Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

References and Citations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Stop the Cruel and Inhumane Separation of Families

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

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

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

Find actions here:

#WhereAreTheChildren: How to Help

 

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

 

Dear Senator Toomey, Senator Casey, Representative Doyle:

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

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

 

 


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The Power of Joined Voices

 

The Power of Joined Voices

By Patricia M. DeMarco
May 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessed Be

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

Citations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Earth Day 2018 – A View of Hope from the Pit of Despair

April 22, 2018

by Patricia M. DeMarco

A bright profusion of daffodils rims the pond.  Young mourning doves explore the edge of the waterfall with their fuzzy plumage offering camouflage from the Coopers hawks soaring overhead.  Blossoms and tree leaves swell in readiness to burst forth with the rich foliage of summer.  I listen to the songs of the birds in their Spring courtship calls and take comfort that the flow of the seasons continues.  At the micro-level of a single back yard, the thrum of Life pulses within the Earth and gives me peace. So much of what gives life meaning is embedded in little things. Priceless things like Spring.

Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth
find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
Rachel Carson (The Sense of Wonder. P. 100)

My thoughts turn to Rachel Carson this Spring of 2018. Her heroic battle to complete her book Silent Spring in the face of the devastation of metastatic invasion of breast cancer into her bones, her lungs, her every nerve ending wracked with the devastation of a disease that in her time was a death sentence.  The one in eight women in America who face this same disease have a much more favorable trajectory for survival.[1] Rachel Carson’s voice calling for precaution in the use of man-made materials that are biologically active has fallen on deaf ears.  Even the protections for clean air and water and the toxic substances controls imposed by law have failed to stem the flow of toxic releases. Now labeled as “burdensome regulations” even the minimum standards in place are under attack in favor of unfettered pollution to create short–term economic profits. The myth that protecting the environment costs jobs is well entrenched and shows no sign of abatement. I look at a trajectory forward from this year and see nightmare visions of rivers flowing black with coal waste, plastic suffocating the life of the oceans, air thickened by noxious emissions newly relieved of constraints.  I think of the Pittsburgh of the late 1950’s when I was old enough to notice and complain of the sulfurous smell that suffused my world. Is it even remotely possible that this past will be the future my grandchildren know? I tremble in rage at even the possibility of such an outcome.

For the first time in the history of the world,
every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals,
from the moment of conception until death. 
Rachel Carson. (Silent Spring. P.12)

Rachel Carson’s precautionary message, vilified in the industrial mainstream in America, has taken hold in the regulatory systems of other countries, especially Europe. In the EU, the burden of proof of safety rests on the manufacturers who must demonstrate that products and their breakdown components pose no health or toxic danger to people or living things.  Not so in the US.  Here, the industry meets minimum requirements, and whole categories of materials are “generally regarded as safe” without testing for health effects.  The burden is on the consumer to prove that their illness was caused by exposure.  According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention biennial bioassay of the US population, for example, the average American has over 300 synthetic chemicals in his or her body, 75 of which are known mutagens or carcinogens.[2]  93% of the adult population has Bis-Phenyl-A in their bodies, a known endocrine disruptor found in plastic container linings, thermal paper such as receipts, and plastics used for food.[3] Even babies are born pre-polluted, as documented by a study of cord blood in newborns that showed 237 synthetic chemicals present at birth, including carcinogenic and mutagenic compounds.[4] The wanton disregard for post-consumer fate of synthetic materials now forms a global chemical stew that surrounds all living things. The modern Age of Plastic has been a massive experiment on life without any controls.

Global awareness of global pollution as an existential problem is growing across the world.  It is impossible to ignore the millions of ocean creatures coming to land dead from consuming plastic debris floating in the ocean in great gyres concentrated by the currents. Our habit of converting fossil raw material to trash as rapidly as possible with no plan for retrieving the waste creates millions and millions of pounds a year of synthetic material that does not break down into smaller molecules that can re-enter the cycle of life.  Synthetic materials made from fossil resources, extracted with great damage to the living systems of the Earth, transported, manufactured into materials for convenience. 300 million tons of plastic is produced every year, over half for single use items that become trash – More than eight million tons of plastic debris ends up in the ocean every year.[5] Modern living has hundreds of daily actions depending on plastics- structural components of buildings, vehicles, electronics, tools, instruments, fibers. The problem of plastic pollution is complex, and has evolved over fifty years at least.  The solutions will require dedicated effort, but most critically, a force of will to change the process toward solutions.

It is a moral and ethical problem, not a technology problem. The plastic pollution of the globe is the most serious unintended consequence of convenience combined with a failure to take responsibility for the waste produced at any level.  Manufacturers have failed to take responsibility at the design stage to prevent toxicity and harm in the biological activity of the synthetic material they produce.  Unless regulatory restrictions are imposed and enforced, there is no ethic of assuring safety in the products or their degradation by-products.  Industry, especially in the US screams about burdensome regulation and insists that restrictions limit profits and kill jobs. Producers of plastics, especially single-use consumer convenience products, take no responsibility for reclaiming or recapturing the waste. There is no profit in recapturing the used materials, it is apparently cheaper to make new plastics from more fossil raw resources like petroleum and natural gas liquids.  Retailers and advertisers promote ever more items for convenience, representing the single use and throw away concept as a convenience to the consumer. Cutlery, plastic cups, dishes, straws, food containers, take-out foods, packaging everything within packages then clad in shrink-wrap… the list is endless. Consumers take little responsibility for the waste created with all this “convenience.” Americans recycle less than 5% of the plastic waste.  The ethic of taking responsibility for recycling plastic has evaporated with the old-fashioned practice of returning beverage bottles for re-use. Soda. Milk, beer, water once came in bottles with a deposit and refund on return.  Glass bottles could be cleaned and reused five or more times before being recycled and reformed for renewed use.  A circular fate for the silica based resource of glass.  This practice is routine in Germany, where re-use of beverage bottles is standard.[6]  They also recycle and re-use some plastic bottles with machines that shred the bottles at the point of sale for a deposit.

