Since the 1950s, man-made chemicals called PFAS have been used to make non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing and consumer goods, fire retardant coatings, stain-resistant carpeting and furniture, some cosmetics, and products to resist grease and oil. The per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of chemicals used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. They are long polymers including Fluoride molecules (perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). The next most commonly studied are perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), and perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA). PFOA and PFOS have been phased out of production and use in the United States, but other countries may still manufacture and use them.https://atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/index.html
This is one more category of man-made chemicals introduced into wide production and use in consumer products that have turned out to have unintended consequences for the environment, and for our health.
Now ubiquitous in fresh water bodies, in the ocean, even in raindrops collected in the Arctic, PFAS are also found in the bodies of most Americans.
PFAS- The Forever Chemicals now are global contaminants. Dr. Arlene Blum and her colleagues at the Green Science Policy Institute in Stamford University have studied these materials and explain why they are harmful and what you can do to protect yourself and your family from the worst of these chemicals. https://greensciencepolicy.org/harmful-chemicals/pfas/
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Arlene Blum is also author of mountain adventures documenting her incredible journeys to the heights of the earth. “Annapurna- A Woman’s Place” is my favorite of her mountaineering adventures. I thank her for permission to post this material on my blog this month. You can learn more about her here https://www.arleneblum.com
Land Acknowledgment: I write from Pittsburgh, which occupies ancestral lands of the Haudenosaunee, Lenape, Osage, and Shawnee peoples.
For most of human history, people struggled to survive and thrive against the forces of nature, as is the case with most other species on the planet. Discovering and harnessing fossil resources to use as fuel released human civilization from the constraints of nature. The Industrial Revolution rested on coal, then petroleum to allow people to conquer seasonal weather challenges, nighttime darkness, travel and industrial operations beyond the scope of human or animal power and bio-based fuels such as wood and whale oil. Burning fossil fuels to support almost all human enterprises has now breached the limits of the natural ecosystems in which we live and upon which we depend for survival.
However, even as the calls of alarm for the rapid pace of global warming become more urgent, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has become the latest excuse to defer the energy system transformation to a renewable base. As noted by the Council on Foreign Relations:
The United States’ dependence on oil has long influenced its foreign policy. U.S. oil development spans three major periods: the rise of oil as a commodity, beginning in 1850; the post–World War II age of geopolitical competition; and the post–Cold War era of deregulation and diversification. Most recently, Russia’s war with Ukraine has aggravated geopolitical tensions and revived the debate about U.S. energy independence.
Calls for relaxing restrictions on drilling and increasing production for export set back policy momentum for reaching the necessary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The increases in gasoline prices illustrate how interdependent the U.S. is on the global market which sets the price of petroleum. U.S. energy policy has long been driven by the concept of cheap gas at the pump. People have become accustomed to using the gas price as a barometer of our energy security. In fact, this is just another signal of our vulnerability.
Energy independence is a term of political manipulation with several definitions, all contested by economists and energy analysts. Those who define energy independence as exporting more than we import fail to acknowledge that even when exporting oil, the U.S. still imports oil. In 2021, the United States exported about 8.63 million barrels per day (b/d) and imported about 8.47 million b/d of petroleum, making the United States an annual total petroleum net exporter for the second year in a row since at least 1949.
As long as the U.S. participates in an international marketplace where the price of the commodity is determined by global geo-political forces, the concept of energy independence has no real meaning. Even renewable energy systems are interdependent in the global marketplace, as is evident in the arguments over tariffs on imports of solar panels from China, and the sourcing and trade of rare earth materials such as lithium.
Rather than seek an unachievable goal of “energy independence,” we can seek to reduce our vulnerability. It is critical to recognize that failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels to zero, at least by 2050, will be catastrophic for our economy and for the viability of the planet. The laws of Nature are NOT negotiable – the laws that support continued use of fossil fuels must change immediately.
Technology is not a barrier to achieving 100% renewable energy system in the U.S. by 2050. A 2015 analysis conducted by researchers at Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley found that 100% wind and solar power — in conjunction with energy efficiency, energy storage and other advances to complement renewables — could provide electricity to the continental U.S. more reliably than the current system by 2050, and at lower projected costs.
The political will to move the legal and regulatory infrastructure to support this goal has not been mobilized, even though most Americans see climate change as an important issue. Three-quarters of Americans say that human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels, contributes to climate change at least some, with 46% saying it contributes a great deal.However, opinions are sharply divided on partisan lines. Democrats say human activity contributes a great deal to climate change (71%), while just 17% of Republicans say the same. Major policy changes will be needed to achieve the necessary transformation of. Our energy system, but as the last session of Congress has illustrated, political conditions are unlikely to achieve the necessary level of action.
