Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."


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Clairton Coke Works- An Air Quality Challenge

The Borough of Forest Hills voted to file the enclosed statement in support  of the Allegheny County Health Department Recommendations for better air quality in our area.  The comment period is open until February 28. Statements of support can be sent to jdawes@pahouse.net 


February 20, 2019
To: PA House and Senate Democratic Policy Committee

Senator Jay Costa, Representative Summer Lee
Cc: Rich Fitzgerald, County Executive
Dr. Karen Hacker, Allegheny County Health Department


Re: Comments of Borough of Forest Hills on Clairton Coke Works

The Borough of Forest Hills thanks Senator Jay Costa, Representative Summer Lee and all the members of the Democratic Senate and House Policy Committee for holding public hearings on the matter of air quality in Clairton. We have taken this opportunity to send comments for your consideration based on the needs of our community as directly affected by the US Steel Clairton Coke Works plant operations.
The Borough of Forest Hills is located 13 miles from Clairton in the immediately adjacent valley. The 6,354 citizens of the Borough of Forest Hills are directly affected by the air quality degradation due to increased emissions from the loss of the de-sulphurization equipment at the fire-damaged Coke Works in Clairton.


On December 24, 2018, a fire and explosion at the Clairton Coke Works damaged the air pollution control de-sulphurization system as well as a portion of the plant structure. (1) Since the date of this accident, we have experienced 28 days of unhealthy air quality. (2) US Steel, the plant owner, does not expect repairs to be completed until May of2019. Although the company has adjusted operations to somewhat abate emissions, coke production continues and our citizens are likely to be exposed to unhealthy air conditions for the duration of this repair period.

The 2005 National Air Toxics Assessment report listed Clairton and nearby Glassport as having the 3rd and 4th highest rates of cancer risk from air pollutants in the nation, respectively. (3) While there were improvements in the most recent 2011 report, Allegheny County is still in the top 2% of risk nationally, with much of the area above the threshold the federal government considers acceptable (1 00 in a million).

 According to a study of 1,200 local elementary school children conducted by Dr. Deborah Gentile of the Division of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology for Pediatric Alliance:(4)

• Nearly 39 percent of schoolchildren in the study were exposed to unhealthy levels of outdoor air pollution above the threshold set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while almost 71 percent of the students were exposed to levels above the threshold set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
• More than 22 percent of the study participants had physician-diagnosed asthma, but the asthma was uncontrolled for nearly 60 percent of those students.
• Children from eight school systems exposed to the highest levels of PM2.5 from industrial sources had 1.6 times the risk of an asthma diagnosis.
• There was a nearly 5 times greater prevalence of uncontrolled asthma linked to outdoor air pollution, but not to other triggers such as obesity and environmental tobacco smoke exposure, after adjustment for demographics of gender, race, and pove1iy.
• The asthma prevalence rate of22.5 percent among the students evaluated is more than double the Pennsylvania Depmiment of Health’s statewide figure of 10.2 percent for children and the federal rate of 8.6 percent for children, according to the CDC. An Allegheny County Department ofHealth survey for 2015-2016 found that 15.1 percent of adults in the county have a history of asthma. (5)

This study was completed in 2014-2016 when the Clairton Coke Works had pollution abatement equipment in place. Note that this plant is believed to use old desulphurization technology on its batteries, not the “Best Available Control Technology” which is required in similar operations in modern progressive countries such as Sweden and other European countries.6 Repairing the pollution control equipment with old technology, not best available technology, is not acceptable. Now that the control devices and monitoring recorders within the plant are inoperative, the health impact is only exacerbated by the increase in sulfur dioxide and other noxious fumes normally reduced during operations.


This chronic situation, punctuated by periodic excursions of severe pollution over the years, is overdue for permanent redress. This plant initially operated in 1867 and has had only minimum upgrades to control pollution, and then only under direct orders and fines from regulators. Since the passage of the Clean Air Act of 1964, and the toxic emissions standards adopted in 1977 this plant has had continuing violations. United States Steel entered a consent decree in 1970 to clean up the pollution from its plants, but later failed to comply with the decree they had signed. They have contested and appealed every order requiring them to end pollution from operations, including an appeal to the one million- dollar fine recently imposed by the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) for the continuing violation ofthe Title V Permit. They have contested enforcement actions, paid fines grudgingly, and threaten shutdown to maintain their
position of entitlement to use the air and rivers for disposal of the waste products of production since 1867. Modern technology is available and in use in other similar facilities that prevent the serious emission profile of the Edgar Thompson Coke Works. The coke operations are not entitled to unlimited use of the air and water for absorbing their pollution. The citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are entitled to clean air and pure water under Article 1, Section 27 of the Constitution which states:
The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values o f the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property ofall the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.
This standard of entitlement to a healthy environment also extends to the workers in the plants who often experience elevated pollution levels as part of their normal working environment.


