Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."


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Lessons from the Edge of the Abyss

As 2020 closes, I am weary from struggling against the challenges that confront us. With the approval of a vaccine, people see an end to the stress and fear of this pandemic that has taken the lives of 316,844 Americans with 1.8 million infected by the coronavirus. (1) We long for a return to “normal.” But as we wait for the pandemic to recede, it is critical to recognize the important lessons that emerge from this crisis. COVID-19 amplified difficulties that have always been present and forced a reckoning. The Presidential election in this year of pandemic restrictions gave a stress test to our institutions, and we passed, but with huge red flags waving. We have taken one step back from the edge of an abyss, but we have yet to make a turn in the direction of resilience, inclusion and prosperity for all, in America and around the world. As we execute a recovery from COVID, we must take the opportunity to address the complex problems revealed and build a New Normal.

The interconnected

web of life

Lessons to shape a “New Normal”

  1. Take responsibility to preserve the interconnected web of life. The pandemic of COVID-19 is a predicted symptom to the destruction of the ecosystems that support life on Earth. Human infrastructure, industrial agriculture and extractive resource industries have altered the Earth significantly. According to the Fifth Global Biodiversity Assessment, 75 per cent of the land surface is significantly altered, 66 per cent of the ocean area is experiencing increasing cumulative impacts, and over 85 per cent of wetlands area has been lost. While the rate of forest loss has slowed globally since 2000, this is distributed unequally. Across much of the highly biodiverse tropics, 32 million hectares of primary or recovering forest were lost between 2010 and 2015. Over one million species face extinction within a decade. (2) Transformative changes in the way we produce food, obtain and use energy, and manage materials can protect and restore biodiversity, habitats and ecosystems. Preserving biodiversity is our best defense against further pandemic outbreaks from viruses and diseases that cross from animals to humans either from contact or from food chains. Using agricultural land to capture carbon, protect watersheds and pollinators and provide food primarily for people rather than for animals can limit the wasteful depletion of soil from industrial agriculture practices.(3) We must adjust all of our policies and practices to protect our life support system, the gifts of the living earth. (4) It must be our mission to protect and restore natural ecosystems and integrate human activities into their functions without destroying them. The technology and policy pathways to do this are known and operate well. We must make the moral and ethical choice to live in harmony with Nature.

3. The mainstream economy is not working for millions of Americans. Household incomes have grown only modestly in this century. Economic inequality, whether measured through the gaps in income or wealth between richer and poorer households, continues to widen. Households near the top of the economic ladder had incomes that were 12.6 times higher than those at the bottom in 2018. (5) Income inequality has increased by about 20% from 1980 to 2016 according to Congressional Budget Office reports. (6) Moreover, one-third of US adults either can’t pay all their bills or are one small problem away from it. Forty three percent of rural households report adult household members have lost their jobs, been furloughed, or had wages or hours reduced since the start of the COVID outbreak, with two-thirds of these households (66%) reporting serious financial problems. (7) The pandemic crisis has made evident the stark reality that faces nearly half of Americans- we are one paycheck away from disaster. Savings are insufficient to the need, and loss of a job to illness or business closure leaves millions with no recourse but bankruptcy and despair. Millions see no path to upward mobility or wealth accumulation, and most believe they are powerless to change the situation. One way to address this issue is to strengthen unions and establish a higher minimum wage, with adjustments to the cost of living regularly incorporated into the minimum wage index. As union membership declines, more of the income share has gone to the top 10% of wage earners. The weakened bargaining power of workers since 1979 has continuously decreased the earning power of workers (11.1% growth) compared to productivity increases (70.3% growth) from 1979 to 2017. At the same time, a greater share of corporate earnings has gone to the capital owners, expanding the earnings gap significantly over this period. (8)

2. Acknowledge and address systemic racism. This year, America was confronted again with the painful reality that our country was founded on the genocide of Indigenous Peoples of this continent and was built on a culture of slavery and indentured servitude. The statistics on COVID impact on people of color made the inequities of systemic racist practices impossible to ignore. It is clear that without acknowledging that the Health Gap, the Wealth Gap and the Power Gap stem from long-sustained practices and deliberate policies of oppression, we will be unable to heal this nation and find our common ground. (9) We are none of us free until we take responsibility for the rights of the downtrodden. None of us are free as long as our fellow citizens are abused before the law. We are all guilty if we stand by in silence while our fellow citizens suffer injustice, abuse and despair. Public demonstrations for Black Lives Matter in the face of police killings of black people in multiple locations around the country raised this issue again. More police, training for police or defunding police were proposed in various locations to keep peace. Freedom is not free- it comes with a responsibility to fight for justice, to act for fairness, and to demand accountability from those in power. (10) Redressing the legacy of redlining districts, of limiting credit for business and personal loans, and failing to provide the social infrastructure to support people and communities of color must take a higher priority in public policy. Those of us who do not bear the daily burden of hatred must stand up and lift that yoke of racist hatred from the backs of our Brothers and Sisters.

4. Govern for The People, not corporations. The pendulum of politics swings over decades from right to left and back, driven by circumstances and the struggle for power. Two forces have shaped our governance culture since the 1980’s. The Regan Administration introduced a governing principle of economic determination for all federal programs, and argued for a trickle down effect for government spending. Thus, federal programs that did not meet the economic productivity test were defunded and gradually eroded. These included education programs, grants to the arts and to basic research, social services, health care services and public parks. Even under the Democratic administrations in the period 1979 to 2020, there was little push back to these policies in principle. At the same time, the influence of corporate interests expanded considerably through Citizen United granting corporations the rights of “persons” under the law. And finally the heavily gerrymandered voting districts where districts are aligned for political advantage rather than for logical and fair distribution of representation for voters. While productivity of American businesses grew 70.3% between 1979 and 2017, hourly compensation of workers grew by only 11.1% in the same period. ( 11) These disparities are not accidental, but rather flow from specific subsidies and tax policies. The social inequities in wealth, health care, education and access to capital have grown from these practices which give advantage to the top 10% and corporations, even multinational corporations not headquartered in America, to the disadvantage of working people. (11 ) Environmental protections, climate mitigation and protection of public lands and parks have likewise fallen in priority to the advantage of specific corporate interests. It is time to return the priorities of government to protecting the interests of The People, to govern for the public interest, not private benefit. For this year and the next three decades, we must sustain a divestment from subsidies to fossil extractive industries at all levels from research, exploration, production and development of infrastructure. We must invest in communities to build the infrastructure for the green economy, creating manufacturing and restorative jobs in areas abandoned and left waste by prior decades of extraction. We must restore the environmental protections and the social safety net that sustain the well being, productivity and quality of life for all Americans, placing priority on those most affected by sacrifice zones and abandoned extractive practices such as the people of Appalachia. (12 )