The complexity of climate change issues and the diversity of impact even within the U.S. complicates mobilization around climate action. A recent study by the Allegheny Conference Energy Task Force in Pittsburgh has chosen a middle of the road path, even though it recognizes that this approach will not meet the climate goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C by 2050. The principal focus area for funding identified in this report relies on continued production of natural gas from hydraulic fracturing to produce “blue hydrogen” as an industrial fuel source, and applying carbon capture and sequestration technologies to control emissions. This approach locks in dependence on fossil fuels for another two or three decades.
People fear the loss of jobs in the energy sector, without recognizing that the skills and capabilities of workers in this sector are readily transferable to the clean energy economy. A federal investment package with annual average allocations of $11.3 billion to Pennsylvania, from 2021 to 2030, along with an additional $19.7 billion in private investments would generate approximately 243,000 jobs in Pennsylvania— enough to bring Pennsylvania’s high unemployment rate back down towards 4 percent.
The burden of immediate action has fallen to local governments to act. At the local level, people see the immediate effects of climate change vulnerability. In coastal areas, local governments have to address higher tides and more severe storm surges which have been highly dramatized in the media coverage of hurricane damage. Usually there is little or no discussion of the connection of larger, more severe and longer lasting storm systems to global warming and its effects on storm formation. Inland areas see drought and flood damage as well as landslides and stormwater damage. Federal assistance only comes when disastrous levels of infrastructure damage occur, such as in Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Sandy.
For the gradual increase of climate effects, local governments have been adopting climate action plans individuallyand as regions. In all cases, local climate action plans will require federal and state policy support by at least 2030 to support the goals established. For example, in the Forest Hills Climate Action Plan, the predominant sector is Residential. Shifting the heating systems of most houses from natural gas to high efficiency heat pumps will require policy support as well as financial assistance in the form of tax incentives or grants. Local governments have not organized well to pressure state and federal levels of government to respond to these needs.
Forest Hills Borough net zero energy -Volpatt photo
The assumption that reducing energy consumption cuts economic productivity was reinforced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Energy consumption did fall as pandemic restrictions limited travel and other activities. However, decoupling energy use from the economic productivity has occurred in many countries already. It is certainly plausible to decouple primary energy consumption growth from meeting the planet’s energy needs. For example, Denmark has 30 years of proven history in reducing the energy intensity of its economy.
It is important to recognize that we need to make a transformation of the energy system, not simply substitute renewable fuels for fossil fuels. The entire approach changes when we focus on supplying the work necessary to meet the needs for people, agriculture, and industry in a different way. There are at least three points here:
primary energy consumption automatically goes down when switching from fossil fuels to wind, solar and hydroelectricity, because they have no conversion losses according to the usual definition of primary energy;
living standards can be maintained while increasing energy efficiency;
renewables-based systems avoid the significant energy usage of mining, transporting and refining fossil fuels and uranium.
Ultimately, reducing our vulnerability to energy disruptions comes down to building energy systems that are in harmony with the laws of nature. We must change the dynamic of the conversation about climate change. It is critical for the survival of our planet and for the immediate well-being of every person to move rapidly to a sustainable energy system.
It is time to recognize the reality of our interdependence as human species to preserve the biodiversity of the planet and to restore the health of the ecosystems we depend on for our survival. Fresh water, clean air, and fertile ground support life on Earth as we know it. If we continue on this path, driven by greed and adherence to a fossil fueled economy, we will destroy ourselves, and all of the living Earth. I close with this reflection from Rachel Carson:
Mankind has gone very far into an artificial world of his own creation. He has sought to insulate himself, with steel and concrete, from the realities of earth and water. Perhaps he is intoxicated with his own power, as he goes farther and farther into experiments for the destruction of himself and his world. For this unhappy trend there is no single remedy – no panacea. But I believe that the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.
 IPCC, 2021: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Masson- Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, A. Pirani, S.L. Connors, C. Péan, S. Berger, N. Caud, Y. Chen, L. Goldfarb, M.I. Gomis, M. Huang, K. Leitzell, E. Lonnoy, J.B.R. Matthews, T.K. Maycock, T. Waterfield, O. Yelekçi, R. Yu, and B. Zhou (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press.
 IPCC, 2022: Summary for Policymakers [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, M. Tignor, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem (eds.)]. In: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press. https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg2/
 Mark Z. Jacobson, Mark A. Delucchi, Mary A. Camerona and Bethany A. Frew. “Low-cost solution to the grid reliability problem with 100% penetration of intermittent wind, water, and solar for all purposes.” PNAS. December 8, 2015. vol. 112 no. 49 www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1510028112
PATRICIA DEMARCO | Wednesday, March 16, 2022 11:00 a.m.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has renewed calls for energy independence and increased domestic production of oil and gas. However, the call for “energy independence” is nothing more than a distraction, a disinformation campaign propagated by the fossil-fuel industry with the intentions of profiting off this crisis. Despite what they say, the answer isn’t at the bottom of a well. Drilling more oil and gas will only put more money in their pockets. Rather, the surest path to security is to fully ramp up our transition to clean energy.