Maintaining 19th century industries as we move into the 21st century requires adjustments to reflect the reality of this time. The ACHD has jurisdiction over enforcing the environmental and health standards pertaining to the operation of this plant and other industries in the County. However, the ACHD has only the authority granted in law and under the regulations promulgated for enforcement ofthe law. There are limitations and weaknesses in these laws and regulations that preclude optimum actions to control air and water emissions from industrial operations. It is especially important to address these deficiencies at this time because US Steel has allowed a lease for hydraulic fracturing extraction ofnatural gas operations to commence on its property at Edgar Thompson Works in the immediate future. Without amendments to the controlling laws, the new industrial sources will have the same deficiencies in public health protection that have prevailed for decades, perpetuating the lax control system well into the future. As we in Forest Hills Borough hope to expand high technology and green businesses in our area, we recognize that maintaining a high quality of life standard is critical to the future of our community as well as to the health and safety of all of our citizens.

We offer the following recommendations in support of a positive vision for a more resilient and sustainable future:
We support the recommendations of County Health Director Karen Hacker, presented at the public hearing of the Pennsylvania Operations and Policy Committee on February 7, 2019 at the Clairton Municipal Building,(7) and add some additional recommendations:
1. Amend the 1990 PA Clean Air Act to update the “episode criteria” definition. The current criteria forbid ACHD from taking action unless the pollution level exceeds 800 parts per million. ACHD cannot take necessary actions to protect public health unless the event qualifies as an “episode”8 A pollution ‘Episode’ is defined as occurring ‘when meteorological conditions are conducive to poor dispersion … and the County is under a county-wide ‘air pollution watch.’ Since Clairton pollution does not affect Fox Chapel and Sewickley due to air flow patterns, you will never have a ‘County wide air pollution watch.’
2. No regulation allows ACHD or a court to order the pollution source to do an immediate shut-down or lessening ofproduction (such as going to hot idle for the coke production batteries) if clean air standards are exceeded at monitors. ACHD is required by regulation to issue Title V ‘Permits to pollute’ to large volume sources. These permits are issued pursuant to County Code and the Allegheny County Air Control Regulations, Article XXI, Ch. 505 sec. 16 to 19. State and County regulations need to be strengthened to

allow immediate shutdown of any industrial operation if monitors reveal a pattern of regular violations of emission standards incapable of being controlled by the existing pollution control equipment, regardless whether the source is a major source with a permit to pollute under Title V, or a minor source which is not required to have a Title V Permit. 9
3. Change the regulations so that coke plants and other industries are forced by law to reduce production immediately on any day deemed to be an ‘air action day.’ These air action days include those on which weather and meteorological conditions create inversions that hold pollution close to the ground. The pollution plumes then cannot be dispersed by winds to be diluted in the upper atmosphere. The air pollution then stays close to the ground creating the smelly “smog” that smells of rotten eggs and exacerbates asthma and pulmonary problems.
4. More stringent requirements are needed to deal with fugitive emissions such as those that occur every time the ovens are opened to load or remove coke. Two of the batteries at Clairton are known to have faulty door seals which allow fugitive emissions. Article XXI currently regulating fugitive emissions must be tightened to require compliance with air quality standards when foreseeable events like charging of coke ovens or removal of coke products results in air pollution.
5. The notice of a major event must be shortened. ACHD was not advised until Friday, January 4, 2019 of how seriously the December 24, 2108 fire damaged the pollution control desulphurization equipment, and how huge an effect the loss of this equipment had on the coke works pollution emissions. The current notice provision states that an industry has seven days to notify the ACHD when an ‘incident’ occurs. Allegheny County regulation needs to be amended to require 24-hour notice to ACHD for any pollution event and a strict four- hour notice if a pollution event occurs during any air quality action day. (10)
6. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and ACHD must increase the monetary fines for air quality violations. The current system allows an industry an advantage to pay the minimum fines rather than address the repairs or abate the pollution by using best available control technology 11 .

Additional Ideas to enhance protections of public health:
1. Amend Section 505-13 definition of”air pollution episode.” An episode is currently defined to occur only when meteorological conditions are conducive to poor dispersion. An air pollution episode is defined to occur only when a Countywide air pollution watch is in effect.” Due to the way air flows in the Monongahela Valley, it would be extremely rare to have pollution in Sewickley and Fox Chapel therefore a county-wide watch will never happen. The regulation should be changed so any “air quality action day” will allow definition of an ‘air pollution episode’ in the affected area.

2. Amend Section 505-86 the Clean Air Fund regulation to provide that money in the Clean Air Fund collected from air emission violations can be distributed as a loan to any municipality whose solicitor is authorized to file suit for air pollution violations which constitute a public nuisance. Change the regulation to provide that “In the event that the ACHD hearing examiner or a Court determines that a pollution source constitutes a public nuisance, the municipality is entitled to recover all attorney fees and expenses of the suit, including all amounts loaned to it from the Clean Air Fund.” The purpose of this amendment is to help communities bear the burden of financing public nuisance lawsuits to cure air pollution.

