Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."


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Protecting the Public Interest: The Challenge of Fracking

by Patricia M. DeMarco

6-21-2020

Food and Water Watch sponsored a two part program for municipalities and interested citizens on the Municipal Ordinance Project. As the hydraulic fracturing industry continues its build-out with the hope of expanding a petrochemical industry in Southwestern Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio, and West Virginia, municipalities find themselves confronted by promises of jobs, wealth and prosperity. In fact, the actual results have been less auspicious for many communities. The Municipal Ordinance Project gives communities the tools to develop zoning ordinances the protect community interests, health and safety and infrastructure within the constraints of federal and state law. You can find more about this project here https://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/campaign/municipal-ordinance-project-fighting-fracking-local-level

I presented the case study of the Borough of Forest Hills initial ban on fracking in 2011 and the adoption of stringent regulations of oil and gas industry activity in 2016.

You can see the entire regulation on the Borough of forest Hills Web site here Section 27-1019- Regulations Governing Oil and gas Development and Related Operations https://ecode360.com/31594364

Many communities oppose fracking because of contamination to drinking water supplies

The Borough of Forest Hills sits to the East of Pittsburgh, a bedroom community initially farmed land, then settled as a residential area for Westinghouse executives, engineers and employees. The character of the community remains one of residences nestled among mature trees, with pride in the Tree City status held since 1976. The Comprehensive Plan for Development, updated in 2020 expressions the community vision:

“The Borough of Forest Hills carries a tradition of innovation as the community grows in leadership toward a resilient future. The community values the natural beauty of its environment and enjoys the inclusiveness and diversity of its citizens, offering cultural, recreational, and educational services for all generations in safe and secure neighborhoods.”

Faced with federal law, the Nation energy Act of 2005 with its extensive exemptions from environmental protections and worker safety protections for hydraulic fracturing and State Law- Act 13 that requires communities to provide for oil and gas development, Forest Hills became alarmed about the fear of fracking intruding into the community. This heavy industrial activity is incompatible with residents’ expectations or with the geologic nature of our small borough.

Forest Hills Council investigated fracking through several public meetings and Council hearings through 2010 and 2011. Risks uncovered included, the extensive underlying coal mines in our area, which could be destabilized by seismic testing and hydraulic fracturing activity. We were concerned about the effect of heavy truck traffic on Ardmore Boulevard and Greensburg Pike as the m hundreds of loads of sand, chemicals, water and other materials were transported through our neighborhood. We were concerned about increased possibilities for landslides precipitated by the fracking activity, and we were concerned about effects on the ground water and streams as well as toxic air emissions from fracking operations. •

My support of the ban was based on the fact that there is scientific evidence that this hydraulic fracking causes problems with the environment and problems with health.”

Mayor Marty O’Malley

Forest Hills adopted a ban on Fracking in 2011, resting heavily on the concerns for community health and safety, and relying on the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Article 1, Section 27: “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.”

However, because Pennsylvania has strong legislation supporting oil and gas development requiring that access to mineral rights be provided, there were some court cases that ruled against fracking bans when challenged, and that no lawful land use may be categorically prohibited, Council decided in 2016 to establish a Conditional Use Zoning regulation that would tightly constrain any oil and gas development efforts in Forest Hills. The 23-page zoning ordinance adopted in October 2016 meets the requirements of Pennsylvania law, but provides significant protection for Forest Hills citizens. Any proposed oil and gas development would be absolutely excluded from residential areas, parks, and all but a very small segment of the business district.

Forest Hills Borough pursued the replacement of its functionally limited 1922 municipal building with a passive solar design, solar photovoltaic roofed municipal building that combines the Borough and Council administrative offices, the Forest Hills Police Department, the Forest Hills Branch of the C.C.Mellor Library and a Community Room.

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Forest Hills Borough Net Zero Energy Municipal building operational in January 2018

The Borough of Forest Hills moves forward with planning for a resilient, safe, welcoming community. We will focus on high tech business opportunities and continue to promote local enterprises.


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Facing the Reality of Racism

June 2, 2020

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Martin Luther King, Jr.


My heart is heavy this night as I see once again streets filled with people in peaceful protest being forcefully suppressed by police in military riot gear. We may join in sorrow with the family of George Floyd but know that tears are useless unless we act. Righteous rage at the violent response of authorities to peaceful protests across the land must translate into action.

We as a nation once again must confront the truth of our country: systemic racism is woven in the fabric of America. It is evident in the wealth gap – the health gap – the education gap – the environmental injustice – the inequity inherent in the system of justice. All these injustices persist, even thrive, because we who are wealthy enough, have health care, assume that justice is ours, and experience no overt hatred have allowed such conditions to exist among us. We take care not to see. We go out of our way not to feel.

This day we are called again to confront the worst that is in our society. We cannot hide, pretending that this is not our battle. We must stand with our Brothers and Sisters and acknowledge that the system we all endure has failed. As the workers and townspeople stood together in solidarity to battle unjust and unsafe conditions in the Battle of Homestead in 1892, so we must stand in solidarity and assert the moral truth: Murdering a man for an unproven accusation with complicity from four police officers is wrong. “Innocent until proven guilty” too often does not apply when the accused is a person of color and the enforcers are white. 

The outrage of true Americans has surfaced again from the depths of delusion. Those who marched for Civil Rights in the 60s, celebrated the election of President Barak Obama and rejoiced in the growth of black community leaders now must stand up and join in the demands that call for justice.

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. 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. 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. 

When people have reached the limit of their frustration at a system that does not hear them, the scene is set for a revolt. When people lose confidence in their government to protect their rights and preserve their safety, we descend into chaos. When our leaders use their power for oppression and fear, it is time for all of us to stand up together and say No More! 

It is WRONG for police to fire tear gas, rubber bullets and flash grenades into crowds of people standing together singing for justice. It is wrong to expect people sprayed with tear gas, rubber bullets and flash grenades to behave peacefully! It is wrong to criminalize citizens as the exercise their Constitutional right to protest. 

The power of America is vested through the Constitution in The People – It is time for us to take it back!

Three actions you can take now:

  1. Donate to the Protest Bail Funds: https://www.communityjusticeexchange.org/nbfn-directory
  2. Join The Poor Peoples Campaign founded in 1967 by Martin Luther King, now calling for a Moral March on Washington on June 20, 2020 virtual and realhttps://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org
  3. Volunteer to Get Out The Vote in November 2020.

Other organizations and actions to support:

Patricia DeMarco is Treasurer of the Battle of Homestead Foundation.


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Freedom is Not Free” _ Homage to the Citizen Soldiers of America

America is heralded as “The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.” We assume that government serves the collective public interest and protects the weak and vulnerable from the tyranny of self-interested power. But the concept of “Freedom” exhibited today makes a mockery of the legendary ideals our forefathers fought and died for.  Freedom does not mean we are all free to do whatever we want, wherever we want, whenever we want as a right.  This is not freedom but selfish indulgence.  Freedom is granted as a privilege but implies responsibility and accountability for our actions as they affect others.

