asking for ideas.
  2. Build common ground. The Yale Climate project described six Americas response to climate change and environmental issues. But in spite of differences in attitude and perception of risks, all people share a need for fresh water, oxygen rich air, and access to safe and nourishing food. All have a care for their children’s future at some level. Find ways to reach across the dividing gulf of political ideology and reach common concerns. My colleague Kirsi Jansa, a film maker and journalist from Finland, has developed 12 Sustainability Pioneers episodes as 10 to 12 minute videos. We combined our efforts into a five-session course called “Sustainability Pioneers-Climate Conversations” given as an adult education class in the OSHER Life Long Learning Institute at Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University. Each session has a short discussion of facts, followed by a video then a class exercise where the participants did role modeling. And we sent them off to practice and report back how the conversations went. By the end of five sessions, nearly every student had some success in having a climate conversation as part of a daily routine. You can find the Sustainability Pioneers videos and the class for free on my web site https://patriciademarco.com/sustainability-pioneers-community-conversations-class/ or on Kirsi’s web site sustainabilitypioneers.com
  3. Reach out to those who are not at the table. The environmental NGOs are mostly headed by white men, and the environment movement in general has been characterized as the domain of left-leaning, spoiled, white, rich people, mired in 1970s thinking. But all around us, the environmental justice issues and the social justice issues involve much broader communities. The people affected by a shift from fossil based energy and commodity production hold a disdain for “tree huggers” and “snail lovers.” The “Shoot, shovel and shut up” approach to endangered species is alive and thriving. This divide was never clearer to me than at the demonstrations around the EPA hearing on the Clean Power Plan in Pittsburgh. 3,500 United Mine Workers sent off by Governor Corbett flooded the street in waves with uniform T-shirts and pre-printed signs chanting in cadence with a sound truck. Clustered on one corner of Grant and Sixth, were a motley gathering of about 300 environmental activists, mothers with toddlers in strollers, Buddhists giving out free ice cream, and Mayor Peduto urging a view to the future. I stood on the coal miner’s corner with my friend, labor historian Charlie McCollester who held a sign that said, “When Blue collar workers fight clean earth health we are all doomed.” Following that dramatic day, I sat down with Charlie, and we discerned together that what the miners are protesting is not against the environment, because they are indeed the most viciously affected victims of the effects of mountaintop removal mining. They are protesting out of fear for their future. What becomes of their pensions when no more coal miners pay into the system? How will they support their families? What will become of them when they get sick, as they inevitably will from being in the mines? We hatched a plan to help working people visualize what a transition can look like to a more sustainable future with a radio program called “Just Transitions- Labor, Environment and Health.” On the Union Edge- Labor’s Talk Radio Station twice a month I bring guests to talk about how communities are making transitions, about environmental and health issues, like reducing exposure of workers to BPA in the workplace, or fracking fluid contamination. After a year of this, we kept running out of time in the 30 minute format, and I wanted to take on more complex issues that would help people visualize what a sustainable future would look like. So, we launched The New American Economy program, which airs every Wednesday from 1:00 to 2:00 Pm EST. Here we talk about emerging issues in energy, food and water, manufacturing and supply chain and transportation. You can find both programs attheunionedge.com We reach 300,000 people a week in 33 cities and have 15,000 to 20,000 podcast downloads a month. If you want to carry the program on your campus radio, or if you have something exciting you would like to share with a working families audience, let me know. Union working people, coal miners, farmers, beauty shop operators, store keepers are highly unlikely to come to a class, presentation or lecture about climate change, environmental health or endangered species. But, they listen to the radio, they send questions, and they talk about it later.
  4. Engage with the community you are in. Ultimately, all of politics is local. Whether large cities like Pittsburgh or small boroughs like Forest Hills, communities need the expertise and engagement of the sustainability academic community. There are many ways to be involved and make a difference. Go to your local governing council meeting and find out what issues they are coping with. It is mostly mundane stuff- police contracts, fire service, swimming pool management, garbage. But some issues are really important- storm water management and meeting health and safety standards, establishing an environmental review for new developments, how pest control is managed, how transportation access and recreational open space are managed, strategic plans for land use, education of children. Democracy is not a spectator sport. Get involved yourself and empower your students with the tools to participate in the public policy process. Take them to a public hearing; teach them about stakeholders and power brokers. Consider running for office yourself.

Know that public policy management is not the same as business management. The public interest goes beyond economic profit. Governing in the public interest must reach the wellness of the community, the collective well-being of people living together in a community of care. Governing in the public interest preserves and maintains the robust functions of the ecosystem that hosts the community. It attends to the needs of the youngest, the oldest and the most needy of the community and preserves fairness and justice but with compassion and kindness to neighbors we see every day and know. It must look to the future and anticipate the needs of those yet unborn whose lives are affected by decisions made today.

We as Americans still think of ourselves as the defenders of “Freedom,” but freedom is not free. Freedom without responsibility yields chaos. And Freedom without accountability yields tyranny. I will close with Rachel Carson’s admonishment to the Garden Club of America: “We must be very clear about what our cause is. What do we oppose? What do we stand for?” Those of us who know have the obligation to speak. Those of us who know have the obligation to lead. Thank you.

 


Leave a comment

A Perspective on Nuclear Power Past and Future

Here is a presentation from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom presentation of May 18, 2017. I was honored to be on a panel with Ellen Thomas and Odile Hugonot Haber who are on a Nuclear Free Future WILPF-US  to end nuclear war, weapons of mass destruction and nuclear armaments. See more about their work here:  https://www.facebook.com/wilpfustour

My presentation is here:

5-18-2017 Nuclear Power Past & Future – PD Panel

I welcome your comments and questions.

