Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."


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Lessons from the Hibakusha- A reflection on the 75th Commemoration of the Atomic Bomb

Seventy-five years ago, the United States dropped two nuclear bombs on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. Both cities were reduced to rubble, and a shock wave blast area and fire spread over 2.2 miles, with the lethal area extending to a 1.3 miles radius from the point of contact. The justification for this act rested on ending Japan’s involvement in World War II and bringing a rapid conclusion to the fighting.  Debate over whether this was justified and necessary continue among strategists to this day. But the human suffering and legacy of destruction lingers to this day as a warning against ever deploying nuclear weapons again. The survivors of this bombing, known as the Hibakusha, leave four lessons for our time.

Hiroshima Peace Museum

1. The resilience of the human spirit.

Imagine waking to the horror of a post-atomic bomb site.  The prospect is daunting- infrastructure gone, communication gone, relatives left without knowing the fate of loved ones. Death estimates range from 90,000 to 120,000 for Hiroshima and from 60,000 to 70,000 for Nagasaki because exact tolls were not possible. Bodies were vaporized in the blast zone and bodies were washed out to sea in the tides. Many died of radiation exposure within days or months, many hundreds of thousands survived with lingering illnesses such as anemia, ulcers, asthma, brain tumors, thyroid tumors and leukemia. Yet, 120,000 volunteers participated in the Life Span Study of Radiation conducted by Radiation Effects Research Foundation, jointly funded by the US and Japan. Most of what is known today about the long-term health effects of radiation has come out of research with those survivors. 

Dennis Normile reports in Science: “Within 6 weeks of the bombings, three U.S. and two Japanese expert teams were at work in both cities to study the biological impact of the radiation. Their objectives differed. The Japanese were primarily trying to understand the medical effects on survivors. The Americans wanted to know how and why people died from atomic blast radiation. That might help triage victims—separating those who might be saved from those doomed to die—during future nuclear wars.”[1] Much of the suffering persists long after the initial acute event. The fear of residual genetic effects passed to future generations remains a concern of many Japanese.  The discrimination against the hibakusha – survivors of the A-Bomb, persists from the fear that children will be genetically impaired.  Research and studies of children born to mothers who survived the bomb have not reassured the public. So, the emotional harm continues long after the event.

But some things cannot be destroyed. As a people, the Japanese show resilience, keeping the memory of the Atomic Bomb as a herald for peace. Love and hope can thrive in community, even as we struggle together for a better future. The devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki stands as a permanent testament to the destructive power of human ingenuity turned to making war instead of to peace. The remembrance of this terrible event serves as a spur to peaceful resolution of conflicts.

2. The ethical choice to use nuclear science for benefit rather than for harm.

Marie and Pierre Curie Discovered polonium and radium, and she championed the development of X-rays after Pierre’s death. Curie won two Nobel Prizes, for physics in 1903 and for chemistry in 1911. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize as well as the first person—man or woman—to win the prestigious award twice. She remains the only person to be honored for accomplishments in two separate sciences. 

During the First World War, Marie Curie saw many soldiers die or lose limbs from injuries that were not life threatening but could not be accurately diagnosed in battle conditions.  She put together mobile X-Ray machines that could be taken to medical centers in the battlefield to allow broken bones to be set, and accurately locate shrapnel and bullets for surgical removal.  It was her dream to see X-Rays bring many improvements to the practice of medicine.  Indeed, the legacy of nuclear medicine has taken this path.  Modern diagnostics have advanced to a high degree of sophistication, with surgical procedures simplified through nuclear imaging. Using focused radiation beams to shrink tumors and treat surgically inaccessible lesions has advanced cancer treatments in many areas. 

The choice to turn nuclear technology to the destructive force of a bomb was touted as a great scientific achievement. In speaking of the Manhattan Project that produced the atomic bomb, President harry Truman said, “What has been done is the greatest achievement of organized science in history. It was done under high pressure and without failure.”[2]  Using nuclear science to develop an atomic bomb turned the world on a path of nuclear arms development and containment that preoccupies the global balance of power to this day. 

3. The legacy of High-level nuclear waste

High-level nuclear waste is a concern because these materials remain radioactive and can cause health harms to living things. The biological effects of plutonium and other man-made alpha-emitting transuranic elements are primarily dependent upon their entering the body and being deposited in radiosensitive tissues, especially through inhalation.[3]These high-level radioactive materials decay over very long time periods, thus remaining radioactive for thousands of years.  For Plutonium239, the half-life is 24,400 years- that means that after that time half of the radioactivity will remain; for Plutonium242 the half-life is 379,000 years.[4] These high-level radioactive materials are created in weapons production, deployment or testing, and in nuclear power reactors. They are thus man-made elements not found in nature. 

At the end of World War II, the “cold war” advanced an escalating battle of deterrence that has defined the nuclear age. In the 1950s and into the 1990s open air testing of nuclear weapons was established at the Nevada Test Site (NTS). Nuclear weapons testing at the Yucca Flats (NTS) began with a 1-kiloton-of-TNT (4.2 TJ) bomb dropped on Frenchman Flat on January 27, 1951. Over the subsequent four decades, over one thousand nuclear explosions were detonated at the NTS.[5]Underground nuclear testing (951 explosions) continued due to public health concerns about radioactive fallout. The westerly winds carried the radioactive plume over Utah where elevated increases in cancers were observed. Elevated levels of leukemia, lymphoma, thyroid cancer, breast cancer, melanoma, bone cancer, brain tumors, and gastrointestinal tract cancers, were reported from the mid-1950s through 1980.[6] The build-up of nuclear arms has created an eternal legacy of high-level nuclear waste managed at the Hanford. Nuclear Reservation.