Solutions to the single-use plastic problem can begin immediately with citizens calling for responsible plastic policies.[7] REFUSE single-use plastics: straws, shopping bags, water and soft drink bottles, cutlery, food containers.  REDUCE the amount of disposable plastic in a conscious effort at the point of purchase.  Ask: “Is there a reusable version of this product?  Is the container recyclable? Is the packaging excessive? What becomes of this product when I am done with it?” Plan ahead to bring re-usable shopping bags, re-usable cutlery, cups and water bottles. Bring re-usable containers fort take-out rather than Styrofoam or polystyrene take out boxes. RE-USE items that can be re-purposed for creative applications from crafts to the selection of goods made from recycled materials, such as wrapping paper, carpet, flooring, some furniture. Recycled plastic for 3-D printing and ocean recovered plastic for product containers are two initiatives from industries developing more responsible global practices. (Ref) RECYCLE responsibly. Know the requirements for recycling in your community. Sort appropriately; wash out food contamination, avoid cross-contamination that will send the entire load to a landfill. RAISE YOUR VOICE to demand better plastics management policies.  From the local level, seek community action to have efficient recycling programs, compositing clean materials for community gardens being careful to prevent plastic contamination. Stand up for state and federal rules that make product safety a priority to protect consumers. Call product manufacturers of brands you use and demand a responsible waste recovery program.  Send the packaging back! In the UK, a group of consumers have been leaving excess single-use packaging at the store after check out….. Call your Representatives and Senators to demand stronger regulations that protect consumers and the environment by reducing the production of single-use materials at the source.[8]

Forty-eight years ago, the first Earth Day called millions of people to action.  We filled the streets in droves, held Teach-Ins and demanded that law-makers pay attention to the pollution of water air and land that was killing us and our children. Today, the approach of limiting the exposure by determining allowable levels of emissions has still resulted in 5.2 billion pounds per year of toxic releases into air, water and land.[9]  Today’s technology has the capacity to go beyond the old adage that the “Solution to pollution is dilution.” We have managed to pollute the oceans globally, the air worldwide, entire watersheds, acres and acres of farmland.  It is time to exercise the precautionary principle in full force.  Design materials to be safe from the beginning – benign by design through green chemistry practices.[10] The culture of convenience based on consumer freedom to act without restraints and for industries to make decisions based exclusively on the economic profit as a driver, leaves the priceless attributes of the living Earth exposed to wanton destruction.[11] Freedom without responsibility and accountability for damage leads to chaos. The moral obligation to preserve the priceless life support system of the Earth must balance the economic drive of profits at any cost.  We can live without plastic straws; we cannot live without fresh water, clean air, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species that constitute the interconnected Web of Life, of which humans are but one part. On this Earth Day, take a walk through your neighborhood, and pick up all the trash around you. Notice how much plastic debris has become a normal part of the landscape, and resolve to be part of the solution.

 

Citations and References

[1] U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics  http://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statistics

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Biomonitoring Program. https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/index.html

[3] Edna Ribiero et. Al. Occupational Exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA): A Reality That Still Needs to Be Unveiled. Toxics. 2017 Sep; 5(3): 22. Published online 2017 Sep 13.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5634705/

[4] Sara Goodman. “Tests Find More Than 200 Chemicals in Newborn Umbilical Cord Blood.” Scientific American. December  2, 2009. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/newborn-babies-chemicals-exposure-bpa

[5] Joe McCarthy. “9 Shocking Facts About Plastics in Our Oceans.” Global Citizen. June 12, 2017. https://www.ecowatch.com/plastic-oceans-facts-images-2436857254.html

[6] James. How Does The German Pfand System Work, And Is It Effective? 21 May 2017.

https://liveworkgermany.com/2017/05/how-does-the-german-pfand-system-work-and-is-it-effective/

[7] Beth Terry. 100 Steps to a Plastic Free Life.  https://myplasticfreelife.com/plasticfreeguide/

[8] National Council of State Legislatures offers resources and model legislation.    HTTP://WWW.NCSL.ORG/RESEARCH/ENVIRONMENT-AND-NATURAL-RESOURCES/PLASTIC-BAG-LEGISLATION.ASPX

[9] Environmental Protection Agency.Toxic Release Inventory. National Analysis 2015.  www.epa.gov

[10] Patricia M. DeMarco. Pathways to Our Sustainable Future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. (University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh. 2017) Pages 140-169.

[11] Report of the World Commission on The Environment and Development “Our Common Future.”  United Nations 1985.  http://www.un-documents.net/our-common-future.pdf

 

 


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Comments on the Shell Falcon Ethane Pipeline

 

April 5, 2018

Allegheny County Public Hearing

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
Southwest Regional Office
Waterways & Wetlands Program
400 Waterfront Drive
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
RA-EPWW-SWRO@pa.gov 

 

In the Matter of: Shell Pipeline Company, Falcon Ethane Pipeline

JOINT PERMIT APPLICATION FOR PENNSYLVANIA CHAPTER 105 WATER OBSTRUCTION AND ENCROACHMENT PERMIT AND U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS SECTION 404 PERMIT (JANUARY 20, 2018)

My name is Patricia M. DeMarco, I reside at 616 Woodside Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15221.  I am an elected Member of the Borough Council in the Borough of Forest Hills, representing 5,600 citizens.[1] Our community lies in the area affected by air emissions and watershed contamination potential impacts from the Falcon Ethane Pipeline. I speak on behalf of the citizens I am sworn to represent and for the unborn children of the 21st century who will bear the consequences of the decisions made today.