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 was a paratrooper in Donovans unit of Special Forces, and later served in the United States Information Service. He 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.  This time of COVID-19 pandemic reveals the injustice embedded n our economic system today: “essential workers” are al the bottom of the wage ladder. People whose work is critical to food supplies, health and basic safety stand out of their own sense of duty in the face of daily danger, yet these are paid least, hold lowest status, and are treated as disposable people. This is not the America my Father and Grandfathers, uncles and brother fought for!

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 COVID virus compounds the insult of having to live in unhealthy places, with no recourse, and no hope of escape. Rolling back basic environmental protections to promote business undermines the basic health and safety of the nation, and the globe as water and air pollution respects no borders. The laws of Nature are not negotiable- physics, chemistry, biology operate whether our laws take science into account or not.

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 or curtailing freedom.

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 united 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. 

We must remember that we are a nation stronger as a community joined in common purpose than 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.

On this Memorial Day 2020, there are few parades, few traditional ceremonies of honor, few gatherings at cemeteries, or family picnics. On this Memorial Day strangely isolated and mourning the 100,000 lost to COVID-19, we can each stand in honorer those who stood for us. We must each take up the burden and the privilege of Freedom to hold that high standard of taking responsibility for our actions, supporting those who hold that space of concern for the least among us, and respect the inherent dignity of each fellow citizen. The mark of a truly free person is the generosity of spirit each shows to others. The mark of a truly free country is measured in the quality of life the least of its people can enjoy.

In homage to the Citizen Soldiers who served to defend America, we can each take up the honor of holding our freedom by holding responsibility for defending it daily, ourselves in our actions, words and deeds. We can hold our freedom by demanding accountability from our leaders to keep the standards of a moral and ethical government.

The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor welcomed my Father and my grandparents to a land of opportunity, a land yet unshackled by the bonds of class and tyranny. We must remember what made America truly great: her people, their hopes, aspirations and collective sense of purpose.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


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Forest Regeneration at the Druid’s Garden Homestead: Forest Hugelkultur, Replanting and More!

Insightful, practical and inspiring piece on forest regeneration. With all the environmental damage inflicted on our forests for human extractive industrial uses, this is an important perspective. I would advocate for policies that REQUIRE a re-forestation plan as a condition for any commercial use of forest land. With Admonitions to consider sustainable uses as a priority, as are suggested in this article showing ways to recover poorly planned logging.

The Druid's Garden

Red Elder – helping the forest recover

The property was almost perfect: in the right location, a natural spring as a water source, a small and nice house with a huge hearth, areas for chickens and gardens, a small pond and a stream bordering the edge of the property….pretty much everything was exactly what we hoped.  Except for one thing: right before selling the property, the previous owners did some logging for profit, taking out most of the mature overstory of trees on 3 of the 5 acres. This left the forest in a very damaged place: cut down trees, lots of smaller limbs and brush, often piled up more than 5-8 feet high in places. I remember when I went to look at the property and started walking the land and just saying, “Why would they do this?”  It hurt my heart. Could I live here, seeing what had…

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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.)


DIVEST!

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

Patricia M. DeMarco

March 6, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What tools are available now to advance this rapid transformation? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Citations and Resources:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Gifts of the Living Earth

by Patricia M.DeMarco, Ph.D.

Fifty years ago, on July 20, 1969 Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, marking the first time humans had stepped out in space: “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”[i] The iconic images of our fragile blue planet spinning in the vast reaches of space cemented the perception of Earth as our only home. This giant leap in perception of the fragility of our planet set the stage for many of the environmental protections written into law in the United States during the 1970s.

The living earth fueled by the power of the sun provides the essential elements of our life support system: fresh air, clean water, fertile ground, and the biodiversity of species that constitute the interconnected web of life, of which humans are but one part. The gifts of the living earth include the many ecosystem services that humans rely on without thinking about them. The supporting services that provide nutrient cycling, soil formation, habitat formation and primary production; the provisioning services that produce food, fuel, wood and fiber and fresh water; the regulating services that temper the climate, control flooding, control pests and diseases, and purify water; and the cultural services that offer spiritual, aesthetic, educational and recreational benefits.[ii] This priceless life support system is in crisis. Burning fossil fuels has accelerated the accumulation of greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, leading to global warming.  Resource extraction to obtain fossil fuels and other minerals has destroyed nearly one third of the natural habitat areas of the earth. Human populations, with life spans extended by modern health treatments, have spiraled beyond the carrying capacity of the natural world as the world’s people increasingly model their behavior after the Western standard of hyper-consumption. These four stresses on the earth have produced the twin existential crises of our time- global warming of the climate and global pollution, especially from plastic materials.

Solving the existential crises of global warming and global pollution is not a technology problem. It is a moral and ethical problem. The laws of Nature are not negotiable. We must change the way our society operates to abide within the laws of Nature in ways that can sustain life on earth. The United Nations Brundtland Commission in 1985 framed the concept of sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This concept implies a commitment to preserve the well-being of future generations on a global basis. 

The most recent United Nations Report of the IPCC[iii] finds that limiting global warming to 1.5°C requires “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air. “Limiting warming to 1.5°C is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes,” said Jim Skea, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III.[iv] Achieving a more sustainable path for modern civilization requires an adjustment of priorities. 

In the current system of the global economy, business decisions and government policies, especially recently in the United States, place highest value on monetary gains, with diminished or minimum weight on environmental and social values. This heavy stress on economic outcome regardless of environmental or social damage or inequity has resulted in rapidly accelerating deterioration of ecosystems, habitat, and quality of life across the country, and in many places around the world.

To achieve a more sustainable civilization for our children, preserving and restoring the ecosystems that provide our life support system must assume a higher value in decision making at all levels. Likewise, to achieve a higher level of equity, justice, and fairness, the social and cultural values that provide quality of life must have higher importance in all levels of decision making.

Pollinators provide essential eco-system service

The industrialized economy takes the basic premise that the resources of the earth are available for exploitation giving profits to investors. The land is not restored or regenerated as part of this process because there is no immediate profit in restoration. Only when regulations require remediation or protection do most corporations indulge in repair of damaged land. Likewise, to maximize profits, labor is paid as little as possible, with investment in machinery to reduce labor costs as much as possible. The entire tax structure and investment reward strategy of our current U.S. economy rests on these concepts.[v]

The earth is a living system of which humans are but one part; not human property to be owned or destroyed for profit. The laws of nature co-evolved over millions of years – chemistry, physics, biological and physiological responses to conditions in the environment -define complex inter-relationships among all living things and connect the living earth elements with the mineral and inert elements. These functions are inherent in living systems, priceless attributes of the living earth that are not reflected in the drivers of the economy. To achieve meaningful and lasting solutions to the existential crises of global warming and global pollution, the laws of nature must be incorporated into the practices of civil society.