The Hanford Nuclear Reservation was the site of the Manhattan Project atomic bomb production.  The Hanford site was home to the first full-scale production reactor to produce weapons grade plutonium used in the atomic bomb. During theCold War, the project expanded to include nine nuclear reactors and five large plutonium processing complexes, which produced plutonium for most of the more than 60,000 weapons built for the U.S. nuclear arsenal. [7]  Nuclear technology developed rapidly during this period, and Hanford scientists produced major technological achievements. Many early safety procedures and waste disposal practices were inadequate, and government documents have confirmed that Hanford’s operations released significant amounts of radioactive materials into the air and the Columbia River. The weapons production reactors were decommissioned at the end of the Cold War, and decades of manufacturing left behind 53 million US gallons (200,000 m3) of high-level nuclear waste.[8]  In 1989, the Hanford site was declared a superfund toxic site and is under management for cleaning up the 56 million gallons of high-level nuclear waste now in repository there. Radiation leaks from this facility have occurred frequently and numerous lawsuits are in progress surrounding the operation of this high-level nuclear waste facility. 

A second initiative of the “Cold War” was the development of “Atoms for Peace.” Launched by President Eisenhower, this initiative had two aspects, one successful and one abandoned almost immediately. President Eisenhower characterized the atoms for peace initiative :

“To the making of these fateful decisions, the United States pledges before you—and therefore before the world its determination to help solve the fearful atomic dilemma—to devote its entire heart and mind to find the way by which the miraculous inventiveness of man shall not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life.”[9]

Operation Plowshares from 1962-1965 was a series of nuclear tests at Yucca Flats in Nevada.  Proposed applications for controlled nuclear explosions included the creation of harbors, canals, open pit mines, railroad and highway cuts through mountainous terrain and the construction of dams. The radioactive fallout from such uses would be extensive. Public concerns about the health effects and a lack of political support eventually led to abandonment of the concept.

Nuclear Power “Tamed” the atom for the production of electricity in nuclear fission reactors. In promoting this technology,  Lewis L. Strauss, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission testified to Congress in 1954 that “Nuclear power will make electricity too cheap to meter”[10] But in spite of all assurances and encouragement, industry was skeptical and apprehensive. Finally, Congress passed the Price Anderson Act of 1957 which limited required operator insurance; capped liability in case of accidents. The value of this ongoing federal subsidy to the nuclear industry exceeds $100 Billion dollars. Nuclear power plants have supplied about 20% of total annual U.S. electricity since 1990. The 97 operating nuclear reactors in the U.S. produce more than 2,000 metric tons of radioactive waste a year, according to the Department of Energy —and most of it ends up sitting on-site because there is nowhere else to put it.[11]

This legacy of high-level radioactive waste from man-made materials is the burden this nuclear age, opened with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is imposing on our children for millions of years into the future.  The development of nuclear weapons and nuclear power without addressing the moral obligation to safely manage and contain the waste is a failure of responsibility for our actions on a grand scale. 

4. Nuclear Medicine

The use of nuclear materials in medicine shows the balance between the potential for harm and the potential for benefit. The X-Ray has become a standard diagnostic tool for broken bones, dental evaluation, guiding surgical procedures, and evaluating lung diseases. Diagnostic nuclear medicine involves the use of radioactive tracers to image and/or measure the global or regional function of an organ. And, the focused use of radiation has been used for the treatment of tumors to reduce them for better surgical outcomes or to control their growth in areas which are not amenable to surgery. Nuclear medicine is now a $1.7 billion industry. The Society of Nuclear Medicine estimates that 20 million nuclear medicine procedures are performed annually in the United States of which 12 million are procedures approved for and reimbursed by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.[12]  Nuclear medicine has advanced on many fronts, and in this field, the vision of Marie Curie for beneficial uses of radiation sees fulfillment.

Hear and honor the Hibakusha

The Hibakusha have shown the true grace of an oppressed people. Their dedication to contributing to the understanding of radiation effects on health has continued now into second and third generations of studies. Their call for a constant remembrance of the horrors unleashed by nuclear weapons cannot be ignored or forgotten.  It is the moral responsibility of all of our generation to secure the future for all of the children of the 21st century.  Even as global struggles to address climate change and the social inequities it is bringing exacerbate conflicts, we must strive for peace.

Etsuko Ishikawa “Uranium Glass Globe” http://etsukoichikawa.com/about/

Treaties and agreements to limit nuclear war emerged soon after World War II. Negotiated between 1965 and 1968 among eighteen nations sponsored by the United Nations, the initial nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was fully executed in 1970 and held for 25 years.  It was extended in 1995, with all participants commitment to extend the treaty indefinitely.  The International Atomic Energy Administration was established  to enforce compliance.  As of August 2016, 191 nations have signed the agreement, including U.S.  North Korea withdrew; India, Israel and Pakistan did not sign, all have nuclear weapon capability.  The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, organized under the sponsorship of the United Nations, notes that 184 Countries have ratified the Nuclear Test Ban TreatyEight more will put it in permanent effect to ban nuclear weapons testing forever. “We must remain committed to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty’s entry into force.,” says CTBTO head, Lassina Zerbo.[13] At this point, there are destabilizing elements at play in nuclear arms threats in several countries around the world involving the United States, Russia, Iran and North Korea.  This is a complex area of international power jousting, one that must remain confined to the verbal stage for the sake of our survival as a species, and as civilizations.[14]

We can each play a part in securing the future.  We must insist on funding and attention to managing the existing high-level nuclear waste repositories.  We must recognize that nuclear energy use includes an obligation for thousands of years for waste management- now in temporary storage at 97 reactor sites all around the country. We must demand accountability from our leaders to strive for peace rather than to escalate nuclear weapons capabilities.