 

I oppose the construction of this pipeline and the entire industrial complex of which it is a critical component. The Falcon Ethane Pipeline system is a 97-mile pipeline network intended to feed the SHELL Appalachia Petrochemical facility in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. The Falcon Pipeline will carry more than 107,000 barrels of ethane per day through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, to Shell’s Appalachia Petrochemical facility, which would then “crack,” or break apart, ethane molecules to create ethylene and polyethylene for single-use plastic materials at the rate of 1.6 million tons per year. The SHELL Appalachia Petrochemical facility would be the first step in building a regional petrochemical hub.[2] Piecemeal permitting of the multiple components of this intended petrochemical industry hub prevents the comprehensive impact review of the consequences of converting the forested, rural landscape of western Pennsylvania to an industrial mega-complex. The petrochemical industry is migrating from the storm ravaged Gulf Coast areas of Louisiana and Texas to escape the effects of climate change that their own industrial activities are exacerbating. Western Pennsylvania communities will become part of the sacrifice zone to this endeavor, as has happened in Baton Rouge Louisiana and parts of Houston, Texas.[3][4]

 

The construction of the Falcon Ethane Pipeline should be denied for three reasons: it presents a clear danger to critical ecosystem functions in violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution; it presents a public health hazard; and it contributes to the immoral and unethical destruction of our climate and planetary health. Propagating infrastructure for fossil-derived methane to be burned as fuel, and petrochemicals to be converted into single-use plastic materials accelerates the slow suicide of our civilization.

 

Falcon Ethane Pipeline violates PA Constitutional protection for the environment.

The Pennsylvania Constitution protects the natural resources of the Commonwealth:

The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.[5]

This Constitutional provision argues explicitly for precaution in protecting natural resources, including their inherent ecosystem functions, for the use of current and future generations.  It is clear from the proposed route of this Falcon Ethane Pipeline that the permanent right of way will assure the clearing of forest lands, the disruption of natural habitat, the exposure of wetlands, streams and rivers to spill hazards and erosion for the imposition of roads and crossings, and the loss of aesthetic and recreational use of lands. The proposed route of the Falcon Ethane Pipeline will require 1, 273 acres of construction space and 650 acres for the permanent right of way. The Shell Pipeline Company has a poor record of spills, from breaks, leaks and operations. An examination of Shell’s operations around the world makes it clear that the company operates with a brazen disregard for the safety of its own workers, the needs of local communities both here in the United States and internationally, and the long-term impact of drilling on the environment.[6]  In the United States, Shell has one of the worst environmental violation records in the industry, illustrated by these few examples. In September 2011, Shell was fined $500,000 for failing to report five toxic releases at the Deer Park refinery in Harris County; the facility is close to two schools and multiple communities; In 2010, two Shell subsidiaries were forced to pay $3.3 million in civil penalties to the government and spend $6 million to install pollution reduction equipment at refineries in Louisiana and Alabama; In addition, four years earlier, the company was fined $6.5 million for more than 50 environmental violations in Riverside, California.[7] This pattern of corporate behavior is unlikely to change in the proposed Pennsylvania operations at Shell petrochemical facilities.

 

Clean fresh water is essential for life- single use plastic from natural gas liquids like ethane is not. Critical environmental and ecosystem functions will be at risk of damage and degradation from the effects of this pipeline and the extensive infrastructure required for the extraction of fossil methane and natural gas liquids such as ethane from the Marcellus and Utica shale fields. Fully implementing this strategy to locate a petrochemical hub in western Pennsylvania will assure the destruction of the natural landscape, watersheds, and fresh water rivers and streams for decades into the future. Protecting fresh water resources is a critical need to support the habitability and resilience of the Western Pennsylvania region.  The Falcon Ethane Pipeline compromises watersheds, wetlands, streams and rivers that provide the water supply directly for at least 8,500 people, and the 30,000 people who rely on the Ambrige Reservoir, not counting people served by private wells within the affected area.[8]

The Falcon Pipeline will directly intersect 319 streams with 361 additional streams located only 500 ft from construction areas and 174 wetlands with 470 additional wetlands located only 500 ft from construction areas. For the most part, these intersections will use open cuts and dry ditch trenching for the construction process, offering minimum protection from sediment, erosion and the introduction of contaminants.  Horizontal Directional Drilling to give greater protection to sensitive areas was indicated in some planned crossings, including highway crossings, but was not included in the plans for crossing areas that directly affect water reservoirs in the Ambridge and Tappen Reservoirs. No plans for DEP or other regulatory oversight of operations in these sensitive watershed, wetland and stream crossings are included in the Application.

 

The Montour Trail will be crossed by the Falcon Pipeline in nine locations: five by the pipeline itself, three by temporary access roads, and one by a permanent access road.[9] Construction of the pipeline and ongoing right of way maintenance will entail clearing of woods and disruption of scenery and a recreational bike way used by an average of 400,000 people annually. This constitutes a permanent and irreparable harm to a scenic and recreational asset of Pennsylvania.