PD


1 Comment

Earth Day 2017- A Call for Earth Teach-Ins

The first Earth Day, April 22, 1970 grew from a rising awareness of the need to protect the environment from the pollution of industry. It started nearly a decade earlier in 1962 with Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring calling attention to

1970 Earth Day Protesters

the effects of pesticides such as DDT on all living things, including people. The practices of the Industrial Revolution produced smoke-filled air, polluted lifeless rivers and toxic waste dumps. The prevailing attitude was that “the solution to pollution is dilution” but by 1970, the environmental laws enacted in the early 1960s had not yet made much effect, and a series of tragedies in 1969 brought sharper focus on the need for a stronger system to defend clean air, safe drinking water, fertile land, and the biodiversity of species. The Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio caught fire and burned down two bridges; an oil tanker ran aground and contaminated the beaches of Santa Barbara; and a spill from a DDT manufacturing plant caused a massive fish kill in the Mississippi River.

From this concentrated spate of outrages, Senator Gaylord Nelson (D) Wisconsin, called for a day of “teach-ins” on Earth Day to raise awareness and call for public action to protect the environment more systematically. There were public seminars in the streets, in union halls, in university courtyards and churches all across the country. Millions of people came to listen, to march and to protest. The result of this effort finally led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, signed into law by Richard Nixon in 1974. It took more than a decade for the alarms Rachel Carson raised to see fruition in a legal apparatus to protect our life support system- fresh air, clean water, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species – the interconnected web of life of which humans are but one part.

In the years since those early days of concern for protecting the environment, a continuous erosion of the power of environmental laws has made its way through amendments, exemptions, and revisions of the laws. Industry has a larger say in the approval of new pesticides, herbicides or synthetic products. Entire industries such as hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas are exempt for seven federal environmental and worker safety protections. The regulatory review process has become so complex that only experts and teams of specialized attorneys can successfully navigate the labyrinth. Regulatory agencies at both federal and state levels have suffered from continuously shrinking budgets, required to do more with less.

More insidiously, industry interests have infiltrated the administration of the regulatory process, to shape the outcome for maximum economic effect, rather than maximum public or environmental health and protection. Doubt, reasonable or otherwise, has replaced reasoned judgment based on the facts of science. Opinion has replaced evidence based on observation and measurement, and political rhetoric has replaced peer-reviewed assessments. President Trump has

Senate confirms EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt 

overtly rejected science as a basis for sound public policy. His appointed, and Senate confirmed, administrators vow to deconstruct the regulatory protections for the environment, for addressing climate change, and for protecting public health and worker safety. His Executive Orders in the first 100 days of his tenure illustrate the ardor of his passion for destruction of all that holds the living Earth dear. National Wildlife Refuges, National Parks, public lands – the legacy of our nation to the future- all fall to the greed of exploitation. The natural resource capital of the nation is squandered for short term corporate profits, while the public taxpayer pays the costs in the form of worse health from air and water pollution, costs for cleaning the public water supplies, or fighting wildfires, floods or droughts from climate change.

Rachel Carson provides a role model for a responsible scientist. She carried the revolutionary passion that all living things have the basic right to exist! She spoke for the unborn

Rachel Carson Testifies to Congress June 1963

of future generations. She spoke for the oceans, forests, grasslands, winged creatures and soil dwellers- the great interconnected web of life. In her testimony to Congress months before her death, she called them to account: “Our heedless and destructive acts enter into the vast cycles of the earth and in time return to bring hazard to ourselves.” This living Earth is the precious hallmark of our planet. This unique living mantle of the Earth evolved to a finely tuned balance over 7,000 years, resting on millions of years of evolution before then. Humans have now strained the limits of the natural systems that keep the living Earth in balance. We see the evidence in the rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the consequent acidification of the oceans, rising global temperatures with the consequent melting of glaciers, expansion of drought areas, and more frequent extremes of storm events. Scientists observe, document and measure. We model the possible outcome and attempt to predict what has never happened before in recorded time. We wring our hands, and preach to each other. The journals are filled with data and documentation of ever more dire forecasts. And Trump became President!

We march in protest of his policies. We rise in rage at the folly of ignoring the facts, and despair for our children, and the unborn of all creatures whose fate we shape with our actions today. But, in the mainstream media, nobody reports on the peer-reviewed science. No media cover the extinction of a

Great Coral Reef in Australia- under threat

Monarch butterfly and other pollinators under threat

species, or the effects of destroying the coral reefs, home to 30% of the fishes in the ocean. Ordinary people do not
automatically make the connection between rising global temperatures and the fate of our life support system. People do not make the connection between the death of pollinators and their own lives. They do not read peer-reviewed journals. Why would they?

We who stand as scientists with fists raised in outrage have enjoyed the freedom to pursue intellectual curiosity to the ultimate end of finding truth. We who know have the obligation to inform. Not in a pedantic way, which we can impart through our students. But in the vernacular. In the media. At our dinner tables. In the classrooms and PTA meetings where our children are. In the playgrounds, and on the sidelines where the coaches gather for soccer games or track meets. We need to be in the churches and community centers where people struggle with keeping whole in the face of adversity of all kinds. Science matters in everyone’s daily life. Where are the Teach-ins about climate change? Where are the street theater demonstrations of the better path forward? Where are the scientists at the tables where political decisions are being made? The ivory tower is not where we live. The community needs engaged scientists. The halls of Congress need our voices, as constituents, as experts, and as opinion leaders holding them accountable for their decisions. We need to take the truth to the streets and teach people across all levels to know the difference between manufactured doubt and established facts.

At this pivotal time in history, it is our obligation to speak out. To make our voices heard and to listen to the fears that underlie the obstruction. We are a country that strives for freedom- in markets, in personal pursuits, and in opinions. But freedom without responsibility yields chaos. We are a nation governed by laws, but when the laws are corrupted by greed and protections for private interests over the public good, we have the obligation to speak out, to protest and to demand accountability. The laws of Nature are not negotiable. The path we have set upon with economic profit as the primary determinant of value sets us on a path of certain destruction. Our life support system is being destroyed, and our economy registers only more jobs, more sales for extracted resources, more profits from plundered land. Unless we protect the common necessities for life to exist, we will leave a legacy of an uninhabitable planet. Scientists engaged in the debate, professing hope through better solutions, teaching the ways of life based on the laws of science can shape a better future. We who know have the obligation to act. We who see better options based on facts have the power to change the world. We must reach out beyond our comfort zones. We must invite people in to knowing the facts science can bring to the wonders of our fragile and marvelous living Earth.