We can learn from the Hikabusha that we are human- resilient, enduring, and capable of great empathy.

Pray for Peace

Work for Justice

Dance for Joy

Blessed Be

Patricia DeMarco August 9, 2020

Citations and Resources


[1] Dennis Normile. “How atomic bomb survivors have transformed our understanding of radiation’s impacts.” Science. July 23, 2020.  https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/07/how-atomic-bomb-survivors-have-transformed-our-understanding-radiation-s-impacts   Accessed August 5, 2020.

[2] Harry S. Truman. August 6, 1945: Statement by the President Announcing the use of the A-Bomb at Hiroshima. Presidential Speeches. University of Virginia, Miller Center. https://millercenter.org/the-presidency/presidential-speeches/august-6-1945-statement-president-announcing-use-bomb

[3] Health Risks of Radon and Other Internally Deposited Alpha-Emitters. Beir IV. National Research Council (US) Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiations. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1988. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK218114/

[4] Health Risks of Radon and Other Internally Deposited Alpha-Emitters. Beir IV.  Table 7-1 Transuranium Nuclides of Potential Biological Significance. National Research Council (US) Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiations. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1988. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK218114/

[5] The Nevada Test SiteEmmet Gowin. Foreword by Robert Adams. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2019, pages 148 and 157 (Publ. DOE/NV-209, 1993).

[6] Johnson, Carl (1984). “Cancer Incidence in an Area of Radioactive Fallout Downwind From the Nevada Test Site”. Journal of the American Medical Association251 (2): 230. doi:10.1001/jama.1984.03340260034023

[7]  “Hanford Site: Hanford Overview”. United States Department of Energy.

[8] Deutsch, William J.; et al. (2007). Hanford Tanks 241-C-202 and 241-C-203 Residual Waste Contaminant Release Models and Supporting Data. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). doi:10.2172/917218

[9]  Address by Mr. Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United States of America, to the 470th Plenary Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. Tuesday, 8 December 1953. https://www.iaea.org/about/history/atoms-for-peace-speech

[10] Strauss, Lewis (16 September 1954). Remarks prepared by Lewis L. Strauss (PDF) (Technical report). United States Atomic Energy Commission. https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML1613/ML16131A120.pdf

[11] Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Statistics, as of April 16, 2020

https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/nuclear/nuclear-power-plants.php

[12]  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK11471/

[13] STATEMENT BY LASSINA ZERBO, EXECUTIVE SECRETARY, COMPREHENSIVE NUCLEAR-TEST-BAN TREATY ORGANIZATION (CTBTO)Vienna, 21 April 2018

  https://www.ctbto.org/press-centre/press-releases/2018/statement-by-lassina-zerbo-executive-secretary-comprehensiThe Hibakusha are dedicated to striving for ve-nuclear-test-ban-treaty-organization-ctbto/

[14]  For an overview of treaties and Agreements on nuclear matters see https://www.armscontrol.org/treaties


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COVID-19: A Requiem for the American Dream

Patricia M. DeMarco

My heart feels heavy with the weight of the thousands who die daily, often alone in isolation wards, separated from the comfort of family. I weep for the families who are bereft not only of loved ones but of the ritual of end of life passage as funeral services are constrained or shut off.  There is no replacement for hugs and shared tears.  There is no on-line version of hands held together across generations in prayer.

The isolation and protective separation in the face of a respiratory virus for which there is no vaccine, no cure and few palliative treatments, is becoming reality across the globe.  Here in America, the defiance toward behavioral directives runs rampant, often with spikes in infections at a two-week lag. As masks become more common, we miss the exchange of smiles, the unspoken interactions among friends and strangers.  Life feels more impersonal, less welcoming, more easily objectified.

Worst of all, leadership to inspire unified response to protect the weakest among us is absent. In the face of the daily toll of thousands of deaths, we are becoming numb.  COVID-19 deaths join the ranks of systemic crises for which we ignore systemic solutions.  The hand of narrow corporate and self-serving political interests is on the rudder of the ship of state.  And it is steering us into the rapids without heed for the looming disaster. This is the most alarming development in this American experience of the pandemic.  Where is the outrage?  Where is the demand for equity and justice? Where is the empathy with the bereaved and shared sense of loss? How can we recover if we do not grieve?  Once again, economic priorities, be they ever so short term, steer the response of government.

Instead of harnessing the capacity of the nation to expedite food distribution, the politicians tremble at falling economic indicators and call for a return to “normal.” Farms where crops are being plowed under and milk poured into the manure pits could be assisted by the government purchases with the National Guard mobilized to bring food to people in need.  Schools closed and sent students home to study on-line…but many students lack internet access or instruments to use. Many lack adults with the time and capacity to help with home studies. Universal internet should be available for everyone in America, with basic service free. We are not taking care of each other at the national level, and states are pitted against each other for critical supplies, equipment and assistance.  As the local business base struggles to survive, many communities face dire financial projections for later this year.