Here in the U.S., domestic oil and gas production is already at record levels. Meanwhile, clean energy, like wind, solar and other renewable sources, creates good-paying jobs here in the U.S. and is homegrown — so we don’t need to import it and it’s not subject to the wild fluctuations of the global fossil-fuel markets and supply-chain disruptions. Clean energy is how we can achieve greater security, economic stability and a healthier future.
Of course, moving toward clean energy not only creates jobs and decouples the U.S. from its reliance on foreign oil, but also helps solve the climate crisis. There is no time to waste here. Just last month, another dire warning; the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report that confirms that climate change is wreaking havoc on our communities and causing dangerous, widespread disruptions to life as we know it. Many ecosystems have already been irreversibly damaged.
Here in Pennsylvania, we have seen more frequent and severe extreme weather events. Just last month, floods in Western Pennsylvania forced many to evacuate their homes as others needed to be rescued. As flooding continues to worsen, the more damage there will be to our homes and businesses, and more lives will be put at risk.
As the IPCC report makes clear, delaying action will only make things worse. By 2050, the number of dangerous heat days Pennsylvanians experience per year is expected to triple. This is a major concern for all Pennsylvanians, but especially for the more than 310,000 people here who are especially vulnerable to extreme heat. To make matters worse, summer droughts are projected to increase in severity by 50% by 2050.
Tackling climate change in Pennsylvania must start with working to reduce our pollution. Pennsylvania is the 12th most polluted state in the nation. A study conducted in Allegheny County found that children who live near steel mills, power plants and other sources of pollution have three times the risk of developing asthma. In communities of color and low-wealth communities, which disproportionately live near these sources of pollution, over 22% of children suffer from asthma. To put that in perspective, the national average is 8%.
In 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives took bold action by passing $555 billion in investments in climate action, clean energy, justice and jobs. In his State of the Union address earlier this month, President Biden called for the Senate to push these investments through as well. If passed, these investments will be of great benefit to Pennsylvania. We can be a leader in driving the transformation to a low-carbon energy economy. With a strong manufacturing tradition, skilled workforce, and existing infrastructure, Pennsylvania is primed to lead in replacing fossil fuels with solar energy and wind systems made here as well as advanced battery technology, fuel cells and electric grid upgrades for load management through artificial intelligence technology.
The window for making the transformation to a low-carbon future is closing rapidly. This is the time for people of vision and courage to stand together and demand our leaders act on behalf of our children and their grandchildren to assure a sustainable future for our nation and our world. Congress and Biden must immediately work together to get these climate investments over the finish line so that Pennsylvania can thrive like never before.
This article published in the Post-Gazette on February 23, 2022 was crafted by a strong coalition of labor, environmental and community leaders: Even though all authors were not published in the piece, very special credit goes to Matt Mehalik of the Breathe Project who has been working tirelessly for the Clairton air quality and environmental justice issues, and Mike Stout, a tireless organizer and author of steel valley history.
This is an important call for accountability and action, not patronizing assurances of “we are working on it” ENOUGH! We need to step up the pace on planning for a sustainable, just, equitable and robust future for the Mon Valley, the steelworkers who have given it their blood, sweat and tears for generations, and the communities that have borne the burden.
“We know the importance of good-paying union jobs. We support community and worker health, clean air, clean water and a clean environment — not just for us, but for our children and future generations.
U.S. Steel’s actions feel like calculated, abusive manipulation setting the stage for further abandonment, all facilitated by silent cynical “leadership.”
It’s time to go in a different direction. We want investments in the Mon Valley and its world-class, highly skilled workforce. We support high-tech manufacturing for the future. And we are proposing a plan that unites workers and communities can build from. (See the full article below to read the proposals for a better future.)
Here is the whole Team that has called for a strong response to US Steel’s continued pattern of betrayal to the Mon Valley:
Rose Bezy – Clairton Steelworker, USW Local 1557
Willard Jones, Clairton Steelworker, USW Local 1557
Matthew Mehalik, Breathe Project Director, descendant of 3 generations of Mon Valley steelworkers
Mike Stout– Former Grievance Chair, USWA 1397, Homestead Works, President, Izaak Walton League of America, Allegheny County Chapter
Patricia M. DeMarco, Ph.D. – Steelworkers daughter and veteran father and mother in AFT and Allegheny Administrators Union; and granddaughter of the UE and PA RR unions
Mark Fallon, former Clairton Steelworker, Steel Valley teacher
The title of this piece comes from remarks my friend Rev. Marcia Dinkins made at the PA Interfaith Power and Light Annual Meeting. I share this sentiment as a commitment to unrelenting action and advocacy for the essential transformation that must occur if our children are to have a safe and healthy future. There is no prospect for survival beyond this century unless we all take action to shift from a society based on extractive fossil resources to one based on regenerative and sustainable resources.