Decide to preserve a living planet with a just, inclusive, caring society for our children and theirs to seven generations forward.

The Awesome Woodland Hills High School Climate Action Team of 2020

As we close this year of challenge and such sadness, we can look ahead to a better time. The solutions to the inter-related problems of environmental degradation, racial and social injustice and wealth disparity can be solved like a set of simultaneous equations. Only by integrating environmental health with a social safety net based on respect for the dignity of every person can we reach a sustainable prosperity. We must restore the value that to achieve prosperity that can be sustained, we must create an inclusive structure where all can thrive. The bloated enrichment of the top few has distorted our sense of what is right and just. Without justice there is no peace. Without accountability there is no freedom. Without love, there is no life.

December 24, 2020

Resources and citations

1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID Data Tracking. December 23, 2020.   https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#cases_casesper100klast7days

2. IPBES (2019): Summary for policymakers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. S. Díaz, J. Settele, E. S. Brondízio E.S., H. T. Ngo, M. Guèze, J. Agard, A. Arneth, P. Balvanera, K. A. Brauman, S. H. M. Butchart, K. M. A. Chan, L. A. Garibaldi, K. Ichii, J. Liu, S. M. Subramanian, G.F.Midgley, P. Miloslavich, Z. Molnár, D. Obura, A. Pfaff, S. Polasky, A. Purvis, J. Razzaque, B. Reyers, R. Roy Chowdhury, Y. J. Shin, I. J. Visseren-Hamakers, K. J. Willis, and C. N. Zayas (eds.). IPBES secretariat, Bonn, Germany. 56 pages. (https://www.ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf )

3. Patricia DeMarco, Sara Nicholas, Stephen Herzenberg. “Heal Our Land and Our People: Create a Modern Civilian Conservation Corps and Promote Regenerative Agriculture and Agroforestry.” Reimagine Appalachia White Papers. September 2020. https://reimagineappalachia.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Reimagine-Appalachia-Regenerative-Ag-CCC-Whitepaper-10-28-2020.pdf  

4. For a more detailed discussion of ecosystems and ecosystem services see:  https://patriciademarco.com/2019/12/10/gifts-of-the-living-earth/

5. Jason Beery. “Pittsburgh- The Pittsburgh of Appalachia- A geography of power and extraction.” UrbanKind Institute. February 2019. https://img1.wsimg.com/blobby/go/4691da36-2e74-4c4c-99f0-19c3eee5ac9e/downloads/1d31iaaj6_122302.pdf?ver=1558223417346

6. The Distribution of Household Income, 2016. Congressional Budget Office. Juy 9, 2019. https://www.cbo.gov/publication/55413

7. The Impact of Coronavirus on Households Across America. Report by NPR, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. September 2020.      https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/research/2020/09/the-impact-of-coronavirus-on-households-across-america.html  

8.Elise Gould. Decades of Rising economic inequity in the United States. (Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee. Economic Policy Institute. March 27, 2019.  https://www.epi.org/publication/decades-of-rising-economic-inequality-in-the-u-s-testimony-before-the-u-s-house-of-representatives-ways-and-means-committee/

9 Robert Bullard. “The Quest for Environmental Justice and the Politics of Place and Race.” The Climate Reality Project. April 17, 2020. https://climaterealityproject.org/blog/quest-environmental-justice-and-politics-place-and-race?utm_source=EcoDistricts+List&utm_campaign=dfb72e0a33-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_06_03_09_41&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_33b8680174-dfb72e0a33-413060723&mc_cid=dfb72e0a33&mc_eid=e9cfe20491

10. Juliana Menasce, Ruth Igielnik and Rakesh Kochhar. “ Most Americans say there is too much economic inequality in the U.S., but fewer than half call it a priority.” Pew Research Center. January 9, 2020. https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/01/09/most-americans-say-there-is-too-much-economic-inequality-in-the-u-s-but-fewer-than-half-call-it-a-top-priority/

11. Michael McCormack, Amanda Novello. “The True State of the U.S. Economy.” The Century Foundation. November 26,2019. https://tcf.org/content/report/true-state-u-s-economy/?session=1

12. Reimagine Appalachia Blueprint- A New Deal that Works for Us. September 2020. https://reimagineappalachia.org/


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A Reflection on the U.S. Withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord

“We are the last generation that can end climate change. We can and we will.” Khishigjargal, 24, Mongolia

On November 4, 2020, the United States officially withdraws from the Paris Climate Accord in a mockery to the reality Americans face in this tumultuous year. No longer a theoretical projection modeled from academic geophysical constructs, climate changes brings the reality of drought, fires, floods and diseases upon us all over the world. The youth of the world cry out for attention, as they observe the window for effective action closing rapidly. For some, their fate is sealed already. Grieving for what has been and will inevitably be lost burdens the hearts of all who care about the future and the fate of civilization. 

The triple existential threats of greenhouse gas emissions, global pollution and now global pandemics all result from human patterns of behavior over the last 100 years. Transforming our way of relating to the natural world can create a better, brighter future. The problems of climate change, social equity and environmental justice must be resolved simultaneously, or they will not be resolved at all. We must recognize that we are more alike as human creatures dependent on the living Earth than different in our genders, religions, cultures, races or political persuasions. We must reimagine our way of life in harmony with Nature, rather than dependent on its destruction. 