The Poor Peoples Campaign has called for a moral revival to save the heart and soul of our democracy. Among their Principles: “We believe that people should not live in or die from poverty in the richest nation ever to exist. Blaming the poor and claiming that the United States does not have an abundance of resources to overcome poverty are false narratives used to perpetuate economic exploitation, exclusion, and deep inequality.”  The failures and inequities of our current conditions in America are highlighted in this time of pandemic.  The pall of the COVID-19 does not fall equally on everyone. Those who live with constant air pollution, environmental injustice communities across the country, communities of color, the many deemed “essential workers” at the bottom of the wage scale – all of these are experiencing more severe instances of COVID-19 illness.  Testing is completely inadequate nation-wide and policies continue to be established with the explicit or subtle objections of the doctors and scientists, epidemiologists, who know best how to address this kind of aa pandemic. 

It is time to restore our humanity, to celebrate our best instincts of care and concern for our whole community, nationally and globally.  All of us must come together to withstand the social and economic fallout from this pandemic.  We must recognize that there will be no hope of having healthy people without having a healthy planet.  Our living Earth provides the balances that contain such pandemics within their appropriate balanced ecosystems.  When we destroy habitat, exploit wildlife and pollute the air and water, we set up the conditions for such viral pandemics.

We must insist that our society correct the huge distortions that have accumulated with deliberate policy support.  We must choose to re-build our economy, our society and our institutions on a platform that serves the best interest of ALL of the people together.  We are more alike as human creatures with needs for food, fresh water, clean air, safe shelter and dignity than we are different in cultures, religions, races, genders, or even political persuasion.  Let us grieve together for the lost and work together to protect each other.  Let us stand in solidarity with those who are most vulnerable. Let us take back the power of the People to work for the People, not the vested interests of multi-national corporations.  Restore the beating heart of America with the cleansing power of moral outrage at the injustice imposed by greed at the hands of professional bullies.

Do these five things every day:
1. Call or reach out in person to someone who is not close in space to offer comfort and friendship.

2. Check in with neighbors who may live alone and offer a word of cheer, help with errands, or simple friendly acknowledgment.

3. Call or write to your Senators and Representative every day to demand a science-based response to COVID-19 putting people before profits.

4. Find a place in Nature to celebrate life and spend time connecting with your personal grief and collective sense of loss. Take solace from the resilience of Nature blooming all around us.

5. Thank the people who are there to serve and care for us – they are putting their own safety at risk for us. Wear your mask. 

Blessed Be


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Earth Day 2020: Re-Imagine America In Harmony With Nature

April 22, 2020

Patricia M.DeMarco,Ph.D.

As the world reflects on the 50th celebration of Earth Day, we are in a state of emergency.

The world faces not only the COVID-19 pandemic but also the ongoing and escalating existential crises of global warming and global pollution, especially from plastics. Solving this trio of global crises will require collaboration, community and a sense of commitment to the future. Our country is deeply divided and out of balance in response to any single crisis, totally rudderless and struggling to address these overlapping issues. But sometimes, addressing a constellation of crises together brings solutions closer. This is especially true when the underlying causes overlap, and so do the solutions. The story of modern civilization since the Industrial Revolution has rested on subjugating nature through resource extraction, commercial agriculture exploiting the land, and piecemeal implementation of mitigation strategies. This moment in time offers an opportunity to re-set our trajectory. We can re-imagine America in a path that flows in harmony with Nature.Our leaders, businesses and citizens can come together to Re-Imagine America in Harmony with Nature to restore hope for a better future.


DIVEST!

Rapid Response to the Climate Emergency = Move Investments away from Coal, Oil and Gas

Patricia M. DeMarco

March 6, 2020

The world needs to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 to preserve viable conditions for life on Earth as we know it. The current Nationally Determined Carbon (NDC) emissions target for the United States of America is to reduce emissions by 26–28 per cent from 2005 levels by 2025.[1]  The climate emergency is upon us. The people of 2050 are here now – my niece will be 28; my grandchildren will be in their early 40s, my children will be looking at retirement in 2050. We need to mobilize the transformation to a non-fossil-based economy on a scale equivalent to the mobilization of World war II, a shift that happened within four years.  

For the last three years, we have moved backwards in the actions to reduce GHG emissions through three specific policy efforts of the Trump Republican administration. First, Trump’s Republicans replaced Obama’s Clean Power Plan with the recently issued Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule. While the Clean Power Plan, targeted to emissions from coal power plants, would have reduced power sector emissions by roughly 32 per cent, the ACE rule is expected to reduce them by roughly only one per cent.[2] This is far short of the NDC goal for the United States under the Paris Climate Accord.

Second, Trump’s Republican administration froze the vehicle emissions and fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks until 2026, meaning that the average fuel efficiency will remain at 35 miles per gallon (mpg), rather than rising to 54 mpg. According to analysis by the Rhodium Group, this will increase emissions from the transportation sector by 28–83 Million tons of CO2 equivalent per year by 2030, with the ultimate amount dependent upon the effect of oil prices on consumption.[3]

Third, Trump’s Republican administration has weakened or rescinded 95 environmental regulations deemed “burdensome” to business to accelerate production of oil and natural gas, opening federal lands including National Wildlife Preserves and National Parks to drilling.  Emissions from heightened oil and gas production and renewed coal use or deferred plant retirements have added 2.2% to the GHG burden. According to the International Energy Agency’s Global Energy and CO2 Report, U.S. government policy is centered on the concept of “energy dominance,” which reflects a strategy to maximize energy production, expand exports and be a leader in energy technologies. Environmental deregulation is a central focus, though it may have (negative) implications for the emissions trajectory. [4]

Policy U-Turn required to meet climate goals by 2050 UN Emissions Gap Report.
In spite of Trump policies that ignore climate change and exacerbate emissions, overall Americans are increasingly concerned about this issue. Recent national surveys show that 67% of the total population believes climate change is happening now, and 60% are worried or very worried about climate change with 67% expressing concern for future generations and 69% concerned about harm to plants and animals. Support is very strong for funding research into renewable energy sources (83%) and for regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant (72%) or setting strict limits on existing coal -fired power plants (68%).  A surprising 70% believe that environmental protection is more important than economic growth. [5]    

A group of 25 governors representing over half of the country’s population and $11.7 trillion in US Gross Domestic Product have joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition committed to reducing GHG emissions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.[6]  In addition, many national and international corporations have made climate commitments a part of their operating strategies.  