The transformation a sustainable future is in progress, but moving far too slowly. Every person can act. Every person matters. We can build a sustainable future with equity, resilience and shared prosperity for all of us.
2021 marked a threshold in the global perception of climate change action. Sixty-four percent of people worldwide believe climate change is a global emergency, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. https://www.undp.org/publications/peoples-climate-vote The “People’s Climate Vote” survey, conducted by the University of Oxford in conjunction with United Nations Development Program, asked respondents if climate change was a global emergency and whether they supported eighteen key climate policies across six action areas: economy, energy, transport, food & farms, nature and protecting people.
UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner said:
“The results of the survey clearly illustrate that urgent climate action has broad support amongst people around the globe, across nationalities, age, gender and education level. But more than that, the poll reveals how people want their policymakers to tackle the crisis. From climate-friendly farming to protecting nature and investing in a green recovery from COVID-19, the survey brings the voice of the people to the forefront of the climate debate. It signals ways in which countries can move forward with public support as we work together to tackle this enormous challenge.”
In America, the picture is much more complicated. In October 2019, a Pew Research Survey found that about six-in-ten Americans (62%) said that global climate change was affecting their local community a great deal or some. And two-thirds of Americans (67%) said the federal government wasn’t doing enough to reduce the effects of global climate change. But there were wide political divides over the effects of climate policy. Partisanship is a stronger factor in people’s beliefs about climate change than is their level of knowledge and understanding about science. Democrats with a high level of knowledge about science (89%) said human activity contributes a great deal to climate change, compared with 41% of Democrats with low science knowledge, based on an 11-item knowledge index. Republicans with a high level of science knowledge (17%) were no more likely than those with a low level of knowledge (25%) to say human activity plays a strong role in climate change. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/04/21/how-americans-see-climate-change-and-the-environment-in-7-charts/
Each of us can commit to taking action on climate in the New Year- it is the most important gift we can give our children. Here are Five things we can all do to reduce climate causing carbon emissions every day:
1. Speak out and vote. Regardless of our means or station in life, every citizen has the obligation to participate actively in the process of government. We must hold our elected representatives accountable to act in the best interest of our future, not for vested interests mired in the fossil industries. Contact your state and federal Representatives and Senators at least once a month to urge action on climate and protecting our air, water and lands. It is time to restore government actions in support of people and communities instead of enhancing corporate wealth. Trickle down economics does not work. Never has, never will. Strong unions, strong communities, fair wages and good education and medical care for all citizens build the middle class and create a shared prosperity. You can find your federal, state and local elected officials here. https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials See the Reimagine Appalachia Blueprint for good information about policies that will help our region move away from fossil extractive industries , restore the land and build good jobs that support a shared prosperity for all of us. https://reimagineappalachia.org
2. Take responsibility for your own climate footprint. Energy use is the most significant contributor to the greenhouse gases that cause climate warming. Each of us can move our energy use toward zero carbon emissions with deliberate choices.
Implement low-cost and no-cost efficiency measures like setting thermostats higher in summer and lower in winter, sealing up leaks in heating ducts, windows, doors and vents; have an energy audit of your house and make the efficiency improvements that may include adding insulation to attic and walls, replacing windows and doors or upgrading the heating and cooling system. https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/do-it-yourself-home-energy-assessments
Examine your appliances for efficiency and choose efficient options when replacing them. remember to unplug appliances when not in use- anything that has a clock on it, or that runs constantly whether in use or not, turn off computers and electronics when not in active use. “Vampire power” use can be a big drain on your electricity bill. Choose a 100% local renewable energy electricity provider. Here is a resource to guide how to switch. https://electricityrates.com/how-to-compare/switch-electricity-providers/renewable-energy/
3. Eat for Health and a Healthy Planet. Food choices matter for the health of our families and for the. health of the planet. Agriculture contributes to climate change in many ways, not only by carbon emissions from farm machinery and animal wastes, but also by the degradation of soil fertility from over-use of agricultural chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers derived from petrochemicals. Advocate for federal, state and local agricultural land practices that regenerate fertility of the soils a top priority. Agricultural lands in America were once blessed with 12 to 24 inches of topsoil; now more often one to four inches. Building up organic material in the soil through regenerative agricultural practices can sequester carbonated improve fertility of the land. https://rodaleinstitute.org/education/resources/regenerative-agriculture-and-the-soil-carbon-solution/
Convert as much of your energy use to electricity as possible, especially large appliances like hot water heaters, clothes dryers (really consider hanging clothes to dry!) stoves, and heating systems. Modern high efficiency heat pumps can replace gas furnaces for heating.Here are some good resources to guide this effort https://www.rewiringamerica.org
Avoid food waste. In America, 40% of produced food goes to waste land food scraps and yard waste together currently make up more than 28 percent of what we throw away. Plan menus to use all of the food you buy. Compost food waste and additive to your gardens or to a community composting service. https://www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home
4. Decarbonize your transportation. Transportation based on internal combustion engines replaced horses within the decade of 1903 to 1913 because cost, convenience and prestige drove a rapid innovation. Similar change can happen if we organize our transportation system to replace the internal combustion engine with electric engines and other transportation technologies. The first personal choice for reducing the transportation energy use is to drive less. Walk when possible, take public transit when possible, and drive conscientiously. Consolidate trips, avoid idling, and keep your vehicle properly tuned up. As you seek to replace your vehicle, shift to an electric hybrid model or to an all-electric model. Economic incentives are emerging for electric vehicles and for the infrastructure such as charging stations and service stations as well as advances in battery and storage systems. https://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/taxevb.shtml This is a rapidly chancing arena, so watch for updates as the legislation emerges.
