Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."


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A Reflection on Memorial Day 2018

A Reflection on Memorial Day 2018

by Patricia M. DeMarco

May 28, 2018

I was born in the “Baby Boom” following the end of World War II – a defiant and hopeful declaration by my parents that the world could still hold love, and grace and beauty.  My Father served in Donovan’s paratroopers unit, behind enemy lines fighting with the Resistance in France and Italy.(1) He never spoke of his time in the War, even when we as children would ask about it. The book was closed, and the scars of his experience haunted him until the end of his life.  Yet, he served in the United States Information Service (now part of the CIA), and in the U.S. Foreign Service with dedication and commitment to build an America that would fulfill the promise offered to immigrants and citizens.  As a first- generation Italian/American, I have carried the commitment to public service for most of my own life.  Always the ideal that government serves the collective public interest and protects the weak and vulnerable from the tyranny of self-interested power has driven my own personal and professional decisions.

The generation that fought together in World War II shared a bond of common commitment to face down evil and stand for the moral high ground of humanity.  Service above self, to the ultimate sacrifice of life itself, bound the citizen-soldiers of that time together, and set up the conditions that built the greatness of America as a world leader, and as a model for progress. But, in the aftermath of that war, the spirit of cooperation in governance, in institutions, in aspirations began a slow erosion decade by decade.  My Father would not recognize the America he fought for, and the government policies prevalent today would shock his sensibilities to the core.

The sense of making life better for our children, the sense of making life better for everyone together has evaporated into a governance framework driven by corporate interests. Business and government have fundamentally different objectives.  The special interests of multi-national corporations now drive public policy to the detriment of the health and welfare of the people, as a collective whole. Tax and financial policies have deliberately skewed the distribution of wealth to an increasingly bloated top 5% of the people, leaving more and more people in the clutch of poverty, even if they are working full time, or have multiple jobs. The system is rigged for people who make money from the returns on their invested money. Corporate profits are at an all-time high, while wages stagnate or fall. Working hard does not guarantee success, or even a viable life.  The poverty in America is a deliberate political decision.  Likewise, the assumption that clean air and fresh water are guaranteed is fraying in America.  As pollution runs rampant with regulatory controls rolled back, rescinded or unenforced, millions of Americans suffer from living in polluted air and unsafe water.  Contamination from industrial operations disproportionately affects communities of color, and people who cannot afford to move away.  The environmental injustice compounds the insult of having to live in unhealthy places, with no recourse, and no hope of escape.

Unlike the specific, horrific crimes of Nazi Germany, the slow violence of corporate greed raises few objections.  The country increasingly splits over ideology, politics, race and religion. There is no sense of urgency to move in a collective effort to preserve a fair, equitable, healthy future for our children.  Everything rests on short-term benefits.  There is no sense of collective action to make better options for our children. Any policies that purport to curtail the “rights” of individuals or corporations to profit, regardless of the consequences, are viewed with derision and trounced as burdens on business.

What of the burdens on the next generation?  What of the obligation to protect the innocent and help the indigent?  Where is our higher calling to improve the community in which we live?  As the conditions of the world continue to deteriorate, it is necessary for everyday people to take up the mantle of moral conviction to make things better.  It is imperative that people learn from the brave men and women who laid down their lives for justice, freedom and respect for human dignity.  The rampant racism underlying many of the current policies in America must be called out, and trounced for the precursor to tyranny. Democracy is not automatically viable, it requires active participation by an informed and caring citizenry.  There is no way to honor those who stood for the America that stood together to defeat tyranny without reclaiming the moral imperative.  We must be willing to stand and fight for the dignity and respect of all people, for the right for life to exist as intact living systems that serve our Earth, for the fair and equitable distribution of the nation’s wealth, and for the rights of people to express their opinions openly and to receive respect.

As we take a few moments over Memorial Day to remember and honor those who died for our country in World War II and in the many conflicts since then. We must remember that we are a nation stronger as a community joined in common purpose that as a group of individuals, each striving for his or her own goal. It is the common sensitivity of caring communities, built on mutual respect and recognizing the inherent dignity of each person, that will prevail over tyranny.  The injustice visited on any one of us is owed an answer by all of us. That is what makes a nation great.

I thank my Father and his many comrades in arms who came home from serving our country and left a legacy of hope for the future.

 

  1. Meredith Wheeler. “OSS ReBorn: the OSS OG  PAT Mission 1944” http://www.ossreborn.com/files/OG_PAT_A_Fresh_LookPhotos1.pdf  “4,500 German Wehrmacht soldiers surrendered to 12 OSS PAT soldiers and about 100 French Maquis at LeRailet, in the Tarn region of France.”