Furthermore, the economics of utility scale solar and wind now compete favorably with all fossil fuels and new nuclear power. As the life cycle costs continue to fall and energy storage and load management technologies improve rapidly, the utility sector is continuing its move away from coal, diesel and natural gas.[7] The US energy- related CO2 emissions fell by 14 per cent between 2005 and 2017, while the economy grew by 20 per cent.[8] The often-touted tie of environmental emissions to economic growth is clearly intercepted by advances in technology and responsible policies at the sub-national levels. But much more rapid movement to reduce the levels and pace of the GHG emissions is critically necessary for us to meet carbon neutrality targets by 2050.

What tools are available now to advance this rapid transformation? 

We can stop the flow of money to these capital-intensive fossil industries. Government subsidies hard-wired into law have supported mature coal, oil and gas production and service industries for more than fifty years, long past the time of spurring innovation.  For example, leases and sales of public lands at favorable rates is one frequently unrecognized form of subsidy.  In 2018, our public lands and waters produced 39% of total U.S. coal (282 million tons), 21% of total U.S. oil (826 million barrels) and 14% of total U.S. gas (4.3 trillion cubic feet). Since taking office, the Trump administration has offered more than 461 million acres of public lands and waters for oil and gas leasing from January 2017 through January 2020. Since January 2017, the Trump administration has sold 4,928 parcels (or more than 9.9 million acres) of public lands to oil and gas companies for development, including more than 5 million acres onshore and more than 4.9 million offshore acres. Development of these leases could result in lifecycle emissions between one billion and 5.95 billion Metric Tons of Greenhouse Gas emissions (CO2 plus methane.)[9] Removing such subsidies will require changes in law, a ponderous process certain to be stifled by the Trump Republican administration and Congress in the control of Republican majorities.

While we work to change the political balance to favor these necessary legislative measures, there are three ways citizens, corporations and communities can influence the flow of money to oil gas and coal interests immediately.  We can stop new investments in coal, oil, and gas extraction, production and services; divest from existing investments in these industries; and move investments into the high growth areas of renewable energy, regenerative agriculture, and green chemistry.  All of these opportunities hold great promise for economic growth while sustaining a viable living ecosystem.[10]

University of Pittsburgh students and alumni call on Board of trustees to divest (January 28, 2020) /photo credit Mark Dixon Blue Lens LLC.

Money can move quickly, and the shift away from fossil industries is already growing. Larry Fink, Chairman of Blackrock Investment wrote to his shareholders, “… investors are asking how they should modify their portfolios. They are seeking to understand both the physical risks associated with climate change as well as the ways that climate policy will impact prices, costs, and demand across the entire economy…we will see changes in capital allocation more quickly than we see changes to the climate itself. In the near future – and sooner than most anticipate – there will be a significant reallocation of capital.”[11]

The U.S. shale oil industry hailed as a “revolution” has burned through a quarter trillion dollars more than it has brought in over the last decade. It has been a money losing endeavor of epic proportions.[12] In spite of the growth in emissions and investments in oil and gas development driven by the Trump Republican administration, the global trend has been away from investments in new fossil resource production. Blackrock’s $7.4 trillion in investment holdings is a huge driver, a larger amount than the entire country of Japan. Other major investors have also moved to divest from fossil fuels because of concern about climate change, including the European Investment Bank, The Church of England’s Pension Board, and large corporations such as Microsoft.  Sustainable investing began long ago as a focus for charitable contributions, but the recent movement began in the 1960s and its popularity has soared over the past few years with a 38% hike in assets since 2016 alone.[13]

Investments in clean energy stocks have outperformed fossil industry investments over the last decade.  Driven by global commitments to decarbonization, and the growth of renewable industries to power emerging economies in India, Africa and Asia, clean energy industries have seen increases from 32% to 58 % in the last five years. In addition, the rapidly falling cost of solar and wind technologies has driven confidence in these investments. The cost of solar has fallen 85 per cent since 2010, while wind power has dropped about 50 per cent, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.[14]  Williams Market Analytics reports that from 2014 to 2019 Extraction Production and Extraction Services industries have fallen 85%  while S&P 500 industries, including large utilities, have grown 69% in the same period.[15] As the hard evidence for sound investments in clean energy industries mounts in global markets, the Trump Republican administration policy position of forcing favor to coal, oil and natural gas becomes increasingly untenable.

As we look for ways to secure a better future for our children and families, it is increasingly important to recognize that current Trump Republican administration policies are looking backwards to a world that no longer exists.  The Energy Information Administration characterizes the carbon emissions profile and expectations thus: “After falling during the first half of the projection period, total U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions resume modest growth in the 2030s, driven largely by increases in energy demand in the transportation and industrial sectors; however, by 2050, they remain 4% lower than 2019 levels.”[16] This level falls far short of any reasonable goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. The longer we persist in subsidizing and investing in fossil industries, the less opportunity we will have to capture the rapidly growing clean energy options for the future. It is critical that we begin to make the policy U-Turn away from fossil fuel industries to avoid locking in another thirty years of fossil industry infrastructure.  The energy industries that adapt and move their focus away from fossil- based resources are the ones that will thrive in the future. 