Recognize the Cost of NOT Acting on Climate Change

Although many individual cities, a few states and some businesses and corporations have made climate commitments since the International Paris Accord in December 2015, the United States has promoted policies to support fossil industries. Baseline emissions patterns continue on a trajectory toward a four-degree increase, or higher, in the average global temperature.

U.S. Emissions Trajectory Compared to Climate Goals

UNEP. 2018 Emissions Gap Report https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/12/UNEP-1.pdf

Prospects for economic prosperity weaken as climate conditions continue to worsen. The Market Risk Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission issued a report that sounded a stark alarm: “Climate change poses a major risk to the stability of the U.S. financial system and to its ability to sustain the American economy. Climate change is already impacting or is anticipated to impact nearly every facet of the economy, including infrastructure, agriculture, residential and commercial property, as well as human health and labor productivity.”[i] The invisible hand of the market will not make the adjustments necessary because the consequences of destroying the ecosystem services that support life on Earth are not directly counted in the marketplace. Losing the living Earth will cause cascading disasters that cannot be replaced.

The natural world that forms our life support system is under extreme duress. Species extinction rates are now hundreds of times higher than historical averages. Human actions have compromised or destroyed 75% of the land surface of the earth, including loss of 85% of wetlands, and 66% of the worlds ocean area is experiencing multiple destructive forces from human actions in overfishing, pollution -especially from plastics, and chemical changes in acidification due to the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.[ii] In the last four years, regulations that protect the environment and endangered species have been weakened or rescinded.[iii] Under the excuse of the COVID pandemic, environmental protections are not being enforced.[iv] Granted at the behest of oil and gas industries, the relaxation of environmental protections has increased the pollution of air and water across the United States.

Climate change exacerbates some underlying health threats and creates new public health challenges. Climate change increases exposure to elevated temperatures; more frequent, severe, or longer-lasting extreme events; degraded air quality; diseases transmitted through food, water, and disease vectors (such as ticks and mosquitoes); and stresses to our mental health and well-being.[v] Vulnerable populations are more likely to experience climate change injury, acute and chronic illnesses, developmental issues, and death. Especially people living in heavily polluted areas or who are in poverty have a higher risk of exposure to biological, psychosocial, chemical or physical stressors which are often increased by climate change conditions. The social safety net has not provided timely or sufficient assistance to help people cope with the constant stress of climate change, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed weaknesses in the health care, education and public health and welfare systems.

Support the Benefits of A Green Economy

As we seek recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, it becomes clear that restoring the “normal” of the past will not achieve a lasting solution. The need to address the economic and social pain of the pandemic puts a spotlight on the inequities and systemic injustices of our current system. Planning a recovery to a new “normal” can accelerate the necessary transformation of our economy and our culture to a more sustainable way of living. Our laws and policies must change to restore the balance among a just and equitable economic system; a social justice system for health, education, culture and public well-being; and environmental protection provisions that sustain our life support system- fresh air, clean water, fertile ground and the diversity of species that comprise the global web of life.  Over the last fifty years, the economic metric has dwarfed all other measures of value in our culture, resulting in inequitable wealth distribution, unequal power sharing, and broad environmental degradation. 

The pathways to a sustainable future are clear. We can transform our economy and our way of life to place priority on changing human behaviors systematically to control the acceleration of climate change. The technologies necessary to make the shift are in hand. We must galvanize a collective sense of urgency to take action.[i]  When we do so, the benefits are significant, and accumulate rapidly.[ii]

Clear Policy Actions to Preserve the Planet for Our Children

In spite of the partisan divide that has hampered effective policy to mitigate climate change in the past decade, Americans increasingly recognize the need for action. In 2020, 82% of Americans across all political persuasions agree climate change from human actions is occurring and likely to increase global temperatures continuing into the next century.[iii] National leadership for a coordinated and consistent policy that will drive a unified response has been lacking. The amount of carbon dioxide already released into the atmosphere and baked in from existing sources of new emissions will assure that the global temperature continues to rise beyond the one degree Celsius already experienced in this decade.  Controlling the further increase to levels that will still sustain life as we know it must take place within the next ten to 15 years.

Here are four principles to guide the climate policy U-Turn:

1. Empower people to transform the economy. Government policies since the early 1980s have focused primarily on market-based decisions to strengthen business, especially large corporate entities. Yet, the highest times of productivity in our country and elsewhere have come when public investment empowering people, small businesses and communities have priority. We can re-create a sense of community and common purpose where people feel connected to their own communities and when that connection allows people to prosper. Young people should offer one year of public service upon graduation from high school. This can be military service, Volunteers In Service To America service, or community infrastructure restoration such as was offered through the Civilian Conservation Corps of the New Deal era. Education beyond that year of service, whether to community college, union trade apprenticeship or university study should have a nominal tuition.  Students should not be completing their education with $100,000 or more in debt. Re-weave the social safety net to provide equitable access to health, education and poverty assistance. We need to de-criminalize poverty at all levels and define equitable pathways to prosperity. Entrenched discriminatory practices that limit access to financing for personal investment or for entrepreneurial investments must be equitably available. 

2. Revise property rights to place priority on protecting ecosystems rather than mineral rights. The natural systems that support life are embedded in the surface of the Earth- topsoil, trees, grasslands, wetlands, riparian areas around rivers and streams, oceans.  These living earth ecosystems are the true places that support the essential needs for life as we know it to exist. Preserving the life support system should be the top priority.  If value and rights are assigned to such ecosystem services, preserving forests will have value, regenerative farming that restores soil fertility will have value, preserving wetlands and coastal floodplains will have value.  Rescinding mineral rights as having dominance over surface rights will prevent farms, forests, parks and wetlands from destruction to access minerals and fossil deposits of oil, gas and coal. Stop subsidies for fossil industries. The entitlement for protection will shift to living earth systems instead.