Carry re-usable bags for purchases. Some communities are adopting bans on plastic bags.
Look at labels and choose non-plasttic options. There are hundreds of ways to eliminate plastics and I have written about this subject often on tis site. Se this resource for a step by step guide to eliminating plastic. https://myplasticfreelife.com/plasticfreeguide/
As we close this year, the climate battle rages on multiple fronts with the added punctuation of loss from the pandemic casualties. I find hope and confidence in the future in the eyes of so many colleagues fighting every day to improve our situation. I see it in the many hands of people turning to help each other through hard times. I feel it in the love and affection poured out in families and communities as we support each other through grief and sadness. I know it in experiencing the embrace of the living earth as each day dawns anew.May we celebrate the Gifts of the Living Earth in the coming year and for always.
This paper discusses the close connection between plastic pollution and health of both people and other living systems. It is important to understand the role of plastic in the future plans of the petrochemical industry and why pursuing the proliferation of single use plastics especially will totally undermine attempts to control climate change.
This topic will be discusssed at presentations for The Green New Deal Discussion Group on July 25th and at the Interfaith Power and Light Plastics A to Z session on July 19th.
Pittsburgh Green New Deal (PGND)is committed to building a mass movement – locally, nationally and globally – to secure implementation a Green New Deal. This must involve ending and reversing the damage to our environment, while at the same time ensuring union scale jobs with a special focus on Black and Brown people and displaced fossil fuel industry workers, racial justice, health care, housing, mass transit systems, education, and cultural opportunities – in short mutual respect and quality of life for all people. We will work with organizations and individuals who share this commitment. We envision these areas of activity:
(1) educational activity (starting with the summer reading group, then reaching out with broader popular education efforts in community groups, churches, unions, etc.), spreading knowledge and consciousness to advance the Green New Deal;
(2) immediate environmental activity — tree planting and other practical work that can immediately benefit the environment;
(3) building a local coalition, linking up with national forces, to mobilize vigorous on-the-ground campaigns on behalf of the Green New Deal, most immediately seeking to build popular support and momentum for the THRIVE Act.
The structure of PGND is very simple. It is open to those in agreement with this statement of purpose. It operates on the democratic principle of one-person-one-vote, with regular membership meetings being the highest decision-making body of our organization, to which all committees or sub-committees established by the organization shall be answerable.
Adopted May 25, 2021
Summer Reading Group: There were three discussions with author Jonathan Neale based on his book “Fight the Fire: Green New Deals and Global Climate Jobs.” available here https://theecologist.org/fight-the-fire. Recordings of the completed sessions are below:
In the month of July and August, The Green New Deal- Pittsburgh group will be discussing Pathways to Our Sustainable Futureas a way to evaluate actions in the Green New Deal for implementation. We are looking at both the substantive changes necessary and the social and institutional infrastructure for driving change.
Sunday July 11, 2021 at 4:00 to 5:30 PM Part I Connecting to the Living Earth – This discussion centers on the moral and ethical dimensions of transforming the economic and political systems to address climate change and social justice.
Sunday, July 25, 2021 at 4:00 to 5:30 PM Part II Choosing Sustainable Pathways – This discussion covers transformation of major systems: energy, agriculture and materials management. There are contrasting approaches to those taken in Fight the Fire, and there are specific ties to pending legislative initiatives in the U.S. Congress.
Sunday, August 8, 2021 at 4:00 to 5:30 PM. Part III Empowering Change – This discussion will evaluate the role of leadership in driving change; what are the critical components for success? What are the pitfalls and impediments? Discussion based on evaluating the effectiveness of activists in driving change.
In this second decade of the 21st century, we see the beginning of the transformation of our society and our economy away from the extractive fossil fuel base that is driving the climate emergency toward a more resilient, equitable and sustainable, shared prosperity based on renewable resources. The Spring comes as a welcome burst of hope after a long winter of COVID isolation, illness and fear. The living earth emerges once again with flowering trees, verdant woodlands and grasslands, and the manifestations of the cycles of life. These assurances of the resilience and certainty of the natural world offer hope, but also a caution. The laws of Nature are not negotiable. Preserving our life support system of oxygen-rich air, fresh water, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species depends on shifting from extractive fossil fuel industries to regenerative systems for energy, food and materials.