Leave a comment

Building an Economy for a Living Earth

Building an Economy for a Living Earth

By Patricia M. DeMarco

April 5, 2017

            The distinguishing feature of man’s activities is that they have almost always          been undertaken with a viewpoint of short-range gain, without considering either       their impact on the earth or their long range effect upon ourselves.

            Rachel Carson[i]

My generation heard President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to put a man on the moon. Seeing the blue, green and white swirled marble of the earth from the perspective of space marked a paradigm shift in our time. For some, this represented the first step on the conquest of yet another frontier, and early speculation about colonizing the moon abounded. Others saw the earth from the distance of space and recognized the fragility of our position. Astronaut Frank Borman of Apollo 8 said, “I think the one overwhelming emotion that we had was when we saw the earth rising in the distance over the lunar landscape . . . . It makes us realize that we all do exist on one small globe. For from 230,000 miles away it really is a small planet.”[1]

Everywhere we look around us we see evidence of our civilization pressing against the limits of the critical resources of the planet. Our time marks a critical turning point for preserving the living system of our earth as a regenerative, bountiful and productive ecosystem. As a species, humans have reached the level of dominating and overtaking the natural world through exploitation, extraction and consumption, burning through natural resources and leaving massive amounts of trash and destruction in our wake. The earth now bears the scars of hundreds of years of such abuse. It is time to recognize the limits to such profligate behavior, and take a different direction. The age of using technology for the conquest of nature must yield to the age of biology, using technology to live in harmony with nature to preserve and regenerate the life support system of the living earth.

Four human behaviors since the industrial revolution have driven our way of living out of balance with natural systems. We consume resources beyond what can be generated by the land we live on. We drive our economy on continuously expanding growth in consumption. We fail to control population growth while using technology to extend life. We generate waste that poisons our life support system. The consequences of these actions in our energy system, food system and materials system, are not compatible with sustaining a living planet.

We have reached this condition by allowing human inventiveness in conquering nature to proceed without restraint. From the earliest of times, human’s ability to manipulate and control the conditions presented in nature contributed to our survival. But once industrialization began, the ability to manipulate natural systems unbalanced the natural flow of energy and materials. It is time, now that we have begun to understand the elegant complexity of natural ecosystems, to take lessons from the natural world to craft our way forward. We must restructure our economy and our civilization to preserve and restore the robust resilience of the natural living world.

To begin thinking about structuring our economy along the principles of an ecosystem, it is important to understand how an ecosystem works. Any area of nature that includes living organisms and non-living substances interacting to exchange materials between the living and non-living parts is an ecological system, or ecosystem.[2] There are many kinds of ecosystems around the world, and at least six major distinct ecosystems within the continental United States, recently mapped by the U.S. Geologic Survey.[3] But all ecosystems operate with four basic constituents.

Ecosystems, whether they are aquatic around ponds and streams or oceans and coast, or whether they are of the forests, grasslands and deserts, all have these four essential parts, and all are circular. The producers convert essential materials into forms that can be used by consumers, and the decomposers return them to the system for use again. The entire process is powered by the sun, and connected by the water in its various forms. Temperature, altitude, and the amount of moisture available shape the different expressions of ecosystems, and determine the number and kinds of species of producers, consumers and decomposers present. The inter-relationships among these parts have evolved into complex food webs coterminous with the evolution of conditions over geologic time. Adaptations and adjustments emerged gradually over millions of years as conditions changed.

Albatross killed by eating plastic debris

Modern ecosystems universally bear the mark of human influence, because the effects of human activity are dispersed around the globe, introducing man-made materials and shifting the balance of natural ecosystems by rapidly adding synthetic materials and the combustion products of fossilized organic materials extracted from the crust of the earth to the atmosphere. Faced with rapidly changing elemental conditions, many species are unable to adapt, and mass extinctions are predicted for our time.[4][5]

The focus of human inventiveness and creativity up to now has used science and technology for increasingly intrusive ways to extract resources from the earth to consume for energy and raw materials for production. The quest for access to and control over the distribution of natural resources extracted from the earth drives our civilization. We have given little consideration to replacing natural resources, or to preserving the ecosystems from which the resources have been wrenched. Our economy takes raw materials to make goods for consumers to buy, and the waste and post-use materials are discarded as trash. This is a linear flow of resources exactly contrary to the operation of ecosystems. However, ecological limits to growth apply to the human constructed economy. Our model is not sustainable, because we are changing the conditions of the non-living and living parts of the human ecosystem, the living planet earth.

The economy defined in this process depends on drawing down natural resource reserves and using economic or physical warfare to take over resources. Power, resources and economic control become concentrated among the few with decreasing quality of life for many. We see this result not only between different countries but also within the United States. The concentration of wealth to the top 5% of the population has occurred with increasing disparity between the conditions experienced by the most wealthy and the least wealthy people.[6] This condition seeds instability, increasing unrest, and stress to the fabric of society. The economic model based on extraction- consumption- waste increases the inequity among people, decreases the quality of life of many people, and increases the conditions for revolt. This economic model also decreases the capacity of natural ecosystems to function in providing the conditions necessary for our life support system.

The critical feature of natural ecosystems is the dynamic equilibrium established among the different parts. Rather than a linear raw material to trash model, ecosystems operate in circular patterns, a steady-state where the waste or output from one level becomes the input or supply for others, and the energy source that drives the process is constantly renewable as long as the solar system exists. The earth’s major nutrients – carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen – are all cycled and recycled in living systems.[7]

To shift our entire economic premise from one based on extraction and exploitation of natural resources to one based on regeneration, system preservation and enhancing the ecological infrastructure requires a change in thinking more than a change in technology. We can build our whole economy around principles of resource preservation, recovery and re-use. This approach cultivates the concept of an economy based on a dynamic equilibrium, rather than an economy based on indefinitely expanding growth.