3. Restore science as the basis for public policy. The reality of climate change requires immediate and sustained action. The laws of Nature are not negotiable, nor do physics, chemistry and physiology adjust for our laws. Technologies to mitigate the advance of climate change are available. They must be incorporated into law across the country. 

            Renewable energy systems can advance rapidly if the electricity grid would be modernized to intersecting micro-grid nodes. Adopting a national building code standard based on passive soar design, adjusted for regional differences, would create net zero energy and water buildings, or even allow buildings to create more energy than they use if Photovoltaic roofs were incorporated. Electrifying the transportation system with electric vehicles and light rail systems would improve ambient air as well as bolster manufacturing opportunities. Integrating storage technologies with artificial intelligence for load management and aligning power sources with uses can shift the pattern of power from central distribution systems to dispersed interconnected options.

            Regenerative agriculture– the practice of restoring crop rotation, cover crops, low tillage and other techniques can restore the fertility of the land and protect the health of people. Reforesting abandoned mine lands and protecting forested lands on public and private property with sound management practices and native species can also help to absorb carbon to reduce the greenhouse gas burden. Agricultural policies must shift from subsidizing huge corporate agricultural industrial production to supporting smaller farms, under 1000 acres, for food production. Many of our farming communities are centered in food insecure areas because the output of the farms targets export or commodity products, not food for people.  Technical assistance, marketing assistance and investment support as well as insurance should be structured to support family farms, not massive corporate entities.  Cultivation using soil regenerating practices should benefit more than enterprises that depend heavily on petrochemical-based fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and GMO systems.

            Reward circular materials management systems rather than the current system of taking raw material to trash as rapidly as possible.  The cost of waste, packaging, and disposal must be incorporated into the price.  The full life cycle cost of extracting, processing and using materials must be included.  As long as the fossil-based products appear inexpensive, there is no incentive to reshape markets.  We must design our materials to be re-used, repurposed or reclaimed after their intended use has been completed.  Value based on long-term usefulness rather than disposable “convenience” restores traditional priorities on quality and durability. Moving to plant-based resources rather than fossil-based resources also expands the options for circular economies connected to the land.  The expanding field of green chemistry offers numerous avenues for materials production without the burden of destructive resource extraction.

4. Address the systemic degradation of human value inherent in treating workers as commodities or units of production. The dignity of each person is an attribute of our shared humanity, regardless of race, gender, religion or political persuasion. The unrestrained capitalist approach places maximum value on the profits produced. That creates the incentive to devalue the land as much as possible, and to squeeze as much as possible out of the labor component.  Returns on capital investment are highest when land, including resources and feedstocks, as well as labor costs can be kept as low as possible. This system is inherently biased against workers and against protecting environmental attributes. We must restore the balance by elevating the value of work and workers assuring the right to organize and bargain with assurance. We must protect people from corporate greed. Sacrifice zones- the areas within a mile of industrial installations- are not acceptable in a just and equitable America. It is not okay anywhere to write off the health and well-being of people because of where they live.   

Call for Accountability

The burden of the climate crisis does not fall equally around the globe. The burden of climate change also falls more and more heavily on our children and those of future generations. Because the effects of greenhouse gas accumulation persist for hundreds of years, the mitigation efforts will not rapidly reverse damages already set from the accelerating levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. 

We are facing a challenge of ethics and fairness, not a technology problem. On behalf of our children and the children of the future, we must call to account the true culprits of climate change. Global carbon emissions increased by 60% from 1990 to 2015. This increase has exhausted half of the atmospheric carbon level to hold global warming to an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius.[i]

Carbon emissions by countrreflect the energy intensity of the economic activity as well as the size of the economy.  China (21.6%), the United States (14.4%) and the European Union (9.7%) together account for nearly half of total global carbon emissions, while the bottom 100 countries contribute only 3.5%.[ii]  The majority of emissions come from producing electricity, transportation and heating. China’s rapid economic growth and its large population have contributed to the rise in its total carbon emissions in the last decade. Global warming has exacerbated the economic inequalities across countries. The higher carbon emitting countries have experienced relatively less severe climate change effects than many less developed countries, especially island nations and areas in the Southern Hemisphere that are severely affected by prolonged drought. However, since 2000, over twenty countries have reduced emissions while continuing to grow their economies.[iii] And, low-carbon energy sources have the potential to provide a substantial secondary development benefit, in addition to the primary benefits of increased energy access.[iv]

Carbon emissions per person reflect lifestyle choices and individual energy and food choices in particular. The top 10% of the wealthy account for 50% of the greenhouse gas emissions while the bottom 50% of people account for about 10%.[v] According to Tim Gore, author of the Oxfam Report, “The over-consumption of a wealthy minority is fueling the climate crisis yet it is poor communities and young people who are paying the price. Such extreme carbon inequality is a direct consequence of our governments decades long pursuit of grossly unequal and carbon intensive economic growth.” Americans are among the highest emitters of greenhouse gases per person in the world at an average of 18 metric tons of carbon emissions per person, compared to the global average of 4.3 metric tons of Carbon emissions per person, and double the level of China (7.9) Germany (8.9) United Kingdom (6.5) France (4.6) and Sweden (4.5).[vi]  In the United States, emissions from transportation have been rising every year since 2012, and since 2016 have been the country’s largest carbon emissions source, surpassing the power sector.[vii]  

Twenty corporations account for the majority of carbon emissions worldwide. Fossil fuels are the largest source of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Between 1965 and 2017, the top 20 emitters contributed 35% of total carbon emissions worldwide. Twenty companies have collectively contributed 480 billion tons of carbon dioxide and methane, chiefly from the combustion of their products, equivalent to 35% of all fossil fuel and cement emissions worldwide since 1965.[i] Companies such as Suncor, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and ConocoPhillips have invested in the extraction of oil sands, tight oil, heavy oils and other forms which carry a larger environmental impact than conventional crude oil. These sources comprise a rapidly growing fraction of fossil fuels produced worldwide.[ii] The top five fossil industries spend significant amounts of money to control and limit regulation of emissions, with over $200 million a year spent on lobbying in the U.S. alone.[iii] Chevron, BP and ExxonMobil were the main companies leading the field in direct lobbying to push against a climate policy to tackle global warming.[iv] Worse, these companies knew the danger of global warming as early as 1965 but pressed forward with an increasingly strident effort to promote production and oppose any limits on emissions.[v] Chevron, ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy and ConocoPhillips are all American companies in the top levels of global carbon emissions.[vi]