 

The Falcon Ethane Pipeline will deliver ethane extracted from Marcellus and Utica shale deposits to the Shell Appalachia Petrochemical Plant in Monaca, PA. The anticipated output of this facility is polyethylene plastic, a precursor for single-use plastic packaging, among other plastic products. It is anticipated to use low-cost ethane supplied by shale gas producers in the Marcellus and Utica basins to produce 1.6 million tons (Mt) of polyethylene a year.[10] Global pollution from plastic waste has reached crisis levels. In 2010, eight million tons of plastic waste ended up in the ocean from coastal cities and river discharges.[11] With no restrictions for recycling, reclaiming single-use plastic waste, or designing for repurposing and recapturing this material, the net effect of the Shell Appalachian Petrochemical facility, and the ethane pipeline that feeds it, will be to convert fossil raw materials to trash as rapidly as possible to generate profits for the industry.  The costs to the environment in the form of permanent non-biodegradable plastic pollution will endure for generations.

 

Falcon Pipeline contributes to health effects for workers and communities.

The slick water hydraulic fracturing method for extracting fossil natural gas and associated liquids from deep shale deposits was enabled by the National Energy Act of 2005, which gave an exemption for this process from seven federal environmental and public health laws.[12]  Due to such exemptions, the Falcon Ethane Pipeline is not technically required to file for air quality permits under the Clean Air Act. The rapid expansion of the industry has been accompanied by an increasing documentation of public health and worker exposure data. As a result of the rapid growth of this industry, 9.4 million Americans in 39 states live within one mile of fracking facilities. The Fifth Compendium of peer reviewed documentation of health effects from the fracking industry has been compiled by the Concerned Health Professionals of New York and the Physicians for Social responsibility. The major findings of this study based on peer-reviewed health studies are as follows:

By several measures, evidence for fracking-related health problems is emerging across the United States and Canada. Studies of birth outcomes in regions of intensive unconventional oil and gas extraction continue to point to reproductive risks, including low birth weight and preterm births. In Pennsylvania, as the number of gas wells increase in a community, so do rates of hospitalization, and community members experience sleep disturbance, headache, throat irritation, stress/anxiety, cough, shortness of breath, sinus, fatigue, wheezing, and nausea. Drilling and fracking operations are also correlated with increased rates of asthma, elevated motor vehicle fatalities, ambulance runs and emergency room visits, and gonorrhea incidence. Benzene levels in ambient air surrounding drilling and fracking operations are sufficient to elevate risks for future cancers in both workers and nearby residents, according to studies. Animal studies show numerous threats to fertility and reproductive success from exposure to various concentrations of oil and gas chemicals, including at levels representative of those found in drinking water. Two dozen chemicals commonly used in fracking operations are endocrine disruptors that can variously disrupt organ systems, lower sperm counts, and cause reproductive harm at levels to which people can be realistically exposed.[13]

Given that significant public health impact is already evident from the build out of the petrochemical industry based on hydraulic fracturing, the continued expansion of this industry, including the pipelines that connect the fracking sites with petrochemical production, processing and export facilities, is not in the public interest. This industry may be technically operating legally due to a special interest exemption from environmental and health protections, but its continued development will come at a tremendous price in avoidable human suffering.

 

Ethical Arguments against expanding fossil-based petrochemical industry.

Climate change and global pollution from synthetic non-biodegradable materials are the existential crises of our time. In addition to carbon dioxide produced from the direct combustion of fossil methane from Marcellus and Utica shales, the proposed power plant to drive the Shell Appalachia Petrochemical facility and the millions of diesel-fueled trucks that connect all the parts of this industry contribute to accelerating global warming. Methane leaks from U.S. oil and gas operations were significantly higher than previously estimated, as were U.S. methane emissions overall, which increased by more than 30 percent over a twelve -year period. Most of this excess methane, which is responsible for 30-60 percent of the recent upsurge of global atmospheric methane, represents leaks from U.S. gas and oil operations.[14]

 

There is a three-layered ethical conundrum surrounding fracking.

  1. The hydraulic fracturing industry only exists because the Halliburton Loophole in the National Energy Act of 2005 gave exemptions from seven federal environmental protection and worker safety standards. It may be legal, but it is wrong to suspend environmental and worker protections to promote the profitable extraction of a fossil resource for the economic benefit of corporations. Using petrochemical liquids from fracking to add to the single-use plastic burden of the Earth is another highly unethical consequence of this industry.

 

  1. Environmental justice issues arise from exposures to people who live in proximity to pollution sources such as fracking operations, coal fired power plants and petrochemical facilities. The areas around such sources are considered “sacrifice zones” where people cannot afford to leave and are subject to pollution for generations. (See the lengthy literature on Baton Rouge cancer alley, for example) There is also the issue of the supremacy of mineral rights over surface rights. This is an ethical issue especially when the surface  rights include essential ecosystem functions such as watersheds, wetlands, forest, prairie grasslands and rivers. In Pennsylvania, where the mineral rights owners are given access to fossil resources even over the objections of surface property owners, the Constitutional protection for natural resources for future generations is ripe for testing in court.

 

  1. Inter -generational justice issues arise as the fracking process extends the use of fossil fuels and infrastructure for its extraction, processing and use for another thirty years. Global warming from increasing greenhouse gas emissions is an existential threat to all life on Earth as we know it. This is a step in the wrong direction.

 

Finally, policies for a just transition for heavy industry need to be developed. As the whole industrial supply chain moves to a more circular system based on sustainable practices for resource management, the fate of existing workers and the human and social needs in the transition must receive focused attention. Economics alone in a market heavily skewed by embedded fossil industry subsidies will not drive a just and equitable transition to a sustainable future. Policies that suspend the environmental and health protections to the advantage of the petrochemical, oil and gas industries at the expense of public health and worker well-being impede progress to a more sustainable future.