One major initiative that can shape a more sustainable way forward involves re-defining the structure of the economy away from a model driven by corporate profit motive to one based on corporations operating for social benefit. The New Economy Movement has several manifestations, all gaining momentum in different ways. According to Gar Alperovitz, one of the leaders of the New Economy Movement, “Over the past few decades, a deepening sense of the profound ecological challenges facing the planet and growing despair at the inability of traditional politics to address economic failings have fueled an extraordinary amount of experimentation by activists, economists and socially minded business leaders. … As the threat of a global climate crisis grows increasingly dire and the nation sinks deeper into an economic slump for which conventional wisdom offers no adequate remedies, more and more Americans are coming to realize that it is time to begin defining, demanding and organizing to build a new-economy movement.”[8]

The movement seeks an economy that is increasingly green and socially responsible, and one that is based on rethinking the nature of ownership and the growth paradigm that guides conventional policies.[9] As frustration with the wealth concentration in the top 1% of the economy increases, a wave of community wealth building institutions has begun to swell across the country. People are joining together through a variety of forms such as public, community or employee-owned businesses to meet local needs and thus regain a sense of democratic control. Community development corporations, community banks, social enterprises, community land trusts and employee-owned business and cooperatives emerge as the instruments for building community wealth. Worker owned businesses now include manufacturers, retailers and a number of non-profit organizations. Community Development Corporations can now be found in nearly every major city across the United States. Once limited to redeveloping blighted areas following urban riots or rural neglect, these CDCs produced over 1.6 million units of affordable housing nationwide over the last two decades.[10]

All of these institutions pool capital in ways that build wealth, create living-wage jobs, and anchor those jobs in communities.[11] One of the most significant aspects of this growing movement is the challenge it presents to corporate power. Because the driving imperative in the new economy movement is social benefit, not corporate shareholder profit, the possibility of building a balance against the corporate profit-driven politics of the 20th century is growing. Not since the days of unionized labor pressing for social justice and fairness in distribution of wealth between corporations and workers has there been such a strong voice for the public interest.

The success of businesses and communities that purposefully choose sustainability as a course for building the future shows that the spiral of infinite growth and infinite resource extraction can be transformed. Models of viable, even thriving, economic and social communities illustrate the way forward.

A new economy locally centered and locally invested springs up here in Pittsburgh, and in communities across the country and around the world. Corporations operating for social benefit, not stockholder profit, expand the distribution of wealth among worker-owners. Well being of the community is measured in terms of beneficial economic activity, health of the environment, social equity, and cultural diversity.

 

This essay is condensed from a chapter in the forthcoming book by Patricia M. DeMarco: “Pathways to Our Sustainable Future” with The University of Pittsburgh Press. All rights reserved.

This work is funded by the W. Clyde and Ida Mae Thurman Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation.

 

Endnotes

Rachel Carson “Of Man and The Stream Of Time” June 12, 1962. Commencement address. Scripps College. Claremont, CA. (monograph)Rachel Carson “Of Man and The Stream Of Time” June 12, 1962. Commencement address. Scripps College. Claremont, CA. (monograph)

[1] Frank Borman, Apollo 8, press reports, 10 January 1969.

[2] Eugene P. Odum. Fundamentals of Ecology. 2nd Ed. 1959. Philadelphia. W. B. Saunders Co. Page 10.

[3]   Roger Sayre, Patrick Comer, Harumi Warner, and Jill Cress. A New Map of Standardized Terrestrial Ecosystems of the Conterminous United States. Professional Paper 1768. 2009. U S Geological Survey and the U.S. Department of the Interior. 17 Pages.

[4] Elizabeth Kolbert. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. Henry Holt & Company, LLC. New York. 2014.

[5] E. O. Wilson. “The Future of Life.” The John H. Chafee Memorial Lecture on Science and the Environment. 2nd National Conference on Science, Policy and the Environment. December 6, 2001. Washington, D.C.

[6] US Statistics on wealth distribution from 1900 to 2015

[7] William McDonough and Michael Braungart. Cradle to Cradle – Remaking the Way We Make Things. North Point Press. New York. 2002. Page 92.

[8] Gar Alperovitz. “The New Economy Movement.” The Nation. June 13, 2011. http://www.thenation.com/article/160949/new-economy-movement Accessed May 21, 2015.

[9] Gar Alperovitz. “The New Economy Movement.” The Nation. June 13, 2011. http://www.thenation.com/article/160949/new-economy-movement Accessed May 21, 2015.

[10] Gar Alperovitz. “The Political-Economic Foundations of a Sustainable System.” In: Worldwatch Institute. State of the World 2014: Governing for Sustainability. 2014. Island Press. Washington D.C. Page 196.

[11] Gar Alperovitz. “The Political-Economic Foundations of a Sustainable System.” In: Worldwatch Institute. State of the World 2014: Governing for Sustainability. 2014. Island Press. Washington D.C. Page 195.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Leave a comment

The Perils of “Deconstruction”- What fate for our environment and health?

March 3, 2017

We live in a strange time when protecting the environment through government regulations has been demonized as the enemy of jobs and progress. I find this most distressing because I grew up in the height of the Industrial Revolution when the skies of Pittsburgh were dark with smoke. Pollution was an ever-present part of daily life: streetlights were on all day; people wore brimmed hats to keep the ashes off of their faces, and “Ring around the collar” was the lament of housewives. The Monongahela River was so polluted with effluent from steel mills, glass works, coke works and smelters that the water was as acid as vinegar, and practically lifeless. Strip-mined lands were left to leach and drain acid into streams, leaving 3,000 miles of Pennsylvania waterways permanently running orange and lifeless.

cayhouga-river-on-fireIn 1969, the confluence of several highly publicized events from pollution of air, water and land combined to focus attention on the need to control pollution. Heat inversions trapped emissions close to the ground creating suffocating smog, as in The Smog of Thanksgiving weekend in New York in 1966 and the prevailing conditions in San Diego and Pittsburgh. In June 1962, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire and burned two bridges when sparks from a train ignited the oil-soaked debris in the river. Such events happened frequently in American rivers in the late fifties through the 1960s. The Santa Barbara Oil spill of January 28, 1969 brought attention to the spills that occurred regularly from tankers running aground, or pipelines rupturing or leaking. The widespread toxic effects of agricultural pesticides like DDT and the way their effects permeated through the food chain came to attention through Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring. It was the combined impact of all of these perceptions, rolled into the turbulent times of the early 1970s over war protests, women’s rights movement, the civil rights movement and anti-nuclear sentiment over open air testing of nuclear weapons that galvanized protests from 20 million people nationwide on the first Earth Day 1970. Environmentalists and labor unions worked together and built a broad coalition around clean air and clean water.