A Call to Action

The United States is officially withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accord of 2015.  It is time to assert the reality of the climate situation and the important role the United States has as a major contributor to the problem. We also hold the potential to resume leadership in building a more just and equitable, resilient and sustainable way forward. We must act at all levels from the individual practice of reducing our carbon footprint, to local community climate action plans, state actions and ultimately a federal Climate Action Initiative that establishes a path to zero carbon emissions by 2050. Our children deserve a viable future.

Let’s start today!


Citations and References:

[i] Heede, Richard (2019) Carbon Majors: Accounting for carbon and methane emissions 1854-2010 Methods & Results Report, re-issued with new foreword, ISBN 978-3-659-57841-0, OmniScriptum, Riga, 148 pp. 

[ii]   https://b8f65cb373b1b7b15feb-c70d8ead6ced550b4d987d7c03fcdd1d.ssl.cf3.rackcdn.com/cms/reports/documents/000/002/327/original/Carbon-Majors-Report-2017.pdf?1499691240  

[iii]  https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/mar/22/top-oil-firms-spending-millions-lobbying-to-block-climate-change-policies-says-report

[iv] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/oct/16/exxonmobil-misled-the-public-about-the-climate-crisis-now-theyre-trying-to-silence-critics

[v] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/oct/16/exxonmobil-misled-the-public-about-the-climate-crisis-now-theyre-trying-to-silence-critics

[vi] https://climateaccountability.org/pdf/CAI%20PressRelease%20Top20%20Oct19.pdf


[i] https://oxfamilibrary.openrepository.com/bitstream/handle/10546/621052/mb-confronting-carbon-inequality-210920-en.pdf

[ii] https://www.wri.org/blog/2017/04/interactive-chart-explains-worlds-top-10-emitters-and-how-theyve-changed

[iii] https://www.wri.org/blog/2016/04/roads-decoupling-21-countries-are-reducing-carbon-emissions-while-growing-gdp

[iv] Noah Diffenbaugh and Marshall Burke. “Global Warming Has Increased Global Economic Inequality.” PNAS May 14, 2019 116 (20) 9808-9813. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1816020116

[v] Tim Gore, Mira Alestig, Anna Ratcliff.Confronting Carbon Inequality: Putting Climate Justice at the Heart of the COVID-19 Recovery. Oxfam. 21 September 2020. https://oxfamilibrary.openrepository.com/bitstream/handle/10546/621052/mb-confronting-carbon-inequality-210920-en.pdf

[vi]  https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/01/chart-of-the-day-these-countries-have-the-largest-carbon-footprints/

[vii] P.Benoit.(2020,March).EverythingYouNeedtoKnowAbouttheFastest-GrowingSourceofGlobal Emissions: Transport. Ethics and International Affairs. https://www.wri.org/blog/2019/10/everything-you-need- know-about-fastest-growing-source-global-emissions-transport


[i] IPCC, 2019: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change and Land: an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems [P.R. Shukla, J. Skea, E. Calvo Buendia, V. Masson-Delmotte, H.- O. Pörtner, D. C. Roberts, P. Zhai, R. Slade, S. Connors, R. van Diemen, M. Ferrat, E. Haughey, S. Luz, S. Neogi, M. Pathak, J. Petzold, J. Portugal Pereira, P. Vyas, E. Huntley, K. Kissick, M. Belkacemi, J. Malley, (eds.)]. In presshttps://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/sites/4/2020/02/SPM_Updated-Jan20.pdf

[ii] Patricia. M. DeMarco. “Green Jobs and a Living Planet- Make It Happen” Pathways to a New Economy Blog post May 23, 2019.  https://patriciademarco.com/2019/05/23/green-jobs-and-a-living-planet-make-it-happen/ )

[iii] Krosnick, Jon A., and Bo MacInnis. 2020. Climate Insights 2020: Overall Trends. Washington, DC: Resources for the Future.  https://media.rff.org/documents/Climate_Insights_Overall_Trends_Final.pdf


[i] Rostin Behnam, David Gillers, Robert Litterman. Managing Climate Risk in the U.S. Financial System. Report of the Climate-Related Market Risk Sub-Committee of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. September 9, 2020. Library of Congress Control Number: 20209165930  ISBN: 978-0-578-74841-2.

[ii] United Nations Summit on Biodiversity. September 30, 2020.  https://www.un.org/pga/75/united-nations-summit-on-biodiversity/

[iii] Katherine Buchholz. “Trump Administration Reversed 100 Environmental Rules.” Statista. October 15, 2020. https://www.statista.com/chart/18268/environmental-regulations-trump-administration/   

[iv] Ellen Knickmeyer. “Citing virus, EPA has stopped enforcing environmental laws.” March 26, 2020. ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory/citing-virus-epa-stopped-enforcing-environmental-laws-69827970

[v] Balbus, J., A. Crimmins, J.L. Gamble, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, S. Saha, and M.C. Sarofim, 2016: Ch. 1: Introduction: Climate Change and Human Health. The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, 25–42. http://dx.doi.org/10.7930/J0VX0DFW


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COVID-19: A Requiem for the American Dream

Patricia M. DeMarco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessed Be


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

April 22, 2020

Patricia M.DeMarco,Ph.D.

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

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


“Electricity from Black to Gold” Presentation at GND Discussion of 23.Feb.2020

The Green New Deal Discussion group meets on alternate Sundays to discuss Naomi Kline’s book of essays, On Fire! The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal On February 23rd we had a discussion of the essay “Capitalism vs. the Climate.” I was asked to provide some background and insight to the utility industry.