Indigenous Peoples all around the world have long recognized the necessity of living within the laws of nature and do so by respecting the rights of the living earth. A gathering of Indigenous Peoples in the People’s Climate Conference at Cochabamba, Bolivia in 2010 adopted a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth that was introduced at the COP-15 meeting in Paris in 2015 arguing for a 1.5°C increase above pre-industrial ceiling for global warming. The goal of a 1.5°C ceiling was incorporated into the Paris Climate Accord of 2015 signed by 195 nations due to these efforts. The justification for this action states in part:

We the Peoples and Nations of Earth are all part of Mother Earth, an indivisible, living community of interrelated and interdependent beings with a common destiny; and … Recognizing that capitalism and all forms of depredation, exploitation, abuse and contamination have caused great destruction, degradation and disruption of Mother Earth, putting life as we know it today at risk through phenomena such as climate change … establish this Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.[vi]

The Universal Rights of the Living Earth

The Indigenous Peoples Congress defined ten Universal Rights of Mother Earth.

  1. The right to life and to exist. The diversity of living plants, animals and micro-organisms on earth have a right to life and to exist. The complex interactions among the parts of ecosystems work best when all the components are in place and functional. Human habitat destruction, exploitation, and life cycle interruption drive hundreds of species to extinction. 
  2. The right to be respected. Indigenous Peoples lived on the Earth for thousands of years in harmony with Nature. Colonial appropriation of lands, especially for resource extraction, has destroyed many cultures. The cultural wisdom of Indigenous Peoples holds great value for guiding the transformation of society.
  3. The right to regenerate bio-capacity and to continue vital life cycles and processes free from human disruption. Human activities have permanently destroyed habitat, for example by converting rain forests to mono-crop plantations. Entire ecosystems have been disrupted by such activities as strip mining and mountaintop removal. Global pollution of air and water have damaged the viability of many living things. North American bird populations have declined by 29% since 1970 due to habitat loss.[vii]
  4. The right to maintain identity and integrity as a distinct self-regulating, and interrelated being. Complex symbiotic systems such as coral reefs, wetlands and rain forests are compromised by human actions both directly by development and exploitation and indirectly by the effects of pollution and global warming. The Great Barrier Reef in Australia has experienced fatal bleaching for 50% of its range. [viii]
  5. The right to water as a source of life. Fresh water is a critical indicator for the viability of all living things on earth. Co-evolution of the integrated living systems currently on earth depend on the availability of fresh water. Over 140 million people are expected to face migration due to prolonged drought caused by climate change by 2050.[ix]
  6. The right to clean air. Air pollution transcends local, regional and continental boundaries. In many parts of the United States, pollution has reduced the distance and clarity of what we see by 70 percent. One in four children in the U.S. have asthma. Global air emissions contribute to global warming, ocean acidification, and particulates
  7. The right to integral health. The concept of health as a universal right recognizes the interconnectedness of physical, psychological, emotional, social and spiritual health. Healthy beings only can exist in a healthy environment. To keep the planet and people healthy, we need food systems designed to protect natural resources, absorb greenhouse gas emissions, provide nutritious and affordable food, and strengthen the resilience and prosperity of rural populations.[x]
  8. The right to be free from contamination, pollution, toxic or radioactive waste. Pollution from the by-products of modern society have contaminated the entire world. There are now 15–51 trillionpieces of plastic in the world’s oceans. Thousands of seabirds and sea turtles, seals and other marine mammals are killed each year after ingesting plastic or getting entangled in it. The fossil fuel industry plans to increase plastic production by 40 percent over the next decade in petrochemical plants across the United States to turn fossil natural gas liquids extracted by hydraulic fracturing into single-use plastic.[xi]
  9. The right to not have genetic structure modified or disrupted in a manner that threatens integrity or vital and healthy functioning. 105 commonly used agricultural pesticides, fungicides and herbicides have endocrine- disrupting effects on wildlife.[xii] In addition, the use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture and other industrial processes compromises wild stocks as pollen travels without restriction on the winds.  
  10. The right to full and prompt restoration from violations caused by human activities. Many environmental harms from extractive industry particularly are not reversible.  Extinction is forever. And for some damages, there is no recovery possible. For example, Mountain top removal mining of thin coal seams has destroyed 500 mountains throughout Appalachia.[xiii] The “restored mine sites have vastly different, less diverse landscapes subject to erosion and acid runoff. 
“Restored” mountain top removal coal mine site in West Virginia. 

The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth articulates an urgent plea for use of the precautionary principle in shaping the relationship of human activity to the natural world. The concept of protecting, and restoring to the extent possible, the natural systems of the earth lies at the heart of preserving the priceless life support systems of the living earth for current and future generations. As Rachel Carson wrote in her essay “On the Pollution of Our Environment,” 

Underlying all these problems of introducing contamination into our world is the question of moral responsibility – responsibility not only to our own generation, but to those of the future.[xiv]

In some cases, the harms to the environment or to living systems may not be known until long after the fact. But in many cases, especially with modern techniques for assessing biologic harm, the potential for harm is either well established, or can be shown to be highly likely. For example, Bristol Bay Alaska is home to the largest wild salmon run in the world. The open pit Pebble Creek Mine, if it begins operation, would end this $1.5 Billion fishery from arsenic contamination.[xv] Arsenic released from mining gold and highly soluble in water, even in minute amounts is toxic to salmon especially as they spawn and in the juvenile stages of growth. The livelihood of over 14,000 people directly depends on the wild runs of salmon, including the subsistence villages of Bristol Bay.[xvi] Even species as abundant as salmon can vanish quickly if critical habitat is lost, or harvesting is heedless of regenerative needs, as happened with the abrupt extinction of the Passenger Pigeon.[xvii] Some harms are not reversible. Extinction is forever.

A Matter of Ethics and Justice

How we as a society address the challenges of climate change is not a matter of technology, but rather a matter of justice and ethical choices on several levels. Most urgently, addressing climate change effectively now is a matter of intergenerational justice. Actions taken or not taken by the current generation will markedly affect the fate of future generations.  While this has always held true in the past, these times are different because actions taken today will have irreversible consequences that compromise options for the future. It is important to recognize that within the range of options available now, there are many choices that will lead to a better future, without relying forever on fossil fuels.  For example, the re-Imagine Beaver project facilitated by the League of Women Voters in Beaver County PA developed a four-part plan for diversifying and renewing the economy as an alternative vision to having the Shell Appalachia Petrochemical Plant dominate the area’s economy.[xviii]

Climate action is also a matter of international justice because the effects of global warming are not evenly distributed around the world.  The richest 10% pf people produce half of the global carbon dioxide emissions, while the poorest 50% of people produce only about 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions.[xix] Globally, the industrialized countries mostly in the northern hemisphere are greatest causes of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, but the greatest damages from resource extraction and global warming occur in the southern hemisphere among poorer nations. Global market drive resource extraction practices that destroy habitat as well.  For example, palm oil used for snack foods devastates 27 million Hectares of tropical rainforest and is endangering hundreds of native plants and animals.[xx] Island nations and coastal areas along all continents are affected by sea level rise, more extreme and frequent storms and tidal surges. Even within single nations such as the United States, climate change has varied geographic effects. Coastal areas suffer flooding and storm surge while other areas suffer from prolonged droughts, wildfires, and advancing deserts. The World Bank estimates there will be 140 million climate migrants fleeing lands made uninhabitable by loss of water due to climate change.[xxi]

People of all faiths all around the world hold common concern for the well-being of people and for the need for justice and equity in interpersonal transactions. As a civilized society, we must consider the present and impending conditions that require understanding, empathy for our fellow beings, and a sense of obligation for the welfare of future generations. We must recognize that the laws of Nature are NOT negotiable. Humans cannot legislate the laws of chemistry or physics or the biologic system responses to changes in the environment.  We must adjust our laws and cultural customs to live in harmony with Nature. The time for exploitation and subjugation of Nature for short term profits is over if we are to survive as a species.