We must focus on the needs of society and the work needed to sustain it rather than on replacing fuels. Technologies from the 1800s – the Rankine steam cycle for electricity generation and the internal combustion engine for transportation – need to be updated with modern, cleaner and more efficient technologies appropriate to the needs of the 21st century.
We have heard President Biden call for an Infrastructure and Jobs Plan which strongly mirrors the ReImagine Appalachia Blueprint for a new economy that works for all of us. Similar to the THRIVE Agenda of Southeastern PA and neighboring states and the Mayors Marshall Plan for Middle America, the ReImagine Appalachia Blueprint has a focus on good-paying union jobs and offers tangible and realistic steps to reach a sustainable future for our state and region.
The ReImagine Appalachia Blueprint expands opportunity through public investments in local communities; builds a 21stcentury sustainable economy; and rebuilds the middle class.
First the plan maximizes good union jobs and provides fossil industry workers with genuine opportunities for doing this work. It ensures access to union jobs for Black, Indigenous, female and low-wage workers. And it ensures community benefits from federal investments through public input and oversight.
Second, the plan restores our damaged lands and waters, modernizes the electric grid, grows manufacturing by making it more efficient and cleaner, builds a sustainable transportation system and revives the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Third the Blueprint promotes union rights, better pay, benefits and local ownership models for working people across all industries in the region.
The jobs impact of this Blueprint is significant for Pennsylvania. A federal investment package with annual average allocations of $11.3 billion to Pennsylvania, from 2021 to 2030, along with an additional $19.7 billion in private investments, would generate approximately 243,000 jobs in Pennsylvania— enough to bring Pennsylvania’s high unemployment rate back down towards 4 percent.
Repair the damage done over the last century– $1.2 Billion federal investment and 9,283 jobs per year from plugging orphaned oil and gas wells, repairing leaks in gas distribution pipelines, and repairing dams and levees.
Modernize the electric grid with a $3.2 Billion federal investment, leveraging $18 Billion in private investment to create 142,999 jobs per year through electric grid updates; building retrofits; solar installations; onshore and offshore wind generation; low-emissions bioenergy (anaerobic digestion); geothermal HVAC systems; and broadband expansion.
Expand Manufacturing by making it more Energy Efficient and Clean– requires 1.28 Billion in federal investment, leveraging $1.08 Billion in private investment and will create 18,016 jobs per year through industrial efficiency upgrades, including combined heat and power; manufacturing research and development; and bioplastics research and development
Build a more sustainable transportation system with a federal investment of $928 million leveraged with $522 million in private investment will create 16,182 jobs per year through public transportation expansion and upgrades including rail; and expanding a high efficiency automobile fleet.
Absorb carbon and Re-launch the Civilian Conservation Corps with a federal investment of $4.7 billion to create 56,700 jobs per year through regenerative agriculture; farmland preservation; land restoration, especially for abandoned mined lands; and restoration of watersheds, waterways and wastewater systems.
The ReImagine Appalachia initiative aims to consolidate our regional Congressional delegation to argue for federal resources directed toward our region because we have built the wealth of the industrial age through industries now in decline, and we need to move to a clean and efficient future. The jobs program presented here relies on the skills and capability of our union workers in electrical system upgrades and new generation integration into a smart micro-grid system. We see good union carpenters, pipefitters, boilermakers and steamfitters employed in anaerobic digestion and fuel cell operations as well as in constructing solar powered buildings that make more energy than they use. The possibilities are real, and only beginning.
No technological breakthroughs are necessary for this new economy to operate building a prosperity that can last without the boom/bust cycles of depleting extractive industries. We can muster the political will to make the necessary changes in policy and practice to support a new economy for the 21st century. Pennsylvania can assume a leadership role in building the new economy in three primary ways:
Adjust the regulatory infrastructure to enable rather than inhibit expansion of renewable energy systems and practices. Adopting practices such as uniform building standards for solar and wind installations, enabling a utility tariff system for virtual net metering and community shared power, joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and adopting a universal passive solar design building code for all new commercial and residential buildings are part of this process. Conduct a comprehensive review of regulations to enable sustainable practices and empower workers.
Shift Pennsylvania state subsidies toward private investment in the newer clean technologies addressed in the jobs scenarios above. Pennsylvania provided $3.8 billion in fossil fuel subsidies in Fiscal Year 2019 by systematically disabling many of its standard tools for collecting tax revenues, allowing the industry to extract public resources at little to no charge, and awarding the industry grants and tax credits. Meanwhile, in the same time period, the industry imposed $11.1 billion worth of external costs to the state and its residents. Pennsylvania can use these subsidies to entice private investment into the green jobs arena instead.