Here is the video of the session recorded by Dean Mougianis, posted here with permission.
https://youtu.be/RHlmrjxHYtc

The slides do not show well on the screen as filmed, so the slides are here. (If you share this, please include the citations.)


Fracking to Plastic: The Lost Opportunity and the Cost

At the request of many colleagues, I am posting here the slides from the presentation of January 26, 2020 at the Pittsburgh 14th Ward Political Forum honoring Barbara Daly Danko. The text of this presentation is captured in my blog post “Green Jobs AND A Living Planet- Make It Happen” https://patriciademarco.com/2019/05/23/green-jobs-and-a-living-planet-make-it-happen/

I welcome opportunities to discuss the important issue of transforming our economy and our work readiness to a sustainable system. That means converting the fossil energy system to a renewable and sustainable processes, converting the industrial agriculture system to one based on regeneration and preservation of the soil; and converting our fossil-based materials system to a circular economy driven by replenish able and re-usable materials.

Contact me here: demarcop6@gmail.com

Patricia M. DeMarco

January 30, 2020


The Power of Joined Voices

July 11, 2019

A Reflection on Songs of Struggle and Protest

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

By Patricia M. DeMarco

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

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

Mike Stout- Trubadour of Labor

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


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FDR Four Freedoms of Democracy Revisited

August 28, 2017

The consequences of having a President who condones bigotry and disrespect have come to fruition this troubled summer of 2017. As White Supremacy rhetoric has become accepted as “free speech,” the moral fabric of America is shredded and all of us are more fearful and less secure in our homes, in our lives and in our communities. This violent bombast has obscured more substantive matters. Existential crises for which the possibility of consensus becomes increasingly elusive worsen while public attention diverts to the drama of domestic terrorism.

I view this tragedy of the Trump moral weakness through the lens of a visit earlier this summer to the Normandy World War II Memorial and the Omaha Beach where the U.S. and Allied forces landed in the summer of 1941 to turn the tide of the war against German Nazi armies. So many died there standing

Here Lies A Comrade In Arms Known But to God

in defense of Freedom, a concept sharpened by the contrast in the Western world between the rampages of despot Adolf Hitler, striving for world dominance in the name of an ideology based on exclusivity and hate, and the Allied ideology of liberty, inclusiveness and freedom of belief. I found it instructive to revisit President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union Address to Congress in which he called for a united stand against tyranny.

In this 21st century, we face global warfare of clashing ideologies, but we also face a common threat to the survival of life on earth from the cumulative effects of human enterprise on the environment and the life support system of the living Earth itself. WWII ended in a declared victory for freedom and a peace that lasted through diplomacy and mutual alliances until the verbal hostilities of the Cold War and arms race. Our nation in 1941 was “threatened from without” and confronted the threat of tyranny with a call for national unity and common purpose. Today we are a nation divided on lines of ideology as well as class, race and view of our role in the world. We are not united in purpose. While Roosevelt opposed the forces that argued for “enforced isolation behind an ancient Chinese wall,” our President is building walls, both physically and rhetorically dividing our nation from allies and presenting blustering threats on all sides. While Roosevelt called for leadership through “responsibility and accountability based on a decent respect for the rights and dignity of all nations large and small,” modern America looks at other nations as resources, markets or targets of opportunity for “deals.” Roosevelt wisely noted, “Enduring peace cannot be bought at the cost of other people’s freedom.”(1)

Roosevelt’s observations about democracy resonate to our time:

“There is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy. The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are

  • Equal opportunity for youth and for others;
  • Jobs to those who can work;
  • Security for those who need it;
  • Ending of special privilege for the few;
  • The preservation of civil liberties for all;
  • The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living for all.” (1)

Achieving these essential components of democracy in the 21st century can build unity of purpose. These are the true values of America that can unite us again. Achieving these freedoms requires that people accept responsibility as citizens to participate in the process of governing. It also requires that those elected to lead must be held accountable to a moral standard that puts the public interest first. Laws alone do not make a country great. It must be the priority of all citizens to protect and defend the basic things that allow all of the people to succeed.

In this current environment, the issue is still jobs. As we struggle to address the real and pressing dangers not to our nation alone, but to the very existence of life on Earth from global warming and global chemical pollution, we must provide for a just and equitable transition to a non-fossil based economy. This path is not only viable, but has proven productive of vibrant economic, social and environmental success.

The quadrennial National Climate Assessment, authorized by Congress in 1990, concludes: “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.” (2) Denial does not change the consequences. The laws of Nature are not negotiable. It is time to accept reality and act responsibly for the sake of life on Earth and all future generations.

Those who see the past as a secure and comfortable condition are often lured by the romanticized myth of “the way it was back in the day” without admitting the reality of living and working in dangerous, polluted and debilitating conditions. Many came to America to better their fortunes and improve the prospects for their children. They endured harsh conditions and dangers to give their children better choices. The altruism of the laborers for their children built the wealth of America, secured by the organized labor movement pressing for fair wages and safety in the workplace. As the strength of unions has eroded over the last thirty years, the wealth has accumulated again in the top 1% of the population, abetted by government policies and the Citizens United ruling determining that corporations have the rights of “persons” under the law. Corporations are NOT people. They do not bleed. They do not feel love or joy or pain. A government controlled by multinational corporate interests does not act in the public interest to secure the conditions of democracy!

1970 Earth Day Protesters

It is time to take the power of governance back to the people! It is time to recognize that the issue is still jobs. Providing good employment for willing workers to provide for their families is the function of the public and private sectors working together for the greater good of all. The trickle down theory has never worked except to enrich the privilege of the few. In the interest of long -term survival of our species, we must make a transition to new ways of running the economy. Establish value based on the natural capital of the living Earth and cease its exploitation and destruction. Convert energy systems from a fossil fueled economy to renewable and sustainable systems. Make products with green chemistry principles using components and processes that do not

Albatross killed by eating plastic debris

create toxic or poisonous products or by-products. Shift our chemical-dependent agriculture system to regenerative practices based on ecology that restore the fertility of the land and conserve water. These pathways offer the promise of shared benefits in economic opportunities, health benefits and environmental stability for another generation.