 

From the beginning, the industry has been touting the production of jobs and a resurgence of manufacturing in the area. As Shell states in its promotion for the Shell Falcon Ethane Pipeline, “The project will bring new jobs to the area, with up to 1,000 workers at peak of construction and four to six permanent employees when completed.”  [15] The Shell Appalachia Petrochemical project is slated to create approximately 6,000 jobs during the construction phase and a further 600 permanent positions upon completion. However, an investment of the equivalent of the $1.34 trillion anticipated to build out the petrochemical hub in western Pennsylvania may preclude more sustainable and long-term opportunities.  Imagine what the re-investment of this amount of capital in long-neglected communities in Pennsylvania could accomplish with investments in renewable energy systems, regenerative agriculture, and a circular supply chain for products produced by green chemistry processes.  While Pennsylvanians still support natural gas, the level of understanding for the environmental risks of fracking is eroding that support to the extent that 55% of people polled in March of 2018 say the environmental risks of fracking are greater than its economic benefits.[16]

 

It is time to put a stop to this destructive and dangerous build-out of a petrochemical hub in western Pennsylvania.  It is an investment in a backward-looking industry that forecloses better options for the future.

 

Citations and References:

[1]  This statement represents the views of the author alone and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Mayor of the Borough of Forest Hills or any other Member of the Borough Council.

[2] Ref https://www.fractracker.org/projects/falcon-public-eia/ Accessed April 3, 2018.

[3] Ted Genoways. “Port Arthur Texas: An American Sacrifice Zone.” On Earth. August 26, 2013.    http://archive.onearth.org/articles/2013/08/if-built-the-keystone-xl-pipeline-will-end-in-one-toxic-town Accessed April 3, 2018.

[4] Pollution A to Z. Cancer Alley, Louisiana. Louisiana Forum. http://www.pollutionissues.com/Br-Co/Cancer-Alley-Louisiana.html  Aslo see:  Centers for Disease Control. (2002). Cancer Prevention and Control “Cancer Burden Data Fact Sheets, Louisiana.” Atlanta, GA.  Accessed April 3, 2018.

[5] Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Article I. Declaration of Rights § 27. Natural resources and the public estate. http://www.legis.state.pa.us/WU01/LI/LI/CT/HTM/00/00.HTM Accessed April 2, 2018.

[6]  Alaska Wilderness League. “SHELL Oil- A Record of Environmental and Corporate Malfeasance.”  June 2012. Page 3. http://www.shellnews.net/wikipedia/documents/CompressedShellReport.pdf Accessed April 2, 2018.

[7] Alaska Wilderness League. “SHELL Oil- A Record of Environmental and Corporate Malfeasance.”  June 2012. Page 5. http://www.shellnews.net/wikipedia/documents/CompressedShellReport.pdf Accessed April 2, 2018.

[8]  https://www.fractracker.org/2018/01/falcon-hca/ Accessed April 3, 2018.

[9] Frack Tracker Alliance. “The Falcon: Routes, Facilities and Easements.” January 27, 2018.  https://www.fractracker.org/2018/01/falcon-routes/ Accessed April 2, 2018.

[10]  Hydrocarbons technology. “Shell Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex.”     https://www.hydrocarbons-technology.com/projects/shell-pennsylvania-petrochemicals-complex/ Accessed April 2, 2018.

[11]  J.R. Jambeck, R. Geyer, C. Wilcox, T.R. Siegler, M. Perryman, A. Andrady, R. Narayan, K. L. Law. “Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean.” Science  13 Feb 2015:Vol. 347, Issue 6223, pp. 768-771 http://science.sciencemag.org/content/347/6223/768 Accessed April 3, 2018.

[12] National Energy Act of 2005 gave exemptins for hydraulic fracturing from provisions of seven federal environmental laws and their associated implementing regulations: National Environmental Policy Act (1969, 2005); Clean Water Act (1972, 1987, 2005); Safe Drinking Water Act (1974); Clean Air Act (1970, 1977, 1990); Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (1976); Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (1986); Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (Superfund)(1980) For further analysis see: Renee Lewis Kosnik. “The Oil and Gas Industry’s Exclusions and Exemptions from Major Environmental Statutes.” Earthworks. 2007.

[13] Concerned Health Professionals of New York & Physicians for Social Responsibility. (2018, March). Compendium of scientific, medical, and media findings demonstrating risks and harms of fracking (unconventional gas and oil extraction) (5th ed.) Pages 114-126. http://concernedhealthny.org/compendium/ Accessed April 3, 2018.

[14] Concerned Health Professionals of New York & Physicians for Social Responsibility. (2018, March). Compendium of scientific, medical, and media findings demonstrating risks and harms of fracking (unconventional gas and oil extraction) (5th ed.) (See footnotes 714-716, 724, 733, 734.)

[15] https://www.shell.us/business-customers/shell-pipeline/falcon/about-the-falcon-pipeline.html Accessed April 3, 2018.

[16] Center for Opinion Research, Franklin & Marshall College.  /StateImpact Pennsylvania Poll. March 29, 2018.  https://www.fandm.edu/uploads/files/708725106986767486-f-m-poll-release-march-2018.pdf  Accessed April 4, 2018.