A Transformation for a Better Future

When faced with the alarming facts of the effects of climate change, many people respond with fear. At the hearings on the Clean Power Plan in the summer of 2016, the streets of Pittsburgh were filled with demonstrators on both sides of the proposed action to close coal power plants and move toward renewable energy systems.  Coal miners and their allies in the IBEW, AFL-CIO and trades unions marched 3,500 strong with uniform T-shirts, loudspeakers and goading from Governor Corbett. In contrast, a few hundred assorted environmental activists, mothers with children in strollers, and students gathered on the corner of Grant Street near the Federal Building to chant and sing. This sharply drawn contrast belies the reality under the demonstrations.  Coal miners understand that their work gives them lung diseases and faces a stark future, but their fear stems from knowing that if nobody goes into coal mining, there will be no new workers to support their pensions, health benefits and families. Laws protect corporations in bankruptcy, but as has been evident as Patriot Coal, Murray Coal and others have gone bankrupt, the workers are left with pennies on the dollar to fend for themselves.[xxii] Union strength has eroded significantly, and many workers in the oil and gas fields are not unionized.  Transformation to a sustainable economy must address the entire social fabric of our culture, not just fuel switching.  The human face of the transformation must be a major part of the way forward.  The AFL-CIO statement to the Copenhagen Climate Accord states: “We are asking for a just transition of the workforce that creates decent work and quality jobs.” [xxiii] But the climate crisis is much more complex than a simple transition.  It requires a rearranging of the elements of our society to reach a sustainable civilization, much as the caterpillar becomes a butterfly.

We must make a plan to move to a sustainable future.  The tools for this process are at hand, lacking only the political will to move forward.  There are three principal pathways for our sustainable future:

  • Renewable Energy Systems that conserve and restore resources
  • Regenerative Agriculture for a non-toxic food system that captures carbon in fertile ground
  • Pollution Prevention and A Circular Economy for materials designed for re-use from benign materials.[xxiv]

Steps in the transformation require a comprehensive approach, recognizing that as sustainable systems become more prevalent, the process of adopting them will become more sophisticated and streamlined in practice. Take for example the shift from horse-drawn carriages to motorized vehicles and consider the many adjustments that took place. Rules of the road had to be established to keep drivers from running into each other. Roads had to be paved so vehicles would not become bogged down in mud, and vehicles were licensed to certify drivers. An entire fuel delivery and supply infrastructure had to be established. Horseshoe operations, blacksmiths, tack shops and buggy makers all saw the decline and extinction of their business. Now, as we look at a transformation of the energy system to renewable resources, we have similar adjustments facing us. The utility interface changes when the customers also produce energy some or all of the time. Zoning issues and building codes become a consideration if net zero energy buildings are to become standard practice. Converting the energy system from a fossil-based operation to a renewable energy system will require attention to micro-grid integration using artificial intelligence to balance load and supply and offers the new utility service function of storage and load leveling. Technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells and anaerobic digestion of waste to make non-fossil methane or hydrogen become more economic options. Similar changes will need to occur in food systems, transportation and materials management.[xxv]

The transformation to a society living in harmony with nature will place priority on protecting biodiversity in all areas of the world, as an excellent indicator for the health of the complex ecosystems that comprise Earth’s life support system. We are facing a critical time in which we will choose the fate of our living Earth for hundreds of years into the future. In making the critical choices about energy and all resource management, we must place greater value on the living things, rather than on the short-term profits to corporations as the dominant driver. The plan. For a just transition must address the needs of people caught in the transition- the oil, gas, and coal workers especially, who will need to transition to new ways of working in new fields. Just and equitable solutions will need to include protecting pensions, health benefits and re-training for existing workers. A companion to a policy of re-investing in communities can empower people to re-structure our society with a more diverse and locally responsible economy.

We need a new system of governance that relies on a doctrine of public trust for natural resource management. In such a system, common resources are managed for the long-term benefit of the whole of society collectively, rather than to be owned and divided to profit individuals or corporate owners. A particular major change in this approach would place the ecosystem services, mostly on the surface of the earth, as priority for protection above the rights for extracting mineral deposits from deep underground. Such an approach recognizes the priceless value of the services the living earth delivers to all living things for free, as conditions of mutual support.  We can transform our society to align with the natural cycles of resource use, recovery and re-use, rather than changing raw material to trash as rapidly as possible.

The Moral Imperative

Humanity now faces global crisis conditions: Carbon Dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have reached at 412 parts per million, the highest level in 650,000 years; 2019 is the hottest year on record since 2001; Arctic ice sheets are decreasing at 12.8% per decade; and coastal flooding worldwide is common as sea levels rise and oceans warm.[xxvi] Storms, wildfires, and prolonged drought conditions affect broad areas of the world. In the face of these dire facts, children all over the world have stood up to plead for action on climate to protect their future.  How can we ignore the pleas of our children as they protest, file lawsuits, demonstrate and march for the right to live on a viable planet?[xxvii]

There are no technological barriers to making rapid and meaningful changes toward sustainable climate solutions. All of the technologies necessary to address the major sources of global warming and global pollution are in hand and will only improve in effectiveness as they become more widely adopted. Only the political will to act stands in the way of transforming our economy. Over 73% of Americans want action on climate change but are deeply divided on partisan lines (67% of Democrats and 21% of Republicans)[xxviii] The U. S. Constitution vests the power of government in The People. We have the power to act to save our world.

The best way to move forward is to remember that we are more alike in our common humanity than different in political stance, race, gender, religion or culture. If we protect the rights of the living Earth and connect our own fate to the fate of the natural world, we will find the courage to make the necessary changes. The result will be a better future and the legacy of a renewed sense of wonder in the miracle of creation. Each person can act. Each person matters in the great interconnected web of life. Here is Rachel Carson’s conservation pledge:

I pledge myself to preserve and protect America’s fertile soils, her mighty forests and rivers, her wildlife and minerals, for on these her greatness was established, and her strength depends.[xxix]

Decide to leave our children a living Earth. Thank you.

Photograph courtesy of Kirsi Jansa

Presented to Integrity of Creation Conference: toward a Healthy Planet at Duquesne University on September 25, 2019

Citations and Sources

[i]  Associated Press. “Armstrong’s “one small step” quote explained.” Navy Times. July13, 2019. https://www.navytimes.com/news/your-navy/2019/07/13/armstrongs-famous-one-small-step-quote-explained/  Accessed September 23, 2019.

[ii]  Robert Costanza, Ralph d’Arge, Rudolf de Groot, Stephen Farber, Monica Grasso, Bruce Hannon, Karin Limburg, Shahid Naeem, Robert V. O’Neill, Jose Paruelo, Robert G. Raskin, Paul Sutton, Marjan van den Belt. “The Value of the World’s Ecosystem Services and Natural capital.” Nature387: 253-260 (1997) https://www.nature.com/articles/387253a0#auth-2  Accessed September 19, 2019. 