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International Women’s Day 2018

International Women’s Day 2018
Today my thoughts are centered on my brave beautiful daughter who is just recovering from breast cancer surgery. She has excellent prospects for a full and happy life, but I think of the many women who do not have such excellent care. I also am so thankful that the understanding and treatment are so much more advanced than when Rachel Carson faced a tragic encounter with this disease. In only a few decades the diagnosis of cancer has gone from a stigma and certain death sentence to a treatable condition.
I think of Rachel Carson who wrote much of Silent Spring while in serious suffering from the advanced
stages of breast cancer. She faced not only the lack of technology for diagnosis and treatment but also the difficulties of dealing with a male oriented medical establishment. Her courage in the face of her private and ultimately losing battle with cancer qualifies her as a heroine not only for the environmental movement but also for the millions of women who suffer the affliction of breast cancer.

“FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD, EVERY HUMAN BEING IS NOW SUBJECTED TO CONTACT WITH DANGEROUS CHEMICALS, FROM THE MOMENT OF CONCEPTION UNTIL DEATH.”
                                                                                                                         RACHEL CARSON

 So many people deal with cancer now. Many have multiple tumors over a lifetime. Some explain the higher incidence of cancer to the longer life span in modern times. Others draw a strong correlation with the chemical stew that penetrates our bodies from birth to death. The average newborn child in America has over 200 synthetic chemicals in his or her body at birth, 79 of which are known mutagens and carcinogens.(1) While scientists continue to explore the causes of cancers, and some are better understood than others, there is a sinister accumulation of man-made materials that play a role in our collective vulnerability.
To make cancer a less prominent feature of our health expectations, we need to reduce the flow of toxic synthetic materials. The entire regulatory system is designed to try to limit the amount of toxics that can be released into the air or water. However, the additive effect of even permitted levels yields millions of pounds of toxic releases a year. (2) A better approach would limit the hazard of products  by design. This is the exciting field of Green Chemistry which can limit the amount of carcinogenic and mutagenic material in the air, water and land by designing materials that are benign and biodegradable by design. Prevention rather than dilution will produce better materials with less impact on the living Earth.

Terry Collins- Theresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University

If we are to take a serious effort to control cancer and endocrine disruption for the next generation, we must begin by redirecting our materials supply chain away from fossil based precursors and toward biologically benign materials. The process of converting fossil based raw material to products and then to trash as quickly as possible is killing the living Earth. And as part of the creatures of the living Earth we are killing ourselves too. Green chemistry and bio-based materials as well as processes to remove and destroy synthetic hydrocarbons from water supplies holds great promise for a much more healthy and sustainable world.(3) Technology will not save us unless we add the Ethical element of choosing to pursue technologies that support and preserve the life support system of the Earth.

 

As I am now facing my fourth tumor, all of independent origin over two decades, I wonder about the many exposures I have experienced in my life.  The technician at the MRI lab sternly telling me to control my breathing said there are many people with multiple tumors as they reach advanced years.  She seemed to think it was a normal thing to accumulate cancers with age.  I do not accept that as normal!  I think of the many years I spent as a child living in a community where every house burned

Pittsburgh 1952

coal for heat, and we played in the coal pile, looking for fossils, and finding many! Of course we were covered in coal dust.  Then, the skies were full of smoke, with cinders actively falling to coat everything with a foul, oily and gritty blackness from the steel mills and coke operations that defined Pittsburgh.  Beyond that, DDT was sprayed on everything from trucks that coursed through the neighborhoods, especially on the compound we lived in in Manilla, Philippines in the ’50s. And, I worked in a biology laboratory as an undergraduate, in times when scintillation fluid was washed down the sink, and I stood over the toluene fumes for hours at a time cleaning the vials. And what of the open air testing of nuclear weapons that filled the air with radioactivity around the globe? Or the teflon frying pans everybody thought was so wonderful? I have reverted to well-used cast iron but nobody alive is immune from the plastics and preservatives and additives in our food.  It is a wonder we survive at all!