Congressmen marched with their constituents pledging to make changes, and it was President Nixon who gave the foundations for bipartisan remedy to this recognized crisis. In his 1970 State of the Union speech, Nixon called environmental preservation a “common cause of all the people of this country.” He went on: “It is a cause of particular concern to young Americans, because they more than we will reap the grim consequences of our failure to act on programs which are needed now if we are to prevent disaster later. Clean air, clean water, open spaces—these should once again be the birthright of every American.”[i] The Environmental Protection Agency was established soon after, with the foundations of environmental protection policy enacted into law with bipartisan support: the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act. The Environmental Protection Agency was not an attack upon States Rights or a suppression of individual freedom of actions to pursue economic advantage. Federal environmental protections recognized that pollution knows no boundaries. States alone would be unable to address significant problems of air pollution, watershed, river and stream contamination or the ubiquitous dispersion of toxic chemicals throughout the country. National standards and federal enforcement are necessary and fair.

President Trump has appointed Administrators in the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy with clear connections to fossil industry interests going back whole careers. According to White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, President Trump’s cabinet picks are aimed at deconstruction of the administrative state, meaning weakening regulatory agencies and other bureaucratic entities.[ii] Today, Republicans call to roll back or rescind protections that have made America the gold standard worldwide for overall environmental quality. President Trump’s budget proposes a 25% cut of the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget, and a 20% reduction in staff. [iii] Under the Congressional Review Authority, dozens of regulations adopted or even amended in the last months of the Obama Administration are being rescinded.[iv]

 

Some 5000 union members, led by the United Mine Workers of America, march through downtown Pittsburgh to the William S. Moorhead Federal Building Thursday, July 31, 2014. Thursday is the first of two days of public hearings being held by the Environmental Protection Agency in Pittsburgh to discuss stricter pollution rules for coal-burning power plants proposed by the EPA.(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Some 5000 union members, led by the United Mine Workers of America, march through downtown Pittsburgh to the William S. Moorhead Federal Building Thursday, July 31, 2014. Thursday is the first of two days of public hearings being held by the Environmental Protection Agency in Pittsburgh to discuss stricter pollution rules for coal-burning power plants proposed by the EPA.(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Do people know what effect this wanton behavior will have on the health and well-being of American people, workers, communities and natural preserves? How did it become a desirable outcome for coal waste to be dumped into streams? Or volatile toxic releases to be exempt from regulations, as with hydraulic fracturing? Do Americans really want unrestrained mining, drilling and ranching on public lands? Does increased access to wildlife refuges and national parks require that restrictions be lifted on lead ammunition and fishing that poisons thousands of birds and fish? Do workers really want the Risk Management Program that protects workers, first responders and communities from industrial spills and accidents to be eliminated?

These actions slip through a Congress in the thrall of a demonic drive to “Make America Great Again” defined by military might alone. Shifting $54 billion from domestic spending to military force buildup while the President irritates allies and aggravates enemies sets the stage for war, not peace and prosperity. Budget is policy. This proposed budget, unrestrained with either mercy or compassion for average working Americans and oblivious to the needs of the future, is a prescription for disaster.

imagesIn towns, cities, communities across America, people with vision and concern for the future are making plans for a socially equitable and environmentally sustainable society. These efforts will not fall to the greed and corruption perpetrated on the people by a demagogue. All people share our common humanity regardless of divisions in political persuasion, culture, religion or economic status. We all care about the future for our children, and value safe drinking water, fresh air, accessible and safe food, and secure and safe work places. Most people value the national parks and refuges as the legacy of our land.[v] Government budget and investment choice can steer towards processes that make the jobs and industries thrive or collapse. In a budget steering toward military might over a sustainable new economy, with infrastructure plans looking to the past rather than to the future, people are beginning to recognize that the fate of those outside the elite 1% is to serve as cannon fodder.

Stand up for the hard-won protections of our life support system- fresh air, clean water, fertile ground and biodiversity of species that constitute the Web of Life, of which we are but one part. America’s greatness lies in leading toward a future that serves all of the people with justice and security, with equal opportunity to thrive and pursue our dreams, and with respect for the resources of our land that support us all. We depart from the hard-won protections of our common resources at our own peril.

Endnotes:

[i] President Richard M. Nixon. 215 – Special Message to the Congress About Reorganization Plans To Establish the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. July 9, 1970. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=2575&st=environmental+protection+agency&st1 Accessed March 1, 2017.

[ii] David Z, Morris. Fortune Magazine, February 25, 2017. http://fortune.com/2017/02/25/bannon-trump-cabinet-cpac/ Accessed February 26, 2017.

[iii] President Donald Trump. Address to Joint session of Congress, February 27, 2017. http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/28/politics/donald-trump-speech-transcript-full-text/ Accessed March 1, 2017.