[iii] United Nations Environment Programme (2019). Emissions Gap Report 2019. UNEP, Nairobi. https://www.unenvironment.org/resources/emissions-gap-report-2019   Accessed September 19, 2019.

[iv] IPCC. “Global Warming of 1.5°C, an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.” October 8, 2018. https://www.ipcc.ch/2018/10/08/summary-for-policymakers-of-ipcc-special-report-on-global-warming-of-1-5c-approved-by-governments/   Accessed September 18, 2019.

[v] United Nations. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. New York. September 2015. https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/?menu=1300 Accessed September 19, 2019.

[vi] World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. “Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth.” Cochabamba, Bolivia, April 22, 2010 https://therightsofnature.org/wp-content/uploads/FINAL-UNIVERSAL-DECLARATION-OF-THE-RIGHTS-OF-MOTHER-EARTH-APRIL-22-2010.pdf  Accessed September 19, 2019. 

[vii] Kenneth V. Rosenberg, Adriaan M. Doktor, Peter J. Blancher, John R. Sauer, Adam C. Smith, Paul A. Smith. “Decline of the North American Avifauna.” Science. 4 Oct 2019. Vol 366, Issue 6461, pp 120-124. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2019/09/18/science.aaw1313

[viii] Terry P. Hughes, James T. Kerry, Andrew H. Baird, Sean R. Connolly, Tory J. Chase, Andreas Dietzel, Tessa Hill, Andrew s. Hoey, Mia O. Hoogenboom, Mizue Jacobson, Ailsa Kerswell, Joshua S. Madin, Abbie Mieog, Allison S. Paley, Morgan S. Pratchett, Gergley Torda, & Rachel M. Woods. “Global warming impairs stock-recruitment dynamics of corals.” Nature. 18 April 2019. Nature Vol. 568. Pages 387-401. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1081-y.epdf  Accessed September 19, 2019.

[ix] Rigaud, Kanta Kumari; de Sherbinin, Alex; Jones, Bryan; Bergmann, Jonas; Clement, Viviane; Ober, Kayly; Schewe, Jacob; Adamo, Susana; McCusker, Brent; Heuser, Silke; Midgley, Amelia. 2018. Groundswell : Preparing for Internal Climate Migration. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/29461  License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.  Accessed September 19, 2019. 

[x] World Health Organization. World Health Statistics 2018: Monitoring Health for the SDGs. https://www.who.int/gho/publications/world_health_statistics/2018/en/  Accessed September 19, 2019.

[xi] Center for Biological Diversity. “Ocean Plastics Pollution: A Global Tragedy for Our Oceans and Sea Life.”  https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/ocean_plastics/   Accessed September 20, 2019.

[xii] Mnif, Wissem & Ibn hadj hassine, Aziza & Bouaziz, Aicha & Bartegi, Aghleb & Thomas, Olivier & Roig, Benoit. (2011). Effect of Endocrine Disruptor Pesticides: A Review. International journal of environmental research and public health. 8. 2265-303.  https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51508758_Effect_of_Endocrine_Disruptor_Pesticides_A_Review  Accessed September 18, 2019. 

[xiii] Appalachian Voices. “Mountaintop Removal 101.” http://appvoices.org/end-mountaintop-removal/mtr101/

Accessed September 19, 2019. 

[xiv] Rachel Carson.  “The Pollution of Our Environment.” In Linda J. Lear (Ed.) Lost Woods – The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson. Beacon Press. Boston. 1998. Pages 228-245.

[xv] Businesses for Bristol Bay. Economic Impact.   https://www.b4bb.org/economic-impact   Accessed September 20, 2019. 

[xvi] Earthjustice. “Bristol Bay Salmon threatened by Pebble Creek Mine.” October 9, 2019.  https://earthjustice.org/features/alaska-s-bristol-bay-the-pebble-mine  Accessed December 7, 2019.

[xvii] Patricia M. DeMarco. “Moving Targets- A Reflection on a Century Passing. March 13, 2015. https://patriciademarco.com/2015/03/13/moving-targets-a-reflection-from-a-century-passing/

[xviii] Mark Dixon, Heather Haar, Andre Goes, Joanne Martin, Connor Mulvaney, Sophie Riedel. Re-Imagine! Beaver County. Spring 2019.  https://breatheproject.org/app/uploads/1970/01/920114-LWVP-Re-Imagine-Beaver-County-Book.pdf   Accessed September 19, 2019.

[xix] Timothy gore. Extreme Carbon Inequality. 2 December 2015. Oxfam International.  https://oi-files-d8-prod.s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/file_attachments/mb-extreme-carbon-inequality-021215-en.pdf  Accessed September 20, 2019. 

[xx] Rainforest Rescue. “Palm oil- deforestation for everyday products.”  https://www.rainforest-rescue.org/topics/palm-oil  Accessed December 7, 2019.

[xxi] Rigaud, Kanta Kumari; de Sherbinin, Alex; Jones, Bryan; Bergmann, Jonas; Clement, Viviane; Ober, Kayly; Schewe, Jacob; Adamo, Susana; McCusker, Brent; Heuser, Silke; Midgley, Amelia. 2018. Groundswell : Preparing for Internal Climate Migration. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/29461

 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.  Accessed December 7, 2019.

[xxii]  Matt Egan. ‘Nervous and scared” – Coal Workers Fear for Pensions after Murray Coal Bankruptcy. CNN Business. New York.  November 1, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/01/business/murray-energy-coal-bankruptcy-pension/index.html  Accessed December 7, 2019. 

[xxiii] International Trade Union Confederation. Resolution on Climate Change action. July 12, 2018.  https://www.ituc-csi.org/the-4th-ituc-world-congress-20807    Accessed September 19, 2019. 

[xxiv] Patricia M. DeMarco. Pathways to Our Sustainable Future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh Press. Pittsburgh PA. 2018.

[xxv] Patricia DeMarco. Pathways to Our Sustainable Future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, 2018. Pages 193-210.

[xxvi] United States Environmental Protection Agency. Climate Change Indicators in the United States 2016. Fourth Edition.  https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/climate-change-indicators-us-and-global-temperature  Accessed September 19, 2019.

[xxvii] Juliana VS. United States https://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/juliana-v-us Over 400 such lawsuits are pending at various stages in the United States courts. 

[xxviii] Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., Rosenthal, S., Kotcher, J., Bergquist, P., Ballew, M., Goldberg, M., & Gustafson, A. (2019). Climate change in the American mind: April 2019. Yale University and George Mason University. New Haven, CT: Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. https://www.climatechangecommunication.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Climate_Change_American_Mind_April_2019b.pdf  Accessed September 19, 2019. 

[xxix] Linda J. Lear. Rachel Carson – Witness for Nature. Henry Holt & Company. New York. 1997. Page 137.


