Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."


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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/


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Wrong Way! A Call for a New American Dream

Wrong Way! A Call for A New American Dream

January 6, 2017

by Patricia M. DeMarco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References and Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Gratitude for First Nations- A Call to Action for the Standing Rock Sioux

As most of America sits down to a “traditional Thanksgiving Dinner” on Thursday, the Standing Rock Sioux people will be holding ground between the Dakota Access Pipeline construction equipment and the shores of Lake Oahe, a part of the Missouri River that serves as the only water supply for the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation about a half mile away. The Missouri River is the longest River in America, and serves over 160 million people for domestic, commercial and agricultural water supplies.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is intended to carry 450,000 gallons of crude oil per day from the Baaken Shale Oil fields to a refinery in Illinois. It has been under protest from the Standing Rock Sioux since April because of failure for the developers or any governmental agency to confer with the Tribe, as required by treaties established over a hundred years; and because of concerns over the potential for oil spill contamination of the water supply.

The Standing Rock Sioux have petitioned for an injunction to halt construction , and President Obama has asked the Army Corps of Engineers to re-examine the issues they have raised, suggesting that the pipeline may be re-routed to avoid the intrusion into Tribal areas. However, while deliberations are pending, construction has continued, and is now within less than a mile of the River. The protests and demonstrations have continued, attracting Police and Marshalls from the Morton County Sheriff ‘s Office. Suppression actions have proceeded in a most inhumane, brutal and unconscionable manner. As the Standing Rock Sioux have been joined by First Nations from around the country, numerous violations of human rights, constitutional rights and basic decency have occurred.

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The Standing Rock Sioux position was explained by artist and tribal member Johnny Coe speaking to a gathering at Maren’s Sustainability Salon on November 12, 2016. “Our People are the Water Protectors. This has been the center of our culture for many generations. We stand between the construction equipment and the waters that give us life to prevent this danger.” He explained that the protection of a significant watershed from crude oil spillage from a 30 inch pipe intruding under the river speaks not only for the inhabitants of the Reservation but also for the life of the River itself, and the people who rely on its fresh water for miles downstream. “Crude oil and fresh water do not mix. The life giving waters must be protected from this Black Snake” (Sioux legend interpreted as oil pipelines)

The concerns are well-founded. The Energy Transfer Partners constructing the pipeline will turn over operations to Sunoco. “Sunoco Logistics (SXL.N), the future operator of the oil pipeline delayed this month after Native American protests in North Dakota, spills crude more often than any of its competitors with more than 200 leaks since 2010, according to a Reuters analysis of government data.” (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-pipeline-nativeamericans-safety-i-idUSKCN11T1UW)

In addition, the same issues that supported the denial of the Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico pertain to this project. The rapid deployment of oil and building more permanent infrastructure to exploit it contributes to the build-up of greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. The Army Corps of Engineers has taken this position: “The Army has determined that additional discussion and analysis are warranted in light of the history of the Great Sioux Nation’s dispossessions of lands, the importance of Lake Oahe to the Tribe, our government-to-government relationship, and the statute governing easements through government property.”

https://www.democracynow.org/2016/11/15/headlines/army_delays_issuing_permit_for_dakota_access_pipeline_ahead_of_global_day_of_action

The pipeline is nearly complete, awaiting only this final Army Corps of Engineers Permit. In the meantime, the Morton County Sheriff Officers continue to suppress the protest.

A Call for Action in Support of the Standing Rock Sioux:

The most concerning aspect of this situation is the blatant violation of First Amendment rights of free speech. Protest on behalf of strongly held beliefs, especially those supported by legitimate claims for legal action, should not be suppressed by police action. The people have the right to protest, on their own land, to defend their water supply. Journalists attempting to report on the protests have been jailed. The mainstream media has been silent on this issue. (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/03/north-dakota-access-oil-pipeline-protests-explainer )

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Second, the level of brutality evident in the actions of the Morton County Sheriff’s officers, in full military gear, with water cannons, percussion grenades, rubber bullets fired point blank into people’s faces is unjustified, immoral, and hateful. Spraying high pressure water cannon on people in 29 degree weather is mass torture. (“Father of injured pipeline protester says she may lose arm” Blake Nicholson and Amy Forliti, Associated Press, November 21, 2016. )

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Third, the Standing Rock Sioux are willing to put their lives on the line to protect the river from a potentially dangerous installation. They are standing in principle against the injustice of placing corporate profits and convenience over the public interest in having secure fresh water supplies. This is an environmental justice issue perpetrated over centuries of abuse of First Nations’ rights.

This is an existential battle, not only for the Standing Rock Sioux but for all people. The hydraulic fracturing that has released the Baaken Shale oil is operating under the exemption of seven federal laws designed to protect the air, water and health of the public and workers. This exemption granted in the National Energy Act of 2005 opens all of America to the permanent degradation of the environment. Oxygen-rich air, fresh water, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species that constitute the interconnected web of life are our life support system. Laws designed to limit and prevent the destruction of our common needs must be resisted and replaced with protections in the public interest.

As we face a political power shift that favors even less regulatory protection for air, water and land, we must each decide where we will make our stand. I urge your support of the Standing Rock Sioux. They hear the screams of Mother Earth and choose to stand as Water Protectors. Join their call for survival, for compassion and for respect to our common Mother Earth.