 Continuing ‘Business As Usual’ will come at the cost of destruction of the ecosystem services of the living earth.  The Global Futures Report evaluated the cost of climate change in terms of the effect on six critical ecosystem services such as the pollination of crops, protection of coasts from flooding and erosion, supply of water, timber production, marine fisheries and carbon storage.[17] Reduced supply of these six ecosystem services alone would lead to a drop of 0.67% in annual global GDP by 2050 (compared to a baseline scenario in which there is no change in ecosystem services by 2050). This would be equivalent to an annual loss of US$ 479 billion compared to the baseline scenario, assuming an economy of the same size/structure as in 2011. Over the period between 2011 and 2050, the total cumulative loss would be US$ 9.87 trillion (3% discount rate).[18] In contrast, in a ‘Global Conservation’ scenario – in which the world adopts a more sustainable development pathway and safeguards areas that are important for biodiversity and ecosystem services — annual global GDP would be 0.02% higher (US$ 11 billion) by 2050, than in a baseline scenario of no change in ecosystem services, generating an annual net gain of US$ 490 billion per year compared to the Business As Usual scenario.[19]

If the United States established a priority for use of federal lands to sequester carbon and protect ecosystem services instead of prioritizing extractive industry development, the economic impact and emission reductions would be substantial. At the national level, the US Geological Survey estimates that terrestrial ecosystems (forests, grasslands, and shrublands) on Federal lands sequestered an average of 195 Million Metric Tons of CO2 – Equivalent per year between 2005 and 2014, offsetting approximately 15 percent of the CO2 emissions resulting from the extraction of fossil fuels on Federal lands and their end-use combustion. Lifecycle emissions from the production and combustion of fossil fuels produced on public lands as a result of the federal leasing program are equivalent to over 20% of total U.S. GHG emissions.[20]

The US government has many tools at its command to support and accelerate a transition to a renewable- energy- based economy.  For example, The Department of the Interior could drastically reduce needless methane pollution by reinstating a federal methane and natural gas waste regulation informed by science-based recommendations; eliminate production subsidies and loopholes for fossil energy; require developers to mitigate climate impacts; and rapidly phase down leasing and production. Additionally, the federal government should protect major carbon storing landscapes and invest in programs, incentives, and partnerships that promote responsible renewable energy development and public land restoration to create new sustainable economic opportunities.[21]

We can address the social disruptions already stressing coal, oil and gas-dependent communities by shifting investment and public policy support toward community-driven clean energy solutions.  In the four Re-Imagine community exercises I have participated in over the past three years, every community has developed serious plans for economic development in non-fossil industries.  The options range from solar farms to glass recycling centers; from growing hemp and bamboo to replace materials made from petrochemical feedstocks to building passive solar design eco-villages for affordable housing. I am convinced that if we unleash the ingenuity of the American people and support these initiatives with public policy that enables rather than stifles renewable energy, regenerative agriculture and green chemistry solutions, we will see a rebirth of America on a scale not seen in this century.

Citations and Resources:


[1]. United Nations Environment Programme (2019). Emissions Gap Report 2019. UNEP, Nairobi.  http://www.unenvironment.org/emissionsgap        

[2]. Amelia T. Keys, Kathleen F. Lambert, Dallas Burtrow, Johnathan J. Buonocore, Jonathan I. Levy, and Charles T. Driscoll. “The Affordable Clean Energy rule and the impact of emissions rebound on carbon dioxide and criteria air pollution emissions.” Environmental Research Letters. April 9, 2019. Volume 14, Number 4. https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aafe25

[3]. Trevor Houser, Kate Larsen, John Larsen, Peter Marsters, and Hannah Pitt. “The Biggest Climate Rollback Yet?” Rhodium Group Note. August 2, 2018. https://rhg.com/research/the-biggest-climate-rollback-yet/   

[4]. International Energy Agency. Global Energy and COStatus Report 2019. United States Data to 2018. March 1, 2020.  https://www.iea.org/countries/united-states

[5] Jennifer Marlon, Peter Howe, Matto MildenbergerAnthony Leiserowitz and Xinran Wang. Yale Climate Opinion Maps 2019. September 17, 2019.  https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/ycom-us/  Accessed March 1, 2020.

[6].  United States Climate Alliance. December 2019. http://www.usclimatealliance.org

[7].  Lazard Levelized Cost of Energy and Levelized Cost of Storage 2019. Lazard Insights. November 7, 2019. https://www.lazard.com/perspective/lcoe2019    Accessed February 26, 2019. 

[8] . Annual Energy Outlook 2020. U.S. Energy Information Administration [EIA] 2018 data. https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/  

[9]. The Wilderness Society. Climate Report 2020: Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Public Lands. https://www.wilderness.org/sites/default/files/media/file/TWS_The%20Climate%20Report%202020_Greenhouse%20Gas%20Emissions%20from%20Public%20Lands.pdfAccessed March 4, 2020

[10]. See the Global Futures Report for a new assessment of the economic cost of failing to preserve the ecosystem services that support global economies, and the value of a conservation strategy instead. https://wwf.panda.org/?359334 Accessed March 4, 2020 

[11]. Larry Fink. Chairman’s Letter “To Our Shareholders.” Blackrock Annual Report 2018.  https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/investor-relations/larry-fink-chairmans-letterAccessed March 2, 2020

[12]. Rebecca Elliott and Christopher Matthews. “Oil and Gas Bankruptcies Grow as Investors Lose Appetite for Shale.” Wall Street Journal. August 30, 2019.    https://www.wsj.com/articles/oil-and-gas-bankruptcies-grow-as-investors-lose-appetite-for-shale-11567157401   Accessed March 1, 2020.