Two Visions for Our Future: “Water is Life” vs. “Water Drives Fracking”

by Patricia DeMarco

November 15, 2019

Water Keepers Demonstration October 23, 2019 photo credit to Kirsi Jansa

Fresh water lies at the nexus of the existential crises of our time- global warming and global pollution. Two mutually exclusive visions for the future played out on the streets of Pittsburgh this October. The Shale Insight Conference at the David Lawrence Convention Center gathered gas and petrochemical industry corporations, workers, and supporters to share development plans and hear President Trump present his vision for this area as “the energy hub of America.” Throughout the day, three protests organized by Bend the Arc, the Indigenous People Water Protectors, and the Women’s Climate March demonstrated against the petrochemical build-out plans calling for protection of the water. A week later, Mayor Peduto speaking at the P4 Climate Summit decried the petrochemical build-out in Western Pennsylvania as a backwards looking development and painted a vision for a more resilient and sustainable future for the region. The two messages define the great divide that is pulling America apart, but within the controversy, elements of common ground have the potential to unite all of us in common purpose – to secure the future for our children.

Two points of contrast emerge from this dichotomy: What do we value? Who profits and who pays? We may find common ground when we consider What is our legacy?

What do we value?

Pittsburgh sits at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers whose waters flow together to form the Ohio River and then into the Mississippi River. We are part of the great Mississippi River drainage that serves nearly one third of the American mainland. This geographic distinction held this place we call Pittsburgh as a center for commerce, trade and civilization from ancient times forward, long before the French and British battled for dominance here at the Point. 

For the Indigenous Peoples gathered here to celebrate the life-force of fresh water, unity with the land, the earth, the sky and the water is essential for all life. Preserving these elements of Nature is a sacred trust handed from one generation to the next for seven generations. As the water blessing ceremony began, Cheryl Angel spoke most passionately in her own Lakota tongue of the unifying force of water. “Water is Life. Without it we cannot live, so it is our sacred duty to protect the water, to keep it running free and pure for our time, and for our children and their grandchildren.”  The concept of connection to the water, the air, the land is embedded in the civilization of the Standing Rock Sioux, as expressed by Guy Jones, “The drums share the heartbeat of the Earth, our provider. Peace is our goal, at all costs, but we have no peace from the invasion of pollution, from the poison of industries and mining. We have no peace from the taking of the water and the taking of our land.” As the ceremony unfolded to the drumming and chanting and dancing of the tribal leaders, water samples brought for sharing were arranged in a circle, co-mingled and blessed, then poured into the rivers’ confluence as a symbolic unity with the waters of the entire Mississippi system. We who stood here in solidarity with this ancient ritual are moved with the solemnity and the significance of this tradition – holding sacred the priceless gifts of the living Earth: fresh water, clean air, fertile ground and the many species that constitute the interconnected web of life.

For the Standing Rock Sioux, the Seminole, the Algonquin, the Tribes of the Iroquois Nation, humans are essentially part of nature, not dominant over nature. The sufficiency of all in the community depends on the interdependence of each person. Each contributes for the benefit of the whole, and the community is celebrated as a unit. Decisions honor the ways of the past, recorded in the wisdom of Elders, and consider the implications for seven generations forward. The obligation to protect the water, the land, the resources of Earth is a sacred duty. They speak for all of the people who rely on fresh water as a critical need for life. They speak for all of us and the yet to be born children of the 21stcentury.

By contrast, the Shale Gas Industry sees water as a component of production, taken for free from the surface waters at a tremendous rate. Each event of hydraulic fracturing in a deep shale well takes 500,000 gallons of fresh water. The coexistence of abundant water resources with the deep shale seams of the Marcellus and Utica gas deposits makes the Western Pennsylvania corridor attractive for this industry.  

As the increase in frequency and severity of storms in the Gulf Coast has damaged or destroyed infrastructure for petrochemical production, the industry scans north and east to this region for the resources it needs to produce gas, and plastic. The federal and state rules that strive to protect water- The Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and several others, were suspended for hydraulic fracturing industries by the “Haliburton Loophole” in the National Energy Act of 2005. This permits the process of slick-water hydraulic fracturing to inject water laced heavily with salt (1,300 times more concentrated salt than sea water) and a cocktail of chemicals and fine sand that make it possible to extract gas from deep underground. Water that comes up to the surface with the gas becomes heavily contaminated not only with the chemicals introduced but also with materials extracted from the deep shale formations, including radioactive Boron, hydrocarbons, and minerals. 

To the petrochemical industry, the water has value as a cheap production element to be used and discarded with minimum concern for the by-products. The methane (natural gas) produced from fracking is used for heating and cooking, and large amounts are liquefied and set for export to other countries. The liquids (ethane and other components of “wet gas”) are destined for the petrochemical industry, a much more lucrative undertaking that makes polypropylene plastic pellets, the precursors to many products such as food packaging, film, trash bags, diapers, toys, crates, drums, bottles, food containers and housewares.

As of 2019, the gas production from fracking fails to return sufficient profits to continue the capital-intensive process, but, the expectation for producing plastic from the hydrocarbon liquids produced with the gas keeps this industry rolling forward.[1] In addition to the 17,000 wells already drilled in Pennsylvania, the industry expects to need 1,000 fully producing wells annually to serve the contemplated plastics production enterprise they plan for a petrochemical hub in Western PA, Eastern Ohio and West Virginia. The Shell Appalachia Petrochemical facility under construction in Mercer County will produce 2.2 million tons per year of carbon dioxide, emissions of greater than major facility thresholds for emissions of 100 tons per year of NOx, 100 tons per year of particulates, and 50 tons per year of volatile organic compounds such as benzene.[2] The company plans to buy carbon offsets to abate its emissions, so sees no problem in producing so much greenhouse gas from the plant. The plant will produce 1.6 million metric tons per year of polyethylene plastic pellets, much of it destined for discard within 24 hours of first use.  There is no plan for recapturing or recycling any of this material. “Where we are coming from is that plastic, in most of its forms, is good and it serves to be good for humanity,” according to Hilary Mercer, who is overseeing the construction project for Shell.[3]

Who Profits and Who Pays?

The fossil industries profit. Certainly, the petrochemical companies that are investing in this enterprise have stacked the cards in their own favor as much as possible to produce profits for their corporations and shareholders.  Three principal tools have generated the profits to the fossil industries: direct and indirect federal subsidies extending back as far as 1837, state and local tax incentives, and abatement of environmental regulations at both the federal and state levels.