The Freedoms my father fought for in World War II will elude Americans of the 21st century if we cannot stand to defend the true values that can unite our nation to a renewed common purpose: to preserve a just and equitable future for those who have no voice at the table today. We must renew the altruism for the unborn and the living things of the Earth who depend on the wisdom of people today. It is only with care and foresight for the fate of the Earth that we will leave a legacy worthy of those who fought for our freedom. We must stand up to tyranny and demand accountability for the true freedoms that make America great. The Woodland Hills Academy seventh graders held a march on Earth Day 2016 to declare that “Guns and Violence Do NOT Define US!” We should heed their passionate leadership!

References:

  1. Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1941 State of the Union Address “The Four Freedoms” (6 January 1941). Voices of Democracy. Oratory Project. https://fdrlibrary.org/four-freedoms
  2. Quadrennial National Climate Assessment, DRAFT. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/08/07/climate/document-Draft-of-the-Climate-Science-Special-Report.html?mcubz=0


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Building an Economy for a Living Earth

Building an Economy for a Living Earth

By Patricia M. DeMarco

April 5, 2017

            The distinguishing feature of man’s activities is that they have almost always          been undertaken with a viewpoint of short-range gain, without considering either       their impact on the earth or their long range effect upon ourselves.

            Rachel Carson[i]

My generation heard President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to put a man on the moon. Seeing the blue, green and white swirled marble of the earth from the perspective of space marked a paradigm shift in our time. For some, this represented the first step on the conquest of yet another frontier, and early speculation about colonizing the moon abounded. Others saw the earth from the distance of space and recognized the fragility of our position. Astronaut Frank Borman of Apollo 8 said, “I think the one overwhelming emotion that we had was when we saw the earth rising in the distance over the lunar landscape . . . . It makes us realize that we all do exist on one small globe. For from 230,000 miles away it really is a small planet.”[1]

Everywhere we look around us we see evidence of our civilization pressing against the limits of the critical resources of the planet. Our time marks a critical turning point for preserving the living system of our earth as a regenerative, bountiful and productive ecosystem. As a species, humans have reached the level of dominating and overtaking the natural world through exploitation, extraction and consumption, burning through natural resources and leaving massive amounts of trash and destruction in our wake. The earth now bears the scars of hundreds of years of such abuse. It is time to recognize the limits to such profligate behavior, and take a different direction. The age of using technology for the conquest of nature must yield to the age of biology, using technology to live in harmony with nature to preserve and regenerate the life support system of the living earth.

Four human behaviors since the industrial revolution have driven our way of living out of balance with natural systems. We consume resources beyond what can be generated by the land we live on. We drive our economy on continuously expanding growth in consumption. We fail to control population growth while using technology to extend life. We generate waste that poisons our life support system. The consequences of these actions in our energy system, food system and materials system, are not compatible with sustaining a living planet.

We have reached this condition by allowing human inventiveness in conquering nature to proceed without restraint. From the earliest of times, human’s ability to manipulate and control the conditions presented in nature contributed to our survival. But once industrialization began, the ability to manipulate natural systems unbalanced the natural flow of energy and materials. It is time, now that we have begun to understand the elegant complexity of natural ecosystems, to take lessons from the natural world to craft our way forward. We must restructure our economy and our civilization to preserve and restore the robust resilience of the natural living world.

To begin thinking about structuring our economy along the principles of an ecosystem, it is important to understand how an ecosystem works. Any area of nature that includes living organisms and non-living substances interacting to exchange materials between the living and non-living parts is an ecological system, or ecosystem.[2] There are many kinds of ecosystems around the world, and at least six major distinct ecosystems within the continental United States, recently mapped by the U.S. Geologic Survey.[3] But all ecosystems operate with four basic constituents.

Ecosystems, whether they are aquatic around ponds and streams or oceans and coast, or whether they are of the forests, grasslands and deserts, all have these four essential parts, and all are circular. The producers convert essential materials into forms that can be used by consumers, and the decomposers return them to the system for use again. The entire process is powered by the sun, and connected by the water in its various forms. Temperature, altitude, and the amount of moisture available shape the different expressions of ecosystems, and determine the number and kinds of species of producers, consumers and decomposers present. The inter-relationships among these parts have evolved into complex food webs coterminous with the evolution of conditions over geologic time. Adaptations and adjustments emerged gradually over millions of years as conditions changed.

Albatross killed by eating plastic debris

Modern ecosystems universally bear the mark of human influence, because the effects of human activity are dispersed around the globe, introducing man-made materials and shifting the balance of natural ecosystems by rapidly adding synthetic materials and the combustion products of fossilized organic materials extracted from the crust of the earth to the atmosphere. Faced with rapidly changing elemental conditions, many species are unable to adapt, and mass extinctions are predicted for our time.[4][5]

The focus of human inventiveness and creativity up to now has used science and technology for increasingly intrusive ways to extract resources from the earth to consume for energy and raw materials for production. The quest for access to and control over the distribution of natural resources extracted from the earth drives our civilization. We have given little consideration to replacing natural resources, or to preserving the ecosystems from which the resources have been wrenched. Our economy takes raw materials to make goods for consumers to buy, and the waste and post-use materials are discarded as trash. This is a linear flow of resources exactly contrary to the operation of ecosystems. However, ecological limits to growth apply to the human constructed economy. Our model is not sustainable, because we are changing the conditions of the non-living and living parts of the human ecosystem, the living planet earth.