[13]. Steve Norcini. “Sustainable Investing: Redefining Investing for the Long Term.” Wilmington Trust, Investment Advisory. Q4 2019. https://library.wilmingtontrust.com/z-featureditems/sustainable-investing-redefining-investing-for-the-long-term  Accessed March 1, 2020.

[14]. Harry Sanderson. “Clean Energy shares streak ahead of fossil fuel stocks.” Financial Times. October 1, 2019.   https://www.ft.com/content/2586fa10-e122-11e9-b112-9624ec9edc59  Accessed March 3, 2020.

[15]. Williams Market Analytics. https://www.williamsmarketanalytics.com

[16] . Energy Information Administration. Annual Energy Outlook 2020. (Data 2018)  https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/

[17]. Johnson, J.A., Baldos, U., Hertel, T., Liu, J., Nootenboom, C., Polasky, S., and Roxburgh, T. 2020. Global Futures: modelling the global economic impacts of environmental change to support policy-making. Technical Report, January 2020.  105 pages. https://www.wwf.org.uk/globalfutures  Accessed March 3, 2020.

[18]. Roxburgh, T., Ellis, K., Johnson, J.A., Baldos, U.L., Hertel, T., Nootenboom, C., and Polasky, S. 2020. Global Futures: Assessing the global economic impacts of environmental change to support policy-making. Summary report, January 2020. Page 3. https://www.wwf.org.uk/globalfutures   Accessed March 3, 2020.

[19]. Roxburgh, T., Ellis, K., Johnson, J.A., Baldos, U.L., Hertel, T., Nootenboom, C., and Polasky, S. 2020. Global Futures: Assessing the global economic impacts of environmental change to support policy-making. Summary report, January 2020. Page 4. https://www.wwf.org.uk/globalfutures   Accessed March 3, 2020

[20]. Merrill, M.D., Sleeter, B.M., Freeman, P.A., Liu, J., Warwick, P.D., and Reed, B.C., 2018, Federal lands greenhouse gas emissions and sequestration in the United States—Estimates for 2005–14: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2018–5131, 31 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20185131.

[21]. Nathan Ratledge, Steven J. Davis and Laura Zachary. “Public lands fly under the climate radar.” Nature Climate Change. February 2019. vol.9:89-93. Available at https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-019-0399-7    Accessed March 2, 2020


A New Decade- A New Reckoning

Winter oaks in a rare clear sky P. DeMarco photo Forest Hills, PA 1-1-2020


1-1-2020

A new decade dawns with fresh snow and a bright clear sky. We face a world fraught with strife, misery and hatred, exacerbated by the inexorable march of global warming and global pollution. We must meet these fearful prospects with courage. 

The United Nations Science Advisory Council Report submitted to the 2019 Climate Summit stated the dire facts we face:[1]

  • Warmest five-year period on record
    The average global temperature for 2015–2019 is on track to be the warmest of any equivalent period on record. It is currently estimated to be 1.1°Celsius (± 0.1°C) above pre-industrial (1850–1900) times. Widespread and long-lasting heatwaves, record-breaking fires and other devastating events such as tropical cyclones, floods and drought have had major impacts on socio-economic development and the environment.
  • Continued decrease of sea ice and ice mass
    Arctic summer sea-ice extent has declined at a rate of approximately 12% per decade during 1979-2018. The four lowest values for winter sea-ice extent occurred between 2015 and 2019.
    Overall, the amount of ice lost annually from the Antarctic ice sheet increased at least six-fold between 1979 and 2017.  Glacier mass loss for 2015-2019 is the highest for any five-year period on record.
  • Sea-level rise is accelerating, sea water is becoming more acidic
    The observed rate of global mean sea-level rise accelerated from 3.04 millimeters per year (mm/yr) during the period 1997–2006 to approximately 4mm/yr during the period 2007–2016. This is due to the increased rate of ocean warming and melting of the Greenland and West Antarctica ice sheets. There has been an overall increase of 26% in ocean acidity since the beginning of the industrial era.
  • “Only immediate and all-inclusive action encompassing: deep de-carbonization complemented by ambitious policy measures, protection and enhancement of carbon sinks and biodiversity, and efforts to remove COfrom the atmosphere, will enable us to meet the Paris Agreement.”

Irreversible effects are upon us from continued dependence on natural gas, coal and petroleum for the base of our economy.  It is time to change course toward pathways that offer better choices and a more secure and resilient future for our children and for those yet to be born in the 21st century. Time is of the essence as each ton of carbon dioxide released into the air from burning fossil fuels or making petrochemicals will stay in the atmosphere for over 200 years.

We stand at a crossroad now. In one direction, we can continue toward a future based on petrochemical industries- build out the infrastructure that will bind our economy to natural gas and plastics for another fifty years. Or we can recognize the ultimate futility of this pursuit and turn our investments, our education tools, our might and political will toward building a sustainable future.  The tools for doing this are at hand: Renewable energy systems; Regenerative agriculture that captures carbon and restores the fertility of the land; Non-fossil based materials in a circular supply chain; and the Biodiversity of the earth in living ecosystems that provide fresh water, clean air and fertile ground.