[iv] Brian Resnick and Julia Belluz. Sudden Changes at the EPA, USDA, and CDC under Trump explained. January 25, 2017.   http://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/1/25/14370712/trump-science-gagging-explained

[v] Anthony Leiserowitz, Edward Mailbach, Connie Roser-Renauf, Matthew Cutler and Seth Rosenthal. Trump Voters and Global Warming. Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. February 6, 2017.   http://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/trump-voters-global-warming/


Leave a comment

New Forest Hills Borough Building- A Net Zero Energy Solution

The New Forest Hills Borough Building- A Net Zero Energy Solution

By Patricia M. DeMarco, Forest Hills Borough Council 2016-2020

February 28, 2017

Forest Hills Borough, a community of about 6,500 people located seven miles east of Pittsburgh approaches its centenary in 2019. The town was once a rural farmed area then became a company town for Westinghouse with settlement intensifying after WWII. Long associated with innovation and Westinghouse engineering feats, the town has been shaped by the legacy of parkland and public property donated when the company moved on in 1985. The Forest Hills Borough Building on Ardmore Boulevard stood as the center for Borough functions since 1922, but now faces the limitations of an inefficient and costly energy system, and other structural problems.

 

Needs Assessment:

In August of 2014, a general annual review of Borough properties revealed significant cost escalations in several Borough buildings: the Magistrate Building and the Borough building on Ardmore Boulevard, and the Library and Senior Center on Avenue F. The Magistrates Offices moved to a larger office space with better parking and access, vacating the building, and Allegheny County consolidated the Senior Services Center to Turtle Creek, closing the Forest Hills location and two other small centers. Removal of Senior Services from this location left a 20-hour per week C. C Mellor Library function in a building that was expensive to operate, and had limitations with accessibility and functional services. The Borough Building on Ardmore Boulevard had significant limitations in storage, space for citizen services, and accessibility to the second floor Council chambers, even with an elevator. The Police functions have significant limitations in space and security arrangements, and parking and pedestrian access to the building are limited. Most concerning was the increasing cost of operations, and the unsuccessful adjustments to the heating and cooling system in the interior space. Even with repairs and adjustments over recent years, inefficiencies and space pressures were unlikely to be resolved in the existing space.

 

A plan emerged to build a New Forest Hills Borough building on property the Borough owns on Greensburg Pike, adjacent to the Westinghouse Lodge and Park. The new building will consolidate the Borough administrative and Council functions, Police offices, and the Library/Community space into one efficient building to serve the needs of the community 50 years into the future. By moving the New Forest Hills Building to an existing Borough property location, the sale of the existing properties would contribute to the financing, and the existing property on Ardmore Boulevard will return to a taxable business use. The goal of Council was to achieve a functional municipal services building for fifty years into the future without increasing the tax mill rate. A target cost of $4.5 million was set as a goal.

 

Public presentations on the concept of a New Forest Hills Borough Building began in February 2015 with concept discussions presented by Town Center Associates. Soon after, the Borough retained Pfaffmann & Associates to work with Council to define a plan for the new building. In addition to monthly public meetings at Council sessions, two Community Planning Meetings were held in September 2015, focusing on the Site Plan for the building, and in April 2016, focusing on the Functionality and Design.

 

Site Planning

The New Forest Hills Borough building site is on a gravel parking area formerly the location of a Westinghouse building on Greensburg Pike. At the site planning meeting, there was considerable interest expressed by several residents in restoring the Westinghouse Atom Smasher structure as a site feature. The Atom Smasher is currently on the ground on a property under consideration for development by a private entity that has no interest in preserving the historic artifact. A designated location for this atom smasher is included in the site plans, however, the cost of moving it from its current location and refurbishing it for safe installation on the new Forest Hills Borough building site has been estimated upwards of $200,000. Private sources of funds are being sought for this project. Many citizens are interested in seeing the new building reflect the history of innovation that has been part of Forest Hills over the years.

 

The site was evaluated for a passive solar building design, and was deemed suitable, if the building could be oriented on the property to allow a south-facing roof. If a geothermal earth heating and cooling system would be included, soils testing and evaluation of the site for coal shafts under the area would be necessary. This site sits at the top of the Turtle Creek watershed, therefore, the area was also evaluated to address storm water management with bio-swales and green management techniques to control storm water runoff. The location already has direct access to Greensburg Pike with ease of traffic movement and is served by a public transit bus line. The site is large enough to accommodate parking, and has sidewalks for safe pedestrian access from multiple directions. Its proximity to the Westinghouse Lodge and park create a campus of Forest Hills Borough public services.

 

Functionality and Design

At the community planning workshop, groups of citizens drew concept plans for the functions to be served in the new building. Imaginative proposals included a coffee shop /internet café, a history walk capturing images of Forest Hills over the last century, and interpretive exhibits explaining the features of the building. The Forest Hills Borough administrative staff, Police Department and Council had an opportunity to add thoughts and have participated in all stages of the building design planning. A rough outline of the building emerged on the wall, and discussion turned to how to meet the needs for the next century. The group quickly agreed that sustainability and cost efficiency take high priority in the design. Citizens familiar with the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens Living Building features and the Chatham University planning for the Eden Hall sustainable design added credibility to the concept. People were concerned that such an ambitious sustainable goal would be too expensive for the community.

 

Focus on the Building Envelope with an emphasis on sustainability took the approach to “Reduce Consumption before Renewables.” Design parameters were set around energy, water, materials and indoor air quality. Considerations included the need for adequate storage and natural daylight in work spaces; areas for serving the public both in Borough Administrative functions and in public service in the Police Department. The spaces for library and community gathering were discussed in terms of how they would relate to the Council chamber under different configurations of uses. The preference for natural materials and locally sourced materials gave guidance in the design for the building envelope and interior treatment.

 

Forest Hills Town Hall Sustainable Features

The Building

The building will be a 12,746 square foot one-floor structure aligned with a south facing roof and a clear story of translucent recycled plastic to filter incoming light into the interior space.

Architectural Drawing for New Forest Hills Borough Town Hall – Under Construction January 2017. Credit: Pfaffmann & Associates

 

Energy Features:

A passive solar designed building has first focus on the building envelope. The building will have an energy use intensity of 36.78 kBtu/ft2 with an estimated annual cost of operation of $10,670. This design will have an operating cost of $0.97/ft2, compared to the current building cost of $2.21/ft2, or the cost of operating a building designed to the conventional 2009 building code standard of $1.42/ft2. Forty 100-foot deep geothermal wells will provide heating and cooling and will require 118,555 kWh annually to operate. The 125 kW photovoltaic array on the roof will provide 151,947 kWh annually which will cover the geothermal HVAC plus the other electrical loads in the building for a Net Zero Energy operation. The building will be connected to the utility grid with a net metering tariff for electric service. A gas line will be connected to an emergency generator to support police operations.