According to the Office of Management and Budget report of Subsides to Oil, Gas and Coal Industry, in 2018 taxpayers paid $20.5 Billion/year in direct production subsidies for oil, gas and coal extraction.[4] Permanent Investment Tax Credits for oil, gas, coal of $7.4 Billion/year are included in the federal budget. This is compared to $1.3 billion in Investment Tax Credits for renewables, which need to be specifically reauthorized every five years. Oil and gas companies also receive indirect subsidies such as drilling cost deductions for oil and gas, valued at $2.3 billion per year, and other accounting advantages such as:

•Excess of percentage over cost depletion ($1.5 billion)

•Master Limited Partnerships tax exemption ($1.6 billion)

•Last-in, first-out (LIFO) accounting ($1.7 billion)

•Lost royalties from onshore and offshore drilling ($1.2 billion)

•Low-cost leasing of coal-production in the Powder River Basin ($963 million)[5]

In 2015, the U.S. spent $649 billion on direct and indirect fossil industry subsidies, more than the federal spending for the entire defense budget and ten times more than the federal spending for education.[6] State level subsidies also support fossil industries. For example, Pennsylvania provided $3.2 Billion in tax breaks and direct grants for fossil industries during fiscal year 2012-2013 alone.[7] Specific projects such as the Shell Appalachia Petrochemical plant have received commitments of $1.6 Billion in subsidies and tax incentives. Subsidies matter. According to an International Monetary Fund study issued in 2018, 50% of yet-to-be-drilled oil and gas wells are not profitable (at $50/barrel oil price) if they do not have tax preferences.[8]

Relief from environmental regulation also comprises a significant profit to fossil development, especially to the hydraulic fracturing industry. From the first major environmental regulation packages of the 1970s, industry has steadily objected, protested and lobbied to erode environmental restrictions.  What the public sees as protections of vital resources such as clean air and safe drinking water and important natural resources, industry sees as a cost without benefit or a negative salvage value. The “Haliburton Loophole” was adopted with minimum scrutiny and debate, giving the fracking industry advantages not enjoyed by oil, coal or any other major industry with regard to pollution controls. While the dynamic tension between public interest and private profits has always played out within the regulatory system, under the Trump Administration, most regulatory agencies now have major industry leaders at the head. 

The result is that eighty-five significant environmental regulations have been rolled back as of December 2018, including provisions of the Endangered Species Act, provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Clean Power Plan- Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines.[9] The stated objective of regulatory rollbacks, such as changing the oil and gas rules to eliminate control of methane emissions, is “to remove regulatory requirements that are not appropriate to regulate, and will reduce unnecessary regulatory duplication, saving $85 million in regulatory costs from 2019 to 2025.”[10]

The people pay. 

Fracking and the petrochemical buildup to produce plastics threaten prospects for addressing global warming and global pollution.  The plastics industry based on raw materials extracted from fossil gas deposits will accelerate both global warming by producing tons of greenhouse gas emissions throughout the production cycle, and the product of this operation will contribute tons of plastic materials to the waste stream contaminating the oceans and landfills. Industry analysts and labor unions look at the immediate jobs scenario, projected to last for 20 years with escalating levels of manufacturing associated with the petrochemical operations. The cost of this industrial expansion comes from the climate impact, environmental degradation, and deterioration of worker and public health and safety. 

The regulatory policies applied to fracking for natural gas and petrochemical production support destruction of the natural environment. Environmental damage to land and ecosystems is the inevitable consequence of the fracking process from the hydraulic fracturing itself, the pipelines, separation facilities, transportation and production infrastructure. Fracking fragments forests, compromises wetlands, destroys watersheds, emits methane and fugitive hydrocarbon pollutants, and contaminates land with deposits of particulates, radioactive material and organic compounds. 

Removing millions of gallons of fresh water from the surface flows of rivers and streams of Pennsylvania to pump underground for hydraulic fracturing will have long-lasting consequences for the geology of the area.  Stream paths will be re-directed, groundwater recharge rates will be affected, and plumes of heavy salt will travel through the hydrology of the area.  Unknown consequences of this massive redistribution of the water flows will impose both tangible costs to communities as they struggle to assure safe drinking water supplies and indirect costs in the loss of functioning ecosystems. Taxpayers and communities will pay for the transient profits of these multi-national corporations for generations into the future. 

The single Shell Appalachia Petrochemical plant under construction in Beaver County now will send out enough pollution and greenhouse gasses to totally obliterate the climate action efforts of the entire surrounding area. The complex of such facilities touted at the Shale Insight Conference would doom this whole area to a future devoid of hope for reaching any meaningful response to the climate crisis and the global plastics pollution crisis that is compromising the very existence of life on earth. The profits will enrich a few multi-national corporations, who will pay as little as possible to their workers, and as little as they can manage to the communities, with extended tax credits and subsidies from the tax payers of the state and nation.  

Meanwhile, the costs of failing to address or mitigate the effects of climate change extract an enormous cost from all of us. A summary of the principal economic effects of failing to address climate change was reported in the fourth congressional climate Assessment. [11]

  • Labor Losses: Heat-induced productivity reduction costs $160 billion in lost wages a year
  • Higher Energy Costs: $87 billion a year by 2100 due to mounting demand on a power system made less reliable by extreme weather.
  • Infrastructure damages: Coastal areas face $507 billion worth of real estate from risk of being inundated by rising sea levels by 2100.  
  • Inland infrastructure damage: Inland flooding could destroy thousands of bridges by 2050 at a cost of $1.2 to $1.4 Billion/year in addition to landslides and collapsing roadways from storm damage and super-saturation of the soil;
  • Shrinking Environmental capital: industries dependent on functioning ecosystems such as fishing face  huge losses, for example $230 million/ year in loss on shellfish harvests alone.
  • Recreation and tourism losses: $140 Billion/year recreation industry losses from disappearing coral reefs alone, and cold-water fishing and skiing would also be affected.
  • Agricultural productivity losses: the drought of 2012 alone cost $14.5 billion as determined by crop failure insurance payments.
  • Health Effects: stress from extreme weather both cold and heat, affect the health of humans affected both in direct ways from heat stress, asthma, respiratory afflictions and allergies to indirect effects of chronic stress, economic loss, and increased disease vectors.

The costs of continuing this intense investment in extending the fossil-based industries far into the future will have catastrophic effects on our ability to mitigate climate change in our communities.

What is our legacy?

This area has seen the boom and bust cycle repeatedly over its history, most recently in the dramatic decline of steel and heavy manufacturing in the 1970-1980 decade.  The population fell, unemployment reached 25% among those who stayed, and the city was close to bankruptcy.  This was an industrial transition without a plan, without consideration of the social and environmental justice issues, and without compassion for the human suffering.  The trauma and scars of that time run deep and linger to this day. People see system change as fraught with danger. The myth that air and water pollution are inevitable, if not necessary, side effects to having good jobs is well entrenched in the culture of Pittsburgh.

We can take many important lessons from the trauma of that sad time. First is to recognize that powerful industries will shape the social conditions for their success without regard for the impact on individuals, communities, or future citizens.  They will shape the laws to their advantage for as long as they can. The net effect of regulations today is to protect polluters and criminalize protestors. Taxpayer subsidies originally applied to encourage the public convenience and necessity of certain enterprises have not been reviewed and evaluated for current conditions. Do subsidies to multi-national corporations with annual profits in excess of the gross domestic product of many countries really support a public convenience and necessity when the result is increased pollution and global warming?

Second, workers are rarely paid what they deserve; they are paid what they negotiate.  Unions had a major role in obtaining fair wages, safe working conditions and humane hours through battle with the barons of the industrial revolution.  Now, the strength of unions has been undermined and eroded by the same forces that offer good wages on the condition of workers enduring the effects of lax environmental and public health and safety regulations. The fraught labor movement has alienated entrepreneurs and innovative companies emerging in the renewable energy arena, and in the high technology industries as well.  Do we need a better model for determining a fair wage, or is there another way to reflect the value for “the public convenience and necessity” in moving away from a fossil-based economy?