This is the decade we must recognize the true existential crises we face from human activities that destroy the natural systems of the living earth. We must make a U-turn in our policies. This requires a level of commitment equivalent to the the mobilization of World War II. The tools are at hand. For 2020 these priorities can drive progress:

  1. Stop subsidizing fossil fuels research, exploration, production, processing and use. Taxpayer dollars in the U.S. alone exceed $649 Billion annually in direct subsidies. Replace this with a bottom line tax deduction for all property owners for energy efficiency, renewable energy installations, carbon sequestration in trees and organic farming, and replacements of fossil resources with non-fossil materials such as bamboo, hemp and algae.
  2. Reverse the primacy of mineral rights over surface rights. Ecosystem services such as wetlands, grasslands, forests depend on intact surface conditions. Disruptions for mining, drilling, excavation and erosion destroy the ecosystems that provide our life support.
  3. Re-invest in communities. Give communities the resources to plan for a diverse and stable future based on renewable resources and affirming community values. Invest in people, rather than multi-national corporations with no allegiance to sustainability.
  4. Protect and care for the people who are victims of social and humanitarian disruptions associated with the response to climate change. For the workers of the oil, gas and coal industries, transition to productive jobs in the new economy, protecting pensions and health benefits, and maintaining the dignity of their worth are essential. Millions of people are thrust into forced migration from climate effects around the world, and even within the US. Criminalizing people who face extended drought and social collapse is inhumane and demeans our humanity.

This may seem like an impossible task. Legislation will be needed that fundamentally changes energy policy, land use policy and social safety net systems. But without the coordinated effort at a national level, without the collective will of all of us acting together to make the changes necessary, our children have no future. We must find common ground and take the bold necessary actions to retain a viable living condition for our civilization. The corrupting power of the fossil industry wealth was gained at the cost of our survival. Our children and grandchildren for generations will pay the price of our cowardice in allowing the continued plunder of our earth for the profits of a few multi-national corporations who hold accountability to no nation or people.

We, The People have the responsibility to call out this destruction and resume the leadership America can show in taking the path of protecting the public interest for now and for the future. Have we gone so far into the pit of despair that we have no faith in our power for change? I look into the faces of my students and think not. It is time for every person to join hands and stand up for the Mother Earth that gives us life, and gives us hope. The laws of Nature are not negotiable. When we accommodate our laws and life style to living in harmony with nature, we will find that the Earth can heal, and we will see a better future.

Here is my plea for 2020:
Find your centered, still point of calm in this churning world.
In the face of hatred, show kindness. Greet the people you see with a smile and a nod. 
Counter divisiveness with solidarity. We are more alike as humans than different in culture, race, gender, religion or political persuasion.
Have faith in the power of the Earth to heal. Embrace the force of life and make it your own.
Challenge the arrogance of those who block change and preach hate. Stand up for what is true and good.
Speak for our children. Find your voice and use your power.
Practice Peace and work for Justice.

VOTE!
Blessed Be!

Patricia DeMarco

[1] Report of the United Nations Science Advisory Group. United in Science. United Nations Climate Action Summit, September 2019.   https://public.wmo.int/en/resources/united_in_science


The Power of Joined Voices

July 11, 2019

A Reflection on Songs of Struggle and Protest

On July 11, 2019, the Battle of Homestead Foundation presented Smokestack Lightning and Mike Stout for an evening of Songs of Protest and Struggle from labor and the environment movements. 

By Patricia M. DeMarco

The Historic Pump House is full to overflowing tonight. The sun has fallen below the thick cover of clouds that dumped four inches of rain in the late afternoon.  Now the golden light of sunset streams in shafts through the gloom like spotlights on the people standing in the doorway of the Pump House. The place is rocking with the music of Mike Stout and Smokestack Lightning. The ghosts of this place hang heavy here tonight as people stomp the dust out of these ancient floor boards.

As I listen to the songs of struggle and protest celebrating the men and women who led the fight for fair wages and safe working conditions and who fight today for our humanity and our Earth, the immigrant blood of my Father and all of my grandparents sings in my bones. Tears overwhelm me even as I dance (outside) in celebration of their lives and their struggles. It as clear as a lightning flash that this is the true greatness of America – the people – working men and women who dared to demand justice and rightness no matter the cost to themselves. Workers and advocates fought, and sometimes died, for the right to be treated with dignity and respect, for fair compensation for their sweat and blood and tears, and to protect the air, water and soil that supports us all. The America we know today came from this struggle for the middle class, the people who show up and get it done.

Mike Stout- Trubadour of Labor

Solidarity makes us strong in the face of tyranny, and never have we needed to stand together and be strong more than today. The battle is upon us, all around us, urgent and inexorable. We look into the maw of oblivion every day. But this night, for a few hours, we stand together – workers, union organizers, environmental advocates, old people, little children- we stand together and sing “This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land”… and “One Big Union.” We feel the solidarity of our shared humanity as the song rises and the sun sets. The hope instilled in this moment will carry us through the next battle together.


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Practicing Peace in a Culture of Hate

Patricia M. DeMarco

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Solidarity

Blessed Be


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

Patricia M. DeMarco

September 8, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Energy Transfer Corporation pipeline explodes days after installation in Beaver PA

Protestors arrested at PA Pipeline Task Force meeting

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

 

Take these three actions today:

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

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


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Inclusion, Legitimacy and Socio-Environmental Justice

July 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2Environmental Studies and Science Department, Pace University

3Liberal Studies Department, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

References

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

References and Citations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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