 

Water Features:

The design for storm water management will reduce the peak discharge rate into Turtle Creek watershed by more than 64% over the 100-year storm level. The volume of water from 2-year and 5-year storms will be entirely infiltrated as will nearly all of the 10-year storm volumes. A system of sand and limestone infiltration beds will reduce runoff acidity and temperature, and rain gardens and plantings will provide additional water filtration benefits. The site will be planted with trees and drought tolerant and native plants in bio-swales surrounding the building and as features in the parking area. Enhanced pedestrian walkways and some of the parking lot will be of permeable surfaces to augment storm water infiltration.

 

Indoor Quality:

The first principle is to design the building to conserve energy as much as possible. Therefore, the building will be super-insulated with the roof at R50 (conventional is R 38), R-40 walls (Conventional is R19). Natural daylight and views to the outdoor plantings enhance the ambiance and provide attractive work spaces. The clearstory along the roofline is of translucent plastic formed material that allows light, but prevents glare to the interior. The windows are of insulated glass set in wooden frames, and have sashed sections to open for ventilation in season. The southern roof overhang allows shading in the summer and sunlight to enter in the winter. Sustainable non-toxic materials are used throughout for walls and structural materials. All the wood is from sustainably grown sources. Materials were selected for recycled content, locally sourced and environmentally beneficial performance. Lighting is designed to use natural daylight, with LED lighting and daylight sensing controls. Water management includes water-conserving plumbing fixtures with automatic controls to reduce water use. The lobby and reception area will be equipped with a “dashboard” and interpretive signs to explain how the building functions and allow visitors to understand the special energy and water conserving features.

 

The design plans were approved in November of 2016, and a General Contractor, Volpatt Construction, was hired. Groundbreaking ceremonies on December 3, 2016 marked the beginning of a new era for Forest Hills Borough.

Images of the design appear in this booklet prepared by Pfaffmann & Associates.

fhmb-design-booklet-for-council-12-3-3

The new Forest Hills Borough Building will perform at the level of a LEED Gold building, although certification will not be sought due to the cost. The Council has been in unanimous accord with this project across two administrations. The community is well engaged with the project and as construction proceeds toward an December 2017 completion target, excitement is building for this innovative and fiscally responsible project. This New Forest Hills Borough building will reflect the history of innovation that has shaped this town and show the way forward for resilience in a changing world.

 

This article was published as a Guest Blog for Pittsburgh Green Building Alliance at https://www.go-gba.org/the-new-forest-hills-borough-building-a-net-zero-energy-solution/


1 Comment

Wrong Way! A Call for a New American Dream

Wrong Way! A Call for A New American Dream

January 6, 2017

by Patricia M. DeMarco

The proposed Shell Chemical Appalachia Plant to produce polyethylene plastic pellets from Marcellus and Utica shale gas in Potter Township, Beaver County PA, highlights two of the most important issues of our time: human-induced climate change and global pollution from man-made chemicals. In our lifetime, these existential crises threaten the survival of life, as we know it. But even as the data indicate ever more serious manifestations of these two challenges, the United States is retrenching around fossil-based industries. Each decision we make about how we use and develop resources reaches far into the future with implications for hundreds of years beyond our own time. The direction a society takes rarely changes with a single decision. Rather, an accumulation of decisions taken at the local, state and national levels create a body of accumulated positions embedded in law and precedent. Changing direction in the face of such a policy construct requires a new vision and a deliberate revision of the policy infrastructure.

Scientists and observers worldwide document increasingly dire events, with accompanying predictions of inevitable disaster from climate change and global pollution:

  • Average global temperatures rising and average carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reaching 400 parts per million;
  • Collapse of the Antarctic ice sheets;
  • shrinking of the arctic polar sea ice;
  • inundation of sea level islands and coastal communities,
  • widespread bleaching of sea corals and coral reef communities;
  • erratic and severe weather patterns producing extreme storm events;
  • prolonged droughts and advance of deserts;
  • slowing of the ocean currents;
  • loss of biodiversity and increasing rates of extinction of species worldwide.[1]

These documented facts describe the increasingly unhealthy condition of the living planet Earth. The complexity of living systems, refined over millions of years of evolution, complicate the process of making rapid, effective policy responses even in the face of such dire facts.

The socio-political processes themselves have a complexity vested in laws that run counter to the laws of chemistry, physics and biology that operate living ecosystems. To examine how these intersecting processes can be changed, it is instructive to look at decisions made around a specific project, the Shell Appalachian Petrochemical Project. The underpinnings of the modern petrochemical/energy industry trace all the way back to the initial colonization and development of America. Federal lands granted for mining, logging and ranching grounded the American continental dominance from coast to coast. Many of the entitlements and land use practices established in the laws of the 1800s remain in effect as $20.5 billion annual fossil industry subsidies today.[2]

The advance of hydraulic fracturing to develop and extract fossil methane and associated liquids from deep in the Earth has attracted chemical industry interest as a relatively inexpensive domestic feedstock. The National Energy Act of 2005 abatement of seven federal environmental and public health protections(the Halliburton Loophole)  to expedite hydraulic fracturing for fossil gas and oil bears fruit in a new petrochemical industry in 39 states, including western Pennsylvania. The shale gas supply development has been shifting investment in refineries and production facilities away from traditional locations on the coasts – Galveston and Houston Texas; Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Patterson, New Jersey. All of these locations have centered their chemical industries on petroleum refining from domestic and imported feedstock. They are characterized by the flares and emission plumes of noxious materials, with environmental and health consequences that affect the surrounding communities. The $377 billion valued industry does not count the expense of health problems of workers and communities or degraded environmental conditions among the costs.[3] The profits accrue to the industry; the costs, estimated at $238 million annually, fall on the people, communities and taxpayers.[4] This industry advance was the direct result of the Halliburton Loophole, engineered into the National Energy Act of 2005 by Vice President Chaney, former CEO of Halliburton, the manufacturer of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. This is evidence of what happens when high powered government officials are vested in private corporate interests. The public interest was swept aside.