The worst horror of my nightmares is not my own saga of assault by out of control cells, but the thought that my children will suffer from something in my life of chemical exposure and environmental mutagens. This is the motive that propels my purpose and my advocacy for reform.  I have such fears for the next generation as the evidence that the “Fable for Tomorrow” Rachel Carson described in Silent Spring is already upon us.

~~~~~~~~~

  1.  Sara Goodman. “Tests Find More Than 200 Chemicals in Umbilical Cord Blood. Scientific American. December 2, 2009.  Accessed 8 March 2018. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/newborn-babies-chemicals-exposure-bpa/  
  2. US Environmental Protection Agency. Toxic Releases Inventory (TRI) 2016- Executive Summary. Accessed 8 March 2018. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-01/documents/2016_tri_national_analysis_execsumm.pdf
  3. Terry Collins. Green Chemistry. Science and Society.July 27, 2012.  Accessed 8 March 2018. http://scienceandsociety.net/2012/07/27/dr-terry-collins-–-green-chemistry/


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2017 A Personal Review

December 10, 2017
Patricia M. DeMarco

This has been a roller coaster year beginning with the depths of despair at seeing Donald Trump take the oath of office as President to the heights of elation at seeing my book in print –  finally. I take away the overall sense of hope for the future from the spirit of resistance rising among young people newly energized to be involved; a sense of growing confidence in the way forward from global commitments to action on global warming; and a cry for respect for the dignity of real people regardless of race, gender or nation of their birth.  America is in transition, and it is an exciting time full of opportunity for those who choose to lead with purpose and compassion.

I share with you here the highlights of my life this year, with thanks to so many of you who have waked this way with me.

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth
find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”
Rachel Carson in The Sense of Wonder

Pathways to Our Sustainable Future- A Global Perspective from PittsburghMy labor of four years was published by University of Pittsburgh Press and launched with great fanfare at Phipps Conservatory in September. So far, it has good reviews and serves the function of providing many opportunities for me to speak and reach out to people with a message of empowerment and hope. I am grateful to The Pittsburgh Foundation, especially Jeanne Pearlman, for giving me the resources to become a full-time writer. It has changed my life.

 

“From Pittsburgh to Paris” – these words, evoking the Global Climate Accord and the vastly differing positions of President Trump and Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto, also define the highlights of my year. Kevin and Jenn graciously invited me to join them to vacation in Paris. Exploring this wonderful city with my grandchildren, Quinn and Lia, accented the importance of beautiful living spaces within a city, and the timeless value of culture, art, and history. The Normandy World War II battle sites, especially the acres of white grave markers coursing over the quiet hills, reminded me of the sacrifices my parents’ generation made, and my Father’s role in service to America as a soldier, Foreign Service officer and teacher. He and my Mother set a high standard for living with purpose and caring.

The experience reinforced my own life mission to preserve and protect the living Earth for today’s children, those to come in the 21st century, and all of life on Earth.

 

William Freudenburg Lifetime Achievement Award – The Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences presented me with this award at the annual

conference in Phoenix Arizona in June. I was honored to have this opportunity to address an audience of my peers and find affirmation for the unconventional career path I have carved. I am most pleased to have my students see a way forward that validates the dedication to advocacy in the name of science.

“The New American Economy Radio Program” – Charles Showalter, the ten-year host of The Union Edger –Labor’s Talk Radio invited me to provide content and co-host a weekly hour long program exploring emerging opportunities and challenges for the work of the future. We interviewed guests ranging from Mustafa Ali to Carl Pope and covered topics from regenerative agriculture to electric vehicles, cleaning endocrine disruptors out of public water supplies, and robots. You can listen live or download podcasts at http://newamericaneconomyradio.com. The show reaches 300,000 people a week in 33 cities.

Borough of Forest Hills net zero energy borough building – In the second year of my term as a Member of the Forest Hills Borough Council, Chair of Finance Committee, I have been involved with building the new Borough building to house the Council and Administrative offices, the Police station, the CC Mellor Forest Hills Branch of the Library, and a community space. The passive solar design building has a geothermal heat pump heating and cooling system and 154 kW solar photovoltaic system on the south facing roof that will meet all of the electricity requirements, net over the year. It is an exciting and inspiring response to updating the infrastructure of the Borough for the future in a forward-looking way.

 

Dodged the Silver Bullet yet again! – On July 5, instead of going to see Mark Rylance’s play written for The 125th Commemoration of the Battle of Homestead, for which I had been working for 18 months with the dedicated people of The Pump House Gang, I went to the emergency room with what turned out to be a malignant kidney tumor. After surgery to remove the tumor and my right kidney, I recovered at home for six weeks or so, tended with care by Tom and cheered and supported by Steve and my extended Family and many friends. Except for hitting the wall by 9:00 PM, I am pretty well recovered and refuse to be defined by my illness.  I think of the words of Friedrich Nietzsche “What does not kill us makes us stronger.”

As I look forward to 2018, my best wishes go to all of you.  May you find fulfillment in your own purpose in life.  May you take hope from knowing that the living Earth can heal, if we will help.  And know that every effort from individual actions to broad community policies matter.  Take the courage to act as if our life support system needs every person’s best effort.  Stand up for preserving the living Earth- fresh water, clean air, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species that form the web of life, of which humans are but one part.

 

Blessed Be!