Empower local communities to attract investment in innovation. Establishing enterprise zones around re-purposed industrial or marginal commercial spaces before the tax base erodes to the point of bankruptcy will enable communities to offer resources for reinvigorating their economy before they fall into despair. Provide support for planning together around regional efforts to coordinate resource allocation and opportunities.
I would like to speak to the role of the gas industries in the sustainable future. The gas industries, especially in the Marcellus Shale region and the sectors pressing for plastics production, pose mighty and well-funded opposition to any perceived competition from renewable resources. Preserving the historic business model of extraction, combustion, or using fossil-based raw materials for single use commodities is not compatible with a sustainable future. The expertise and infrastructure of the gas industry is uniquely suited to developing methane from anaerobic digestion of municipal waste and sewage. Methane produced from these sources, as well as from manure pools of farm animals, stays in the contemporary carbon cycle and does not draw from carbonized remains of living plants that created the 20% oxygen in our atmosphere millions of years ago. Using anaerobic digestion creates methane biogas that can be sent into the existing gas distribution system for home heating. This would shift home heating from a fossil base to a sustainable base. In addition, biogas can be used to create hydrogen for fuel cells to generate electricity through a chemical reaction similar to a battery, without combustion. This technology is mature and operating efficiently in Germany, Japan, Korea and France based on American technology developed through space exploration research and commercialized in the 1990s.(6) The gas industry would rightly enjoy a leadership position in building a truly sustainable economy by making this kind of a shift in focus.
The true wealth of Pennsylvania lies in the land that supports us. Not the fossil resources buried deep within the crust of the Earth, but the living earth, the fertile ground that gives life to our planet through binding essential elements to create food, fiber, fuel, and oxygen. When we restore the land and empower the people, we set the foundation for a long-lasting prosperity for all of our citizens.
Citations and Resources:
 Patricia M. DeMarco. Pathways to Our Sustainable Future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh Press. 2017.
As I sit in my study watching fat snowflakes drift past the window, my mind wanders to the warmer times of summer walking through the protected lands of the Allegheny Land Trust. From the depths of the woods, it is easier to feel part of the web of life that holds all of us. The forest ecosystem moves in a succession of interconnected living things toward a climax community, the equilibrium point where the annual production and import of resources exactly matches the annual consumption and export of resources. It is a self-perpetuating condition where the living systems are in perfect harmony with the supporting physical environment. The ant and the snail are no less partners than the mighty maples or the bear that occupy the climax community, all are interconnected and essential for sustained balance. Natural ecosystems progress through a succession unique to each place toward a climax equilibrium. I wonder how much of the Earth would reach this ideal state absent the perturbations of human activity?
Human civilization has not grown with a balanced advance toward a climax equilibrium that natural systems follow. Rather, we have withdrawn massive amounts of raw material from fossil reserves deep in the Earth and converted that material to trash as rapidly as possible to generate economic advantage. Worse, the way we compute value and economic benefit excludes the intrinsic flow of value vested in ecosystems. The global pollution from plastics discarded after a single use epitomizes the mark of modern society. Wasted material, vested with massive amounts of resources, pile up on the shores, in landfills, in the ocean, and blows around in neighborhoods littered with discarded stuff.
II. Rethinking Plastic in a Circular System – a discussion of alternative materials that can replace plastics, especially for single-use products, and definitions of the different kinds of bio-plastics.
There is much discussion about “Bio-Plastic,” but the term can be confusing. Generally, there are two major classes of plastics: (2)
– Thermoplastics are a family of plastics that becomes mold- able when heated and hardened upon cooling. They account for over 90% of the mass of plastics produced.27 The most commonly encountered thermoplastics are PE, PP, polystyrene (PS), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), acrylic, nylon, and PET;
– Thermosetting polymers are plastics that have been irreversibly hardened in a way that prevents melting. Most popular thermosets are used as the matrix in fiberglass, polyurethanes (PUR), vulcanized rubber, and urea-formaldehyde foam.
– Bio-based plastic polymers are produced from biomass or by living organisms, and they may or may not be biodegradable.
– It is also possible, but more expensive, to produce biodegradable plastics of petrochemical or mixed origin.
However, plastic products usually consist not only of the basic polymer but also different often environmentally damaging additives incorporated into a plastic compound, such as plasticizers, flame retardants, antioxidants, acid scavengers, light and heat stabilizers, fillers, lubricants, pigments, antistatic agents, slip compounds, and thermal stabilizers. Depending on the product, these additives can sometimes account for more than 50% of the mass of the final plastic product. (3)
III. Build the Regulatory Infrastructure for a Circular Materials System -ways to move toward a circular materials management system and policy recommendations to address the market failures that have caused the inundation of plastic waste. The invisible hand of the market will not solve the failures of the current system of materials management. We must move from a linear value chain to a circular one, modeling our supply sources, production, use and re-use of materials after natural systems.