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A Plea for the Rights of the Living Earth

“I pledge myself to preserve and protect America’s fertile soils, her mighty forests and rivers, her wildlife and minerals, for on these her greatness was established and her strength depends.” Rachel Carson [1]

Earth as we have known it faces dramatic and escalating changes wrought by the ignorance and carelessness of human exploitation. In the early days of human civilization, when humans were small tribal bands moving among other predators and omnivores, their impact was kept in balance as part of the ecosystems they occupied. As the population grew and humans added technologies for manipulating and shaping the natural world through large scale agriculture then through roads, cities and industry, the impact has grown to the point where now modern people do not perceive themselves automatically as part of the natural world. This separation from nature combined with a sense of entitlement to exploit, own and use the resources of the Earth for profits has sent the impact of human civilization spinning beyond the threshold of balance of natural systems.

 

Today’s economy rests on using fossil resources- oil, natural gas and coal – for fuel and petrochemical feedstocks. Fossil resource use is manifest in global warming and global pollution, from the accumulation of petrochemical products in the environment and the products of fossil fuel combustion in the atmosphere.[2] Our fossil dependent civilization now faces life or death situations across the planet as the inherent limits of tolerance for living conditions are breached. A quarter of the globe now faces desert conditions from prolonged drought; bleaching of 40% of the world’s coral reefs from ocean acidification and warmer temperatures; melting and collapse of Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets; and average global carbon dioxide levels above 400 parts per million, levels not seen for thousands of years.[3]

 

The governments of all the countries in the world have pledged to address the peril of climate change, except for the United States of America under the Trump Administration. The isolation from our peers and the destructive effect of his policies undermine the natural capital of our nation and amplify the effect of our civilization on climate change and global pollution. Our life support system is under direct attack. Since taking office, the Trump Administration has rescinded or repealed 60 environmental, public health and worker safety protections in the name of eliminating ‘burdensome regulations.”[4] Millions of people now are exposed to risks of water contamination, air pollution, and the destruction of national lands and offshore areas from expanded oil, gas and coal development under relaxed environmental reviews. This is the road to an impoverished and unhealthy nation ruled by a cruel and oblivious elite. This is not the America my immigrant grandparents shed blood, sweat and tears to build.

 

This situation is more tragic because the solutions are all around us, technologies and systems proven to provide the base for a thriving economy abound – renewable energy systems, regenerative agriculture, green chemistry and a circular supply chain.[5] We are facing a moral and ethical crisis, not a technology challenge. The splintered factions of the environmental and social justice movements must coalesce and stand together to restore a system of checks and balances that contain the rampant greed of unfettered economic exploitation.  Capitalism unbalanced by social and environmental constraints becomes a tyranny, thriving on the exploitation of the natural resources of the Earth and discounting the intrinsic value of all living things, including people. Continuing on this course will end in a planet hurtling through space devoid of the lush regenerative life we have known.

 

The People’s Climate Congress held in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 2010 adopted a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth signed by 288 nations and adopted at COP21 in Paris as part of the Paris Climate Accord. The first declaration is “For the right to life and to exist.”[6] The Earth provides everything we need to live and thrive as functions of the interactions among the living systems and mineral structure of the planet.  Robert Costanza and his colleagues have recently updated the twenty- year study of the value of ecosystem services in an article which concludes that the substantial contributions of ecosystem services to the sustainable wellbeing of humans and the rest of nature should be at the core of the fundamental change needed in economic theory and practice if we are to achieve a societal transformation to a sustainable and desirable future.[7]

We can achieve a sustainable society where economic enterprise is balanced with environmental health and social and cultural values. This goal rests on recognizing the intrinsic value of the life support systems of the living Earth. We have established in law that corporations have the same rights as “persons” under the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments; the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and the Contract Clause and Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.[8] Yet, we do not recognize the components of our living Earth as having intrinsic rights under the law. In a few places in America, this concept of Nature having legal rights is beginning to be challenged in the courts.  First is the lawsuit Juliana et. al. vs. the United States filed by the Children’s Trust on behalf of 21 teenagers in Oregon who claim the federal government’s promotion of fossil fuel production and its indifference to the risks posed by greenhouse gas emissions have resulted in “a dangerous destabilizing climate system” that threatens the survival of future generations. The plaintiffs argue that their fundamental constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property have been violated. They also argue that the government violated the public trust doctrine, a legal concept grounded in ancient law that holds the government is responsible for protecting public resources, such as land and water—or in this case, the climate system—for public use.[9]

A new lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, Colorado is asking a judge to treat the Colorado River as a person rather than property, therefore recognizing its right “to exist, flourish, regenerate, and naturally evolve.” It makes the argument that if corporations in the U.S. can be granted the same rights as people, shouldn’t rivers be allowed that status as well? [10]The same issue lies at the heart of the of the Indigenous Peoples challenge to the Keystone XL Pipeline, who argue that the pipeline would endanger the water supply and the river system in the event of a leak. Initially denied pending further environmental studies to evaluate the effects on the watershed and water supply, the Keystone XL Pipeline is now returned to production by Trump actions rescinding the requirement for a more thorough environmental review.[11] The 1,179-pipeline extension was projected to move 830,000 barrels of sands oil per day, and is at the center of this battle over land rights of private U.S. citizens, Native Americans, and the U.S. government in its role as guardian of the public interest.

The most alarming aspect of these lawsuits and many others piling up across the country is that the government is supposed to protect the public interest and the people, not corporations! The perversion of our Constitution to serve multinational corporations with no concern whatsoever for the people of this country, or indeed of ANY country, over the preservation of the public health and welfare is a total perversion of America.  We must take back the true values of America, a government of the people, by the people and for the people, or we will perish from this Earth. If corporations are persons, how much more valid is the claim that the rivers, forests, grasslands, wetlands, and estuaries should have the rights of persons? I call for the adoption of the Universal Rights of Mother Earth as a Constitutional Amendment to balance Citizens United.  We will otherwise destroy our life support system in the pursuit of unfettered economic greed.