Third, we must recognize that the laws of nature are not negotiable.  The laws of chemistry, physics, and the biological responses to changes in the physical environment cannot be changed by human declarations or wishes.  Our laws and actions must conform to the laws of nature, or we will join the growing list of living things that are going extinct in the face of a warming planet. Increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere increase the temperature of the planet by holding the sun’s radiation close to the surface. Increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere cause increased acidity in the oceans as the carbon dioxide absorbs into the water. Changes in the currents of air and water affect the weather patterns and the water cycle in ways that disrupt established patterns of land use and human habitation as well as habitat for creatures all over the globe.  

Pittsburgh is on a new path, one that leads to a vibrant, more resilient and sustainable economy with greater hope for equity and environmental stability. Quoting Mayor Peduto’s statement to the P4 Climate Summit,

“These are the facts: In Pennsylvania there are twice as many workers employed by the clean energy industry than by fossil fuel producers. There are more clean energy workers in Allegheny County than any other county in the state, including Philadelphia. The plans the City of Pittsburgh has adopted to cut carbon emissions in half are projected to add 110,000 full-time equivalent jobs by 2030. Pittsburgh has transitioned to a technology-based economy, with its tech firms attracting almost $4 billion in investments the last 10 years – $2.3 billion of which has come in just the last five years, much of it focused on the autonomous vehicle and robotics sectors. …  Pittsburgh has willed itself into economic rebirth after its near death. It joins the world in valuing our future over reliving the past.” [12]

We face a critical inflection point where the ecological balance shifts to a new equilibrium that is hostile to life as it has evolved over the last five million years. The invisible hand of the market will not drive the fundamental transformation that is required to maintain climate conditions in a temperature range that supports today’s living things, including humans.  We must apply the moral judgment to make decisions that will sustain a living planet for the future. Where we choose to make investments and what we choose to enable by law will determine the fate of our children. The greatest tragedy of the Haliburton Loophole is the huge diversion of capital and expectations from a path that sustains life to one of destruction. The enormous subsidies and incentives showered on the multi-national corporations of the petrochemical industry foreclose investment in sustainable, resilient development initiatives within communities.  This lost opportunity cost of the fracking/petrochemical industry is a moral decision to destroy the future rather than to preserve it. 

When empowered to decide on what kind of future is desired for communities, people develop exciting plans.  In Johnstown, Beaver, Butler, Meadville and Erie, communities are working to re-define their future. For example, The Re-Imagine Beaver County project facilitated by the League of Women Voters gathered community members and leaders throughout Beaver County over an eighteen- month period.[13] The strategies that evolved from this work established a community vision that is not dependent on a single fossil-based industry but rather establishes a diversified base of businesses in many different industries. The plans call for investing in Energy Innovation, Green Chemistry Eco-Industrial Parks, Sustainable Agriculture and Riverfront Development centered on restoration and natural resources.  The community is moving forward to implement this vision, with the premise that if the $1.6 billion in incentives given to the Shell Petrochemical complex were invested in communities instead, this vision would be readily accomplished for far less. 

The way forward:

We face two visions for the future- one where preserving fresh water symbolizes a civilization that recognizes the value of the living Earth and preserves it as the provider of our life support system and one where water is a production medium and land is to be exploited for transient profits. I close with Rachel Carson’s prescient comment at the end of Silent Spring:

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we travel at great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road – the one less traveled by – offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth.”[14]

The pathways to a sustainable future and the technologies we need to pursue them are at hand.  We are not facing a technology crisis, but rather a crisis of ethics.  Will we leave a legacy of a living earth for our children, or will we remain focused on immediate profits and condemn our children to a future hurtling toward certain destruction of life? Imagine what we can accomplish if we invest in the future instead of subsidizing the past.

Sources and Citations


[1]  Rebecca Elliot, Christopher Matthews. “Oil and Gas Bankruptcies Grow as Investors Lose Appetite for Shale.” The Wall Street Journal. August 30, 2019.  https://www.wsj.com/articles/oil-and-gas-bankruptcies-grow-as-investors-lose-appetite-for-shale-11567157401 Accessed November 7, 2019.

[2] Air Quality Plan Approval Application – Petrochemicals Complex.  Shell Chemical Appalachia LLC Beaver County, Pennsylvania. May 2014.  Submitted to PA Department of Environmental Protection. https://gasp-pgh.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Shell-Petrochemicals-Complex-Plan-Approval-Application.pdf

[3] Michael Corkery. “Deluged by Plastics but Bustling to Make More.” New York Times. Aug. 12, 2019, Section A, Page 1 of the New York edition. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/12/business/energy-environment/plastics-shell-pennsylvania-plant.html Accessed October 23, 2019.

[4] For a fuller discussion of oil and gas subsidies and effects see  https://patriciademarco.com/2019/05/23/green-jobs-and-a-living-planet-make-it-happen/

[5] http://priceofoil.org/2017/10/03/dirty-energy-dominance-us-subsidies

[6] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesellsmoor/2019/06/15/united-states-spend-ten-times-more-on-fossil-fuel-subsidies-than-education/#414b6e784473

[7] https://www.pennfuture.org/Files/News/FossilFuelSubsidyReport_PennFuture.pdf

[8] David Coady, Ian Parry, Nghia-Piotr Le, and Baoping Shang. Global Fossil Fuel Subsidies Remain Large: An       Update Based on Country-Level Estimates.  International Monetary Fund Working Paper, Fiscal Affairs Department. May 2019. https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WP/Issues/2019/05/02/Global-Fossil-Fuel-Subsidies-Remain-Large-An-Update-Based-on-Country-Level-Estimates-46509 Accessed November 7, 2019.

[9]  Harvard University. Environmental and Energy Law Project. Regulatory Rollback Tracker. https://eelp.law.harvard.edu/regulatory-rollback-tracker/  Accessed November 7, 2019.

[10] https://www.post-gazette.com/business/powersource/2019/08/13/Shell-cracker-Trump-protesters-plastics-ethane-oil-gas-Beaver-EPA-regulations-pennsylvania/stories/201908130059

[11] USGCRP, 2018: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II [Reidmiller, D.R., C.W. Avery, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, K.L.M. Lewis, T.K. Maycock, and B.C. Stewart (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, 1515 pp. doi: 10.7930/NCA4.2018.

 https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/downloads/NCA4_2018_FullReport.pdf  Accessed November 7, 2019.

[12] Oliver Morrison. “Peduto Speaks Out Publicly for the first time against a petrochemical expansion in western Pennsylvania.” Public Source. October 30, 2019. https://www.publicsource.org/peduto-speaks-out-publicly-for-the-first-time-against-a-petrochemical-expansion-in-western-pennsylvania/ Accessed November 7, 2019.

[13] Re-Imagine! Beaver County. Joanne Martin, Heather Haar, Mark Dixon, Andre Goes, Connor Mulvaney, Sophie Reidel. Funded by Colcom Foundation, Heinz Endowments, League of Women voters of Pennsylvania Citizen Education Fund, Three Rivers community Foundation. Spring 2019.

[14] Rachel Carson. Silent Spring. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston. 1962. Page 277.