Attracted by proximity to relatively inexpensive domestic wet gas feed stocks from Marcellus and Utica Shale deposits, augmented by $1.65 Billion in subsidies and incentives from the State of Pennsylvania, Royal Dutch Shell bought the former Horsehhead Zinc facility and is planning to build a new petrochemical processing complex to make polypropylene.[5] The facility will consist of an ethylene manufacturing process, three polyethylene manufacturing lines, three natural gas-fired combustion turbines, and various auxiliary and support equipment. The Shell Appalachian Plant in Potter Township will emit 2,248,293 tons per year of carbon dioxide and produce 1.6 million metric tons of polyethylene per year. Shell claims 2,000 construction jobs and about 600 permanent jobs associated with the plant. Their permit applications are carefully crafted to ride within the allowable provisions of complex regulatory requirements, trading future emissions against past permits of closed plants. Concerns about climate change, community health and environmental degradation fall “outside the scope of these proceedings.”[6] This plant may be within the law, but it is ethically and morally wrong.

The socio-political system of laws and regulations is not constructed to consider existential challenges! This plant will come into full production capacity in 2020, when targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to control global warming and climate change call for steep reductions in CO2 from industrial operations.[7] In addition, polyethylene is a precursor for the manufacture of plastic disposable containers, products like plastic dishware, plastic bags and other single-use commodities. Over 90% of this material will end up in landfill or in the oceans. In effect, fossil deposits of methane from deep underground are extracted, under an exemption from seven federal environmental and worker protections, to be heated and cracked into elements to make plastics manufactured into single-use materials that will end up discarded into landfills or washed into the ocean. In any but strict short-term economic criteria, this is a losing value proposition. This process causes degradation to the environment, quality of life and health of surrounding communities, and poses a threat to the well-being of children, elderly, and sensitive populations across a broad region. The effects of this action will manifest over hundreds of years adding to the cumulative destruction of the living Earth.

The justification is “JOBS!” In a region afflicted with loss of traditional industries, there has been no re-investment policy, no social safety net to help communities adjust, rebuild and regenerate around more sustainable pursuits to support the economy. Beginning with the Tax Reform Act of 1986, the press toward a single metric for evaluating the effect of government has driven policies more and more toward eliminating environmental protections and social services, defined as “wasteful” or harmful to business. The concept of the role of government being limited to defense and keeping the peace while leaving business to run at will has taken over the value system of America. The result has been a widening division in society with wealth concentrated in a shrinking top tier and the middle class shrinking into debt and despair.

The American values of social equity, and public trust for the management of the nations resources have shrunk in the face of the onslaught by corporate dominance of government. The Citizens United ruling granting the rights of “persons” to corporations accelerated the trend toward governance for the sake of corporate interests. It may have once been true that what was good for business was good for America, but in modern times of multinational corporate dominance, what is good for companies like EXXON may certainly harm the average citizen. Citizens and Corporate Persons are not a congruent population. Corporations do not feel hunger, sorrow, or pain. They do not breathe or bleed. A government dominated by corporate interests has no soul. Rulings from such a body will focus on the immediate economic gains, even if they sacrifice the workers, the community and the future.

A policy direction that fully embraces the serious global issues we face as Americans and as the human race can reaffirm essential social and environmental protections without sacrificing a sound economy.[8] Policies and the infrastructure of laws and regulations to shift direction to a socially equitable and environmentally sustainable society can recapture the full greatness of America. The window of time for action is narrow and closing. But with determination and a shared vision of success, a shift to a society based on renewable energy systems, regenerative agriculture and green chemistry production in a circular materials management system can flourish. This is the New American Dream.

References and Sources

[1] Ralph J. Cicerone and Sir Paul Nurse (Eds.) Climate Change: Evidence and Causes. (National Academy of Sciences and the UK Royal Society. Washington D.C., 2017) https://www.nap.edu/catalog/18730/climate-change-evidence-and-causes

[2] Elizabeth Bast, Alex Doukas, Sam Pickard, Laurie van der Burg and Shelagh Whitley. “Empty Promises: G-20 Subsidies to oil gas and coal production.” Oil Change International, November 2015. Accessed January 3, 2017. http://priceofoil.org/content/uploads/2015/11/Empty-promises_main-report.2015.pdf

[3] Statista. Facts on the Chemical Industry in the United States. 2015. https://www.statista.com/topics/1526/chemical-industry-in-the-us/ Accessed January 5, 2016.

[4] Physicians for Social Responsibility. Cancer and Toxic Chemicals.         http://www.psr.org/environment-and-health/confronting-toxics/cancer-and-toxic-chemicals.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/ Accessed January 5, 2016.

[5] Tim Schooley. “”Pennsylvania’s Biggest Corporate Subsidies.” Pittsburgh Business Times. March 14, 2014. http://www.bizjournals.com/pittsburgh/news/2014/03/14/pennsylvanias-most-subsidized-companies.html Accessed January 5, 2016.

[6] Mark R. Gorog, Regional Manager, Air Quality Program. “Comment and Response Document RE: Shell Chemical Appalachia LLC Petrochemicals Complex and Polyethylene Manufacturing, Air Quality Permit” File PA -04-00740A. June 18, 2015. Page 36.

[7] United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Paris Agreement. December 15, 2015. http://unfccc.int/paris_agreement/items/9485.php Accessed January 5, 2017.

[8] For concise analysis of the green jobs economy see the following reports, among many others.   https://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/blog/sustainable-employment-green-us/   and https://thinkprogress.org/bureau-of-labor-statistics-reports-3-1-million-u-s-green-jobs-top-5-takeaways-83ddaa3dfb54#.ladqohajd