Written for the Sierra Club Allegheny Group Newsletter. January 21, 2018 Published in Allegheny Sierran, Spring 2018 issue, page 5. http://alleghenysc.org/agv1/wp-content/uploads/sierran_spring_2018.pdf

References

[1] Patricia m. DeMarco. Pathways to Our Sustainable future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. 2017. University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 43

[2] National Climate Assessment. http://www.noaa.gov/media-release/arctic-saw-2nd-warmest-year-smallest-winter-sea-ice-coverage-on-record-in-2017Nature. http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/highlights/overview/overview#intro-section-2

[3] NOAA;  https://www.nature.com/articles/nature25026 Accessed January 16, 2018.

[4] Nada Popovitch, Livia Albeck-Ripka, and Kendra Pierre-Louis. “60 Environmental Rules on the way out under Trump.” The New York Times. Updated, December 15, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/10/05/climate/trump-environment-rules-reversed.html Accessed January 20, 2018

[5] Patricia m. DeMarco. Pathways to Our Sustainable future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. 2017. University of Pittsburgh Press.

[6] See the preamble and the ten rights of Mother Earth in Patricia DeMarco. 2017. Pathways to Our Sustainable Future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. (Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press.) p. 25-26.)

[7] Robert Costanza, Rudolph deGroot, Leon Braat, Ida Kubeziewski,Lorenzo Fioramonte, Paul Sutton, Steve Farber, Monica Grasso. “ Twenty years of ecosystem services: How far have we come and how far do we still need to go?” Ecosystem Services 28(2017) 1-16. http://www.robertcostanza.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/2017_J_Costanza-et-al.-20yrs.-EcoServices.pdf Accessed January 15, 2018.  See also my interview with Robert Costanza on The New American Economy Radio https://theunionedge.com/twenty-years-ecosystem-services/

[8] Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission ruling of corporations as persons http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/08-205.html Accessed January 15, 2018.

[9] Juliana et. Al. vs the United States Government. https://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/us/federal-lawsuit/ Accessed January 20,2018.

[10] Angela K. Evans. “Rights of Nature Lawsuit Seeks personhood for the Colorado River.” Boulder Weekly. September 28, 2017. http://www.boulderweekly.com/news/rights-nature-lawsuit-seeks-personhood-colorado-river/ Accessed January 19, 2018.

[11] Robert. Diotalev and Susan Burhoe. “Native American Lands and the Keystone Pipeline Expansion: A Legal Analysis.” Indigenous Policy Journal. Vol XXVII, No.2. (Summer 2016)  http://www.indigenouspolicy.org/index.php/ipj/article/viewFile/265/403 accessed January 19, 2018


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Fatal Fracking Frenzy

Fatal Fracking Frenzy

By Patricia M. DeMarco

January 4, 2018

 

“The road we have long been traveling on is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress at great speed, but at its end lies disaster.”  Rachel Carson.[1]

 

Conceived of greed, promoted with pride, and nourished with worker’s blood, sweat and tears, the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for fossil gas reserves has whipped the energy industry into a frenzy. Its backers point with great satisfaction at the results accomplished by eliminating “burdensome regulations.”  This industry could only proceed when the National Energy Act of 2005 opened the “Haliburton Loophole,” granting exemptions for hydraulic fracturing natural gas extraction from seven federal environmental and worker protection laws.(https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R41760.pdf)  Without these exemptions, fracking would be illegal! Now 39 states have some degree of fracking operations producing natural gas at the pace of 80 billion cubic feet per day, 67% from fracking from 300,000 wells.[2]

 

Relatively cheap natural gas is piped across the country mostly for domestic use in homes and displacing coal for utility electricity production.  But the industry targets massive exports in the near future as the infrastructure for transport and shipment to China and other growing markets is complete.[3] When that happens, the domestic prices will go up, and the communities that currently justify the fracking side effects with the need for local use and local jobs will be left with the environmental degradation in water use, land devaluation, and air emissions[4] but the larger profits will accrue to the multinational companies that sell the gas internationally.

 

Fracking also produces hydrocarbon liquids that can be used as precursors for plastics and other petrochemical products.  This is the payload for the industry.  The collection system and infrastructure of new refineries , “ethane cracker” plants, is shifting the locus of the petrochemical industry toward Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio and West Virginia, the heart of the Marcellus and Utica shale gas deposits.[5] The pace of this industry initiative has hastened following the devastating storm damage that lay siege to the Houston and Louisiana coastal installations.  As the industry knows in its strategies, continued sea level rise and the increased storm severity from global warming compromise the viability of these operations long term.  While continuing to deny and obfuscate the reality of climate change, the petrochemical industry prepares to migrate into areas interior from the coasts.

 

Companies like the Edgar Thomson Works of U. S. Steel see fracking as a way to secure a dedicated gas supply in the face of likely price increases and restrictions.[6] A community such as Braddock, left devastated by the loss of industries, looks hopefully to this new avenue for employment and economic development.  But, the hidden costs loom unrecognized, lurking to bring on lower birth weights in babies, higher incidents of asthma, water contamination, and increased pollution from diesel trucks and spills.[7] Without strict controls and oversight, the short- term promise of jobs, both those preserved in the existing Edgar Thomson operations and those emergent in the new fracking industry, comes at the price of a community locked into a sacrifice zone.[8]

 

Ultimately, the fracking frenzy unleashed by Dick Chaney and his colleagues through the Haliburton Loophole accelerates the fatal outcome of our fossil dependence. Investments in the infrastructure of the fossil gas extraction and enhanced oil recovery and “clean coal” technologies divert resources from implementing renewable energy systems on a large scale nationwide.  Every new data point indicates greater levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, greater acidification of the oceans and greater contamination from petrochemical products- plastics – worldwide.[9]  Rather than curtailing these destructive initiatives, we plunge forward heedless of the signals of danger ahead, danger already upon us, and catastrophe for humanity as a certain end.