IV. Resources and Citations for further study.
You can read the entire paper with illustrations and references here:
I watched with shocked fear and sorrow on Wednesday evening as the Congressional process of certifying the Electoral College Votes in the lawfully executed election of 2020 was disrupted by a mob of Trump supporters invading the halls of Congress and vandalizing offices and structures.
This was an election that saw 159.8 million voters, a 66.3% participation of the eligible electorate. This is still a low proportion of voters participating in the election compared to other developed countries with electoral representative governments. The diversity of candidates and voters has been increasing as the demographics of the nation continues to diversify, with growth in Hispanic and Black constituencies as well as many more voters aged 18 to 24 participating as active citizens. Trump consolidated his focus on a smaller and smaller base of radical white supremacist supporters as his insistance that he won the election became less and less tenable. On Wednesday night as the vote counting began, 12 Senators and 137 House of Representative members were poised to mount objections to the election on various grounds, even knowing that they would only delay the results and not change a single vote. They were prepared to posture and pontificate for their own political agenda.
Trump addressed his rally of supporters urging them to “Stop the Steal” and to march on the Capital. In his own words: “All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical left Democrats, which is what they’re doing and stolen by the fake news media. That’s what they’ve done and what they’re doing. We will never give up. We will never concede, it doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved.” … “So we’re going to, we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I love Pennsylvania Avenue, and we’re going to the Capitol and we’re going to try and give… The Democrats are hopeless. They’re never voting for anything, not even one vote. But we’re going to try and give our Republicans, the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.” (https://www.rev.com/blog/transcripts/donald-trump-speech-save-america-rally-transcript-january-6 ) Within an hour of this tirade of exhortation, a mob descended on the Capitol, managed to enter the halls of Congress, break windows, break down office doors, rip exhibits down, steal podium and sit in Pelosi’s Office…Tear gas was fired, five people ended up dead. The security situation is still being sorted out.
The vote counting resumed after the Capitol was secured, with only 8 Senators and 139 Representatives actually objecting to the results. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were confirmed as the lawfully elected President and Vice President to take office on January 20, 2021.
My Opinion: This is a clear act of sedition, a treasonous assault on the institutions of government and on the fair and legal conduct of government. I am saddened and angry that this state of affairs has progressed so far without the brakes being applied long before now. The stranglehold Mitch McConnell has held over the Senate has constipated the process of governance. No bipartisan legislation has passed through the Senate unless he saw it as a contributor to his agenda of corporate pandering and power accumulation. This is the ultimate culmination of the Citizens United ruling. GOvernment is no longer the voice of The People, but rather in the vice grip of vested corporate interests. Trump managed to skew this corrupt situation claiming he was for the little guy, when in fact everything that has happened under his administration has worked to further suppress votes, social services, public education, fair wages, fair taxes, and accountability. The science base for policy decisions had been ejected by regulation, replaced with industry interests instead of peer reviewed findings. The Trump effect has been to cast doubt on the very system of governance by consent to the rule of law.
What we can do now:First, this travesty must not go unpunished. The 25th Amendment will be invoked and Trump will be evicted from office in disgrace. Failing that, he can be impeached…again, hopefully with Senate approval now that there is a slight majority. At a minimum, he must be formally censured by Congress in the name of The People and sent out of office in disgrace. He must then be prosecuted in the civil courts for his many crimes. I don’t know whether any of this will happen, but I have called Mike Doyle, Bob Casey, and even Senator Toomey multiple times, and some of this is in motion. (All of the phone lines are jammed and mail boxes are full!) Second, we must all move from hand wringing to action. Educating people about their responsibilities at all levels of government is essential. Active informed citizens are the only antidote to disinformation and conspiracy. Democracy is not a spectator sport…it requires active participation, vigilance and constant calls for accountability. Elections have consequences. We must rebuild trust in the system and ensure transparency and accountability. People need to see that their concerns are heard, considered and ADDRESSED with actions by their duly elected representatives at all levels of government. Third, we must act to redress the harms of the last 30 years of accumulated economic determinism. The systematic destruction that began with Regan’s economic criteria for budget allocations for federal programs must end. We must restore the social safety net, public health education, quality public education for all, and a high standard of health care for everyone, support for arts, humanities and science research. The government must turn to the service OF THE PEOPLE not corporations and monied interests only. Many of the 74 million who voted for Trump do not see the system we have working for them. We must address the true needs of people in rural America, in dis-invested communities, and in the edges of the mainstream. Education, equity, clear paths to prosperity with justice must become the hallmark of good governance again. Finally, we must celebrate the increased diversity of our nation, recognize the strengths of multiple voices joined to work for a resilient, equitable and sustainable prosperity. We must build a future based on the best motives and aspirations. It is not okay for people of color to live in fear. We are stronger when we stand together and celebrate the gifts of talent and perspective we all bring to the table. We must shape a future that builds a secure world for all of our children.
And we must not give in to despair.
I share this with you in love and with hope for a better tomorrow. Blessed Be