Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."


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Mending the Interconnected Web of Life: Endocrine Disruption and Global Chemical Pollution

This paper discusses the close connection between plastic pollution and health of both people and other living systems. It is important to understand the role of plastic in the future plans of the petrochemical industry and why pursuing the proliferation of single use plastics especially will totally undermine attempts to control climate change.

This topic will be discusssed at presentations for The Green New Deal Discussion Group on July 25th and at the Interfaith Power and Light Plastics A to Z session on July 19th.

Here is the presentation to the Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light “Plastics A to Z” forum of July 19, 2021


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Green New Deal – Pittsburgh Discussion Group

Pittsburgh Green New Deal (PGND)is committed to building a mass movement – locally, nationally and globally – to secure implementation a Green New Deal.  This must involve ending and reversing the damage to our environment, while at the same time ensuring union scale jobs with a special focus on Black and Brown people and displaced fossil fuel industry workers, racial justice, health care, housing, mass transit systems, education, and cultural opportunities – in short mutual respect and quality of life for all people. We will work with organizations and individuals who share this commitment. We envision these areas of activity:

(1) educational activity (starting with the summer reading group, then reaching out with broader popular education efforts in community groups, churches, unions, etc.), spreading knowledge and consciousness to advance the Green New Deal;

(2) immediate environmental activity — tree planting and other practical work that can immediately benefit the environment;

(3) building a local coalition, linking up with national forces, to mobilize vigorous on-the-ground campaigns on behalf of the Green New Deal, most immediately seeking to build popular support and momentum for the THRIVE Act.

The structure of PGND is very simple.  It is open to those in agreement with this statement of purpose.  It operates on the democratic principle of one-person-one-vote, with regular membership meetings being the highest decision-making body of our organization, to which all committees or sub-committees established by the organization shall be answerable.

Adopted May 25, 2021h

Summer Reading Group: There were three discussions with author Jonathan Neale based on his book “Fight the Fire: Green New Deals and Global Climate Jobs.” available here  https://theecologist.org/fight-the-fire. Recordings of the completed sessions are below:

1st Session, June 6 — Parts I and II (pages 7-92)https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/5UzaJdf35fChj683F-Dt447WacpXk09V_wSK6AvEqcC6zGT1yQcdRAPwyBb7DtAz.v1PVDvnsMPrGHREc
Access Passcode: Y2gixt%p

2nd Session, June 13 — Parts III and IV (pages 9-201)https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/n0ti0ILEWSr4j819w4V9qARopCebNCQJFQPyY2UtWgJUIY17HbIB1HqxzT2q1W9X.H75FKfG2tCmyfbWi
Access Passcode: RZ!B9fs?

In the month of July and August, The Green New Deal- Pittsburgh group will be discussing Pathways to Our Sustainable Future as a way to evaluate actions in the Green New Deal for implementation. We are looking at both the substantive changes necessary and the social and institutional infrastructure for driving change.

order here: Pathways to Our Sustainable Future: A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. with author Patricia M. DeMarco available from University of Pittsburgh Press or order here https://patriciademarco.com
https://upittpress.org/books/?s=Pathways+to+Our+Sustainable+Future&submit=

Sunday July 11, 2021 at 4:00 to 5:30 PM Part I Connecting to the Living Earth – This discussion centers on the moral and ethical dimensions of transforming the economic and political systems to address climate change and social justice.

Sunday, July 25, 2021 at 4:00 to 5:30 PM Part II Choosing Sustainable Pathways – This discussion covers transformation of major systems: energy, agriculture and materials management. There are contrasting approaches to those taken in Fight the Fire, and there are specific ties to pending legislative initiatives in the U.S. Congress.

Sunday, August 8, 2021 at 4:00 to 5:30 PM. Part III Empowering Change – This discussion will evaluate the role of leadership in driving change; what are the critical components for success? What are the pitfalls and impediments? Discussion based on evaluating the effectiveness of the Peduto Administration in implementing climate actions.

To Participate in this discussion series, CONTACT: Paul LeBlanc <Paul.LeBlanc@laroche.edu>


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The End is the Beginning- The Case for A Circular Materials Management System

I. Cycles and Systems.

As I sit in my study watching fat snowflakes drift past the window, my mind wanders to the warmer times of summer walking through the protected lands of the Allegheny Land Trust. From the depths of the woods, it is easier to feel part of the web of life that holds all of us. The forest ecosystem moves in a succession of interconnected living things toward a climax community, the equilibrium point where the annual production and import of resources exactly matches the annual consumption and export of resources. It is a self-perpetuating condition where the living systems are in perfect harmony with the supporting physical environment. The ant and the snail are no less partners than the mighty maples or the bear that occupy the climax community, all are interconnected and essential for sustained balance. Natural ecosystems progress through a succession unique to each place toward a climax equilibrium. I wonder how much of the Earth would reach this ideal state absent the perturbations of human activity?

Human civilization has not grown with a balanced advance toward a climax equilibrium that natural systems follow. Rather, we have withdrawn massive amounts of raw material from fossil reserves deep in the Earth and converted that material to trash as rapidly as possible to generate economic advantage. Worse, the way we compute value and economic benefit excludes the intrinsic flow of value vested in ecosystems. The global pollution from plastics discarded after a single use epitomizes the mark of modern society. Wasted material, vested with massive amounts of resources, pile up on the shores, in landfills, in the ocean, and blows around in neighborhoods littered with discarded stuff. 

II. Rethinking Plastic in a Circular System – a discussion of alternative materials that can replace plastics, especially for single-use products, and definitions of the different kinds of bio-plastics.

  • There is much discussion about “Bio-Plastic,” but the term can be confusing. Generally, there are two major classes of plastics: (2)
  • – Thermoplastics are a family of plastics that becomes mold- able when heated and hardened upon cooling. They account for over 90% of the mass of plastics produced.27 The most commonly encountered thermoplastics are PE, PP, polystyrene (PS), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), acrylic, nylon, and PET; 
  • – Thermosetting polymers are plastics that have been irreversibly hardened in a way that prevents melting. Most popular thermosets are used as the matrix in fiberglass, polyurethanes (PUR), vulcanized rubber, and urea-formaldehyde foam.
  • – Bio-based plastic polymers are produced from biomass or by living organisms, and they may or may not be biodegradable. 
  • – It is also possible, but more expensive, to produce biodegradable plastics of petrochemical or mixed origin.
  • However, plastic products usually consist not only of the basic polymer but also different often environmentally damaging additives incorporated into a plastic compound, such as plasticizers, flame retardants, antioxidants, acid scavengers, light and heat stabilizers, fillers, lubricants, pigments, antistatic agents, slip compounds, and thermal stabilizers. Depending on the product, these additives can sometimes account for more than 50% of the mass of the final plastic product. (3) 

III. Build the Regulatory Infrastructure for a Circular Materials System -ways to move toward a circular materials management system and policy recommendations to address the market failures that have caused the inundation of plastic waste. The invisible hand of the market will not solve the failures of the current system of materials management.  We must move from a linear value chain to a circular one, modeling our supply sources, production, use and re-use of materials after natural systems. 

IV. Resources and Citations for further study.

You can read the entire paper with illustrations and references here:

–ReImagine Beaver County

— Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Community

— League of Women Voters of PA

— Climate Reality Project

— Breathe Project

are hosting a presentation Bioplastics- Hype or Hope where we will be having discussions about the issue of using bioplastic to replace petrochemical plastic. The events are on March 11 and 25 from 7:00 to 8:30 PM on zoom. Register here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bioplastic-hype-or-hope-registration-141427241687?aff=ebdssbonlinesearch


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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