Speak out to stop the violence while the courts plod slowly through their deliberations.

Call the Morton County Sheriff’s office number: 
701-328-8118 & 701-667-3330 

 

Call the Department of Justice and demand they investigate and charge the Morton County Sheriff’s Department for these life-threatening attacks on peaceful unarmed protectors immediately!

Department of Justice phone numbers:
Main: 202-514-2000, press 0. (This one has been hard to get through.)
Department Comment Line: 202-353-1555

 

Additional Resources:

Sam Levin. “Dakota Access pipeline: the who, what and why of the Standing Rock protests” The Guardian. November 3, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/03/north-dakota-access-oil-pipeline-protests-explainer

Kevin Enochs. “The Real Story: The Dakota Access Pipeline” Silicon Valley and Technology. October 26, 2016. http://www.voanews.com/a/dakota-access-pipeline/3563592.html


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For my Father In Honor of The OG PAT Mission 1944

My father was First Lieutenant Michael A. DeMarco, in the OSS Special Reconnaissance Regiment, Company B under General Donovan in the second World War.  Their mission, coded PAT, parachuted 15 men into the Tarn in France with orders to “harass and destroy the enemy, cut German communications and supply routes and strengthen the resistance movement.”  I have shared my Father’s memoir of that time, and now a broader history of the PAT Mission has been researched by Meredith Wheeler with a Fulbright Scholarship to support her research.  http://www.ossreborn.com/files/OG_PAT_A_Fresh_LookPhotos1.pdf

As I read this history again, the words that send shivers through me to this day are: “Within two weeks, the south Tarn was liberated. Some 4500 Wehrmacht soldiers surrendered to 12 OSS men and a few hundred Resistance fighters‐—most of them poorly‐ armed, under‐trained maquis.” My parents named me Patricia in honor of this mission.  I reflect on this Veteran’s Day on the legacy I carry from these brave people – a call to courage and a cry of hope.

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Michael and Marcella DeMarco 1995

From my Father comes the tremendous courage to prevail in spite of the odds and obstacles.  In all situations he brought caution, thorough preparation, ingenuity, and determination to the problem. This applied to recreational camping as well as to all domestic enterprises.  So growing up in these conditions was often a challenge as we were constantly being prepared for battle, whether one materialized at once or not.  From my Mother comes the outrageously defiant act of having a child in the wake of the atomic bomb. Her fierce determination to maintain hope and optimism in the face of gloom and disaster infused everyone she touched. I am so tremendously blessed to have such parents and the example of both of their lives of self-sacrifice, service and teaching.

In the aftermath of this election, I feel called in their honor to stand for what is ethically and morally necessary in the face of impending tyranny. As I have been reflecting on the serious implications of Trump’s election, I am torn with several emotions, including outrage that Democrats missed the pleas of the Sanders supporters so badly.  People wanted a change, and Hillary was just too cautiously embedded in mainstream politics to resonate with their frustration.  We are getting a change alright, but in the wrong direction!

Action from the passion of my soul is the only possible response. So, to all my friends and followers, I issue a call to action on three fronts:
1. Hold the people elected to account for the true principles guaranteed to ALL people by the Constitution.  We cannot sit quietly while freedoms and protections for women, minorities, the environment are rolled back or undermined. Democracy is not a spectator sport with events once every four years.  We must organize now and engage with voices and demands for accountability every day.
2. We must prepare to defend our environment, our public lands and wildlife refuges from the assault of “getting rid of regulations that hurt business.”  Standing in front of the bulldozers and saws and mining equipment may be necessary, as demonstrated by the Standing Rock Sioux.  This is our fate for the next two years at least.  Our wild lands and our environment must be labeled: “Protected by the People for Our Children and Their Grandchildren”
3. We must organize and bring forward new leaders.  The most passionate voices are those of the Millennials, but there is no room for them with 18 and 20 year tenured legislators, Congressmen, and Senators.  We have to give voice to the generation whose fate we are determining with the policies adopted now. We have to let them step up and shape the world they will live in.
I take hope that in spite of the bombast and vituperative rhetoric of the campaign, Trump is a pragmatist under it all.  He will be the ONLY world leader who does not support climate action. Peer pressure does work on such people as Trump.  At the federal and international levels, the US may actually lose the leadership position on climate action Obama has crafted, but the many cities, states, businesses, communities and individuals who are committed to sustainability and resilience are not going to stop.  Trump may make the federal supports harder, and the infrastructure more burdensome, but there is no way to stop this now.  We need to keep the positive benefits of moving away from fossil fuels in front of the public eye.  Local jobs, health benefits, long term environmental and economic stability – these things are not going away.
In the end, the laws of Nature are not negotiable.  Reality will hit at some point as an undeniable condition. IF we are to survive at all and thrive in this world, we must absolutely preserve the life support system of our Earth- fresh water, clean air, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species that constitute the web of life.  Humans are but one part, but we have dropped a boulder through the fragile web that holds us together. Prepare to stand and fight for what matters.  Plunder and devastation in the name of “good business” may be legal, but it is not right – not for all the living things of Earth that have the right to exist, not for the children of our time or the unborn of future generations.
I remember the lessons of those brave men who jumped into the black night to defend freedom in a strange land, and I prepare for the existential battle for life on Earth.