The economy defined in this process depends on drawing down natural resource reserves and using economic or physical warfare to take over resources. Power, resources and economic control become concentrated among the few with decreasing quality of life for many. We see this result not only between different countries but also within the United States. The concentration of wealth to the top 5% of the population has occurred with increasing disparity between the conditions experienced by the most wealthy and the least wealthy people.[6] This condition seeds instability, increasing unrest, and stress to the fabric of society. The economic model based on extraction- consumption- waste increases the inequity among people, decreases the quality of life of many people, and increases the conditions for revolt. This economic model also decreases the capacity of natural ecosystems to function in providing the conditions necessary for our life support system.

The critical feature of natural ecosystems is the dynamic equilibrium established among the different parts. Rather than a linear raw material to trash model, ecosystems operate in circular patterns, a steady-state where the waste or output from one level becomes the input or supply for others, and the energy source that drives the process is constantly renewable as long as the solar system exists. The earth’s major nutrients – carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen – are all cycled and recycled in living systems.[7]

To shift our entire economic premise from one based on extraction and exploitation of natural resources to one based on regeneration, system preservation and enhancing the ecological infrastructure requires a change in thinking more than a change in technology. We can build our whole economy around principles of resource preservation, recovery and re-use. This approach cultivates the concept of an economy based on a dynamic equilibrium, rather than an economy based on indefinitely expanding growth.

One major initiative that can shape a more sustainable way forward involves re-defining the structure of the economy away from a model driven by corporate profit motive to one based on corporations operating for social benefit. The New Economy Movement has several manifestations, all gaining momentum in different ways. According to Gar Alperovitz, one of the leaders of the New Economy Movement, “Over the past few decades, a deepening sense of the profound ecological challenges facing the planet and growing despair at the inability of traditional politics to address economic failings have fueled an extraordinary amount of experimentation by activists, economists and socially minded business leaders. … As the threat of a global climate crisis grows increasingly dire and the nation sinks deeper into an economic slump for which conventional wisdom offers no adequate remedies, more and more Americans are coming to realize that it is time to begin defining, demanding and organizing to build a new-economy movement.”[8]

The movement seeks an economy that is increasingly green and socially responsible, and one that is based on rethinking the nature of ownership and the growth paradigm that guides conventional policies.[9] As frustration with the wealth concentration in the top 1% of the economy increases, a wave of community wealth building institutions has begun to swell across the country. People are joining together through a variety of forms such as public, community or employee-owned businesses to meet local needs and thus regain a sense of democratic control. Community development corporations, community banks, social enterprises, community land trusts and employee-owned business and cooperatives emerge as the instruments for building community wealth. Worker owned businesses now include manufacturers, retailers and a number of non-profit organizations. Community Development Corporations can now be found in nearly every major city across the United States. Once limited to redeveloping blighted areas following urban riots or rural neglect, these CDCs produced over 1.6 million units of affordable housing nationwide over the last two decades.[10]

All of these institutions pool capital in ways that build wealth, create living-wage jobs, and anchor those jobs in communities.[11] One of the most significant aspects of this growing movement is the challenge it presents to corporate power. Because the driving imperative in the new economy movement is social benefit, not corporate shareholder profit, the possibility of building a balance against the corporate profit-driven politics of the 20th century is growing. Not since the days of unionized labor pressing for social justice and fairness in distribution of wealth between corporations and workers has there been such a strong voice for the public interest.

The success of businesses and communities that purposefully choose sustainability as a course for building the future shows that the spiral of infinite growth and infinite resource extraction can be transformed. Models of viable, even thriving, economic and social communities illustrate the way forward.

A new economy locally centered and locally invested springs up here in Pittsburgh, and in communities across the country and around the world. Corporations operating for social benefit, not stockholder profit, expand the distribution of wealth among worker-owners. Well being of the community is measured in terms of beneficial economic activity, health of the environment, social equity, and cultural diversity.

 

This essay is condensed from a chapter in the forthcoming book by Patricia M. DeMarco: “Pathways to Our Sustainable Future” with The University of Pittsburgh Press. All rights reserved.

This work is funded by the W. Clyde and Ida Mae Thurman Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation.

 

Endnotes

Rachel Carson “Of Man and The Stream Of Time” June 12, 1962. Commencement address. Scripps College. Claremont, CA. (monograph)Rachel Carson “Of Man and The Stream Of Time” June 12, 1962. Commencement address. Scripps College. Claremont, CA. (monograph)

[1] Frank Borman, Apollo 8, press reports, 10 January 1969.

[2] Eugene P. Odum. Fundamentals of Ecology. 2nd Ed. 1959. Philadelphia. W. B. Saunders Co. Page 10.

[3]   Roger Sayre, Patrick Comer, Harumi Warner, and Jill Cress. A New Map of Standardized Terrestrial Ecosystems of the Conterminous United States. Professional Paper 1768. 2009. U S Geological Survey and the U.S. Department of the Interior. 17 Pages.

[4] Elizabeth Kolbert. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. Henry Holt & Company, LLC. New York. 2014.

[5] E. O. Wilson. “The Future of Life.” The John H. Chafee Memorial Lecture on Science and the Environment. 2nd National Conference on Science, Policy and the Environment. December 6, 2001. Washington, D.C.

[6] US Statistics on wealth distribution from 1900 to 2015

[7] William McDonough and Michael Braungart. Cradle to Cradle – Remaking the Way We Make Things. North Point Press. New York. 2002. Page 92.

[8] Gar Alperovitz. “The New Economy Movement.” The Nation. June 13, 2011. http://www.thenation.com/article/160949/new-economy-movement Accessed May 21, 2015.

[9] Gar Alperovitz. “The New Economy Movement.” The Nation. June 13, 2011. http://www.thenation.com/article/160949/new-economy-movement Accessed May 21, 2015.

[10] Gar Alperovitz. “The Political-Economic Foundations of a Sustainable System.” In: Worldwatch Institute. State of the World 2014: Governing for Sustainability. 2014. Island Press. Washington D.C. Page 196.

[11] Gar Alperovitz. “The Political-Economic Foundations of a Sustainable System.” In: Worldwatch Institute. State of the World 2014: Governing for Sustainability. 2014. Island Press. Washington D.C. Page 195.