 

The proposed fracking operation at the Edgar Thomson Steel Works is the exact cutting edge of the transition. The 600 workers in the Edgar Thomson mill one of the last steel mills operating from the heyday of Pittsburgh Industry, see cheap gas as a lifeline to preserving their jobs. The company argues that gas is cleaner than coal and provides revenue from potential sale of produced liquids that can become feedstock for the plastics petrochemical industry. Mayor Fetterman is looking at the immediate tax revenues and retention of jobs for 600 working families, and minimizes the risks that he bets will play out long range, if at all.[10]

 

There is a three-layered ethical conundrum surrounding fracking.

  1. The hydraulic fracturing industry only exists because the Halliburton Loophole in the National Energy Act of 2005 gave exemptions from seven federal environmental protection and worker safety standards. It may be legal, but it is wrong to suspend environmental and worker protections to promote the profitable extraction of a fossil resource for the economic benefit of corporations. Using petrochemical liquids from fracking to add to the single-use plastic burden of the Earth is another highly unethical consequence of this industry.

 

  1. Environmental justice issues arise from exposures to people who live in proximity to pollution sources such as steel mills fracking operations, coal fired power plants and petrochemical facilities. The areas around such sources are considered “sacrifice zones” where people cannot afford to leave and are subject to pollution for generations. (See the lengthy literature on Baton Rouge cancer alley, for example)

 

  1. Inter -generational justice issues arise as the fracking process extends the use of fossil fuels and infrastructure for its extraction, processing and use for another thirty years. Global warming from increasing greenhouse gas emissions is an existential threat to all life on Earth as we know it. This is a step in the wrong direction.

 

Finally, policies for a just transition for heavy industry need to be developed. As the whole industrial supply chain moves to a more circular system based on sustainable practices for resource management, the fate of existing workers and the human and social needs in the transition must receive focused attention. Economics alone in a market heavily skewed by embedded fossil industry subsidies will not drive a just and equitable transition to a sustainable future. People demanding accountability for policies that suspend the rules to the advantage of certain industries at the expense of public health and worker well-being can make a difference in the outcome.  Communities demanding full disclosure and hearings before permits are issued can make a difference in seeing that environmental and health standards are preserved. Community meetings to placate “unduly concerned” citizens after deals are struck in the back room have no place in a true representative democracy.

 

If our elected officials do not stand for the health and well-being of the community, we who care must stand up and be heard.  The Allegheny County Health Department must be petitioned to enforce air emission standards of existing sources, without exception. If the government no longer protects the people, we must protect ourselves.

~~~~

 

 

References and Resources

[1] Rachel L. Carson. Silent Spring. 1962. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston.  p.277

[2]  Energy Information Administration. Energy Today “Hydraulically fractured wells provide two-thirds of U.S. natural gas production” May 5, 2016. https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=26112  Accessed January 3, 2018.

[3] Shelly Goldberg. “Natural gas exports can solve U.S. energy glut.” Bloomberg Business News. May 2017.   https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-05-05/natural-gas-exports-can-solve-u-s-energy-glut Accessed January 3, 2018.  See EIA article on planned pipelines here https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=28872

[4] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas: Impacts from the Hydraulic Fracturing Water Cycle on Drinking Water Resources in the United States (Final Report) December 2016. EPA-600-R-16-236ES. December 2016. https://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/hfstudy/recordisplay.cfm?deid=332990  Accessed January 3, 2018.

[5] Patricia M. DeMarco. “Wrong Way- A Call for A New American Dream.” Blog post January 8, 2017. On subject of plastics pollution and production from fracking.  See citations and references for primary resources. https://patriciademarco.com/2017/01/08/wrong-way-a-call-for-a-new-american-dream/

[6] Don Hopey. “Company planning to drill for gas at Edgar Thomson mill.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. December 27, 2017.     http://www.post-gazette.com/powersource/companies/2017/12/27/Merrion-Oil-Gas-planning-drill-gas-US-Steels-Edgar-Thomson-mill-Braddock-Pittsburgh/stories/201712270142

[7] Patricia DeMarco. “Fracking Health Effects and Worker Safety.” Battle of Homestead Foundation presentation. August 25, 2016. (See citations for primary sources.)  https://patriciademarco.com/fracking-health-effects-worker-safety

[8] Reid Frazier. “U.S.Steel agrees to allow fracking at Edgar Thomson Mill.” NPR State Impact. December 27, 2017.   https://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/2017/12/27/us-steel-agrees-to-allow-fracking-at-steel-mill/ Accessed January 2, 2018.

[9] National Climate Assessment. http://www.noaa.gov/media-release/arctic-saw-2nd-warmest-year-smallest-winter-sea-ice-coverage-on-record-in-2017Nature. http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/highlights/overview/overview#intro-section-2

[10] Don Hopey. “Company planning to drill for gas at Edgar Thomson mill.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. December 27, 2017.     http://www.post-gazette.com/powersource/companies/2017/12/27/Merrion-Oil-Gas-planning-drill-gas-US-Steels-Edgar-Thomson-mill-Braddock-Pittsburgh/stories/201712270142


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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


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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.

 


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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/