3. Revise the permit requirements for major sources in Allegheny County Air Pollution Code Article XXI. CH. 505 Sections 17-18 dealing with major sources (those emitting more than 100 tons per year of certain hazardous pollutants.) Set forth a revised permit structure to require Best Available Control Technology for all new sources, all major repairs of existing sources, and all modifications of existing sources. The regulation should require Best Available Control Technology, and specifically not allow “Commercially Feasible Technology” which is currently specified in the regulation. The Mon Valley has been a nonattainment region for decades. Requiring ‘Best Available Control Technology,’ not ‘Commercially Feasible’ old technology can fix our pollution problems and prevent worsening conditions from new industrial sources, such as proposed hydraulic fracturing activities in Braddock Hills, Penn Hills and Versailles.
We request that the Allegheny County Health Department conduct specific health surveys in the affected communities surrounding the Clairton Coke Works during the pendency of repairs. The Clean Air Fund will allow expenditures for studies to assess the health effects of pollution and specifically examine the effect that loss of the desulphurization equipment at Clairton Coke Works has had on the Mon valley. Baseline data are available from studies conducted by Dr. Gentile and others, but specific monitoring of the health of the children, elderly, and sensitive populations must occur to maintain a good profile of the harms to the community that occur from the direct effects of this increase in air emissions. This study should include increased monitoring of air quality in the communities correlated with weather patterns and ambient air conditions. Inversions and still air that holds pollutants close to the ground in the valleys surrounding Clairton and throughout the Monongahela Valley can amplify the effects of air emissions on health. Funds for health surveys and community notification are available from
the Clean Air Fund and should be made available for this purpose.
Finally, we request The Clairton Coke Works should be placed in hot idle mode until the repairs to the pollution control equipment are competed. Delays of weeks in reporting incidents of spikes in air pollution are not acceptable. A system of reporting air quality has emerged from citizen observers through social media. However, formal advisories are important, and recommendations for action beyond “stay indoors” must be advanced. It is unreasonable to expect people to avoid outdoor activity for the duration of repairs at the Clairton Coke Works until May 20 19.


Maintaining a high quality of life is critical to our community in Forest Hills Borough as we advance into the 21st century. Attracting families and clean technology businesses to our area is more difficult when there are constant air quality alerts due to operations of a plant designed for the 19th  century. We are adamant about making a just transition to a more resilient and sustainable future for our citizens. That future depends on enhancing the quality of our air, assuring the safety and abundance of drinking water, and preserving park land and an urban forest canopy in our community. It is our obligation as representatives ofthe people we serve to protect their health and safety.


Adopted by vote of Borough Council, February 20,2019

Members:
Nina Sowiski, President
William Tomasic, Vice President William Burleigh
William Gorol
John Lawrence
Dr. Patricia DeMarco
Member of Council on behalf of Members listed above

Citations and References
1. Fire and Explosion at Clairton Coke Works. https://www.bizjournals.com/pittsburgh/news/2019/01/16/u-s-stee1-identifies-likely-cause-of- fire-repairs.htmI
2. Submission Mission air monitors for Dec 24 to Feb 5
3. National Air Toxics Emissions Report- Allegheny county
4. American Lung Association “State of the Air Report 2018” https://www.lung.org/local- content/ content-items/about-us/media/press-releases/pa-pitts-area-worsen-2018.htmI
5. Deborah Gentile study of asthma in children https://www.ahn.org/news/9-8-2017/studv-local- schoolchildren-reveals-alarming-rat s-uncontrolled-a,·Lhma-exp sure-to
6. Michael Hein and Manfred Kaiser. “Environmental Control and Emission Reduction for Coking Plants.” http://cdn.intechopen.com/pdfs/38333/intech-
environmental control and emission reduction for coking plants.pdf
7. Testimony of ACHD Director Karen Hacker begins at 1:22:07 to 1:44:15 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41AD11WE7YU&fbclid=lwAR2VG CWNyFg- MTj8XOqXj51XshNyvmxruG2wv4opGyC-vY7epbzoPw pYw
8. See the PA regulations, 25 PA Code 127.301-303 and also Allegheny County Code’s Air Pollution Control Act, CH 505-13.
9. Andrew Godstein. “Health Department Fines US Steel Clairton Works $1 Million: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. June 28, 2018. https://vvww.po t-
gazett .com/n w /environm nt/2018/06/28/Health-department-fines-U-S-Steel-Clairton-Coke- W orks-1-million-environmental-compliance/stories/20 1806280180
10. See Allegheny County Air Pollution Control Act Ch 505-13
11. The Post-Gazette news article 2-19-1991 noted it was cheaper to pollute and pay the fines than to eliminate the pollution with best available control technology.


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“The Petrochemical Invasion of Western PA- Its environmental consequences and what can be done about it” presented by the Isaac Walton League of America

Tuesday, January 15, 2019 at 7:00 pm

Unitarian Universalist Church of the South Hills (Sunnyhill)

1240 Washington Rd. Mt. Lebanon, PA 15228.

Presenters: 

Matt Mehalik, Executive Director of the Breathe Collaborative and its communications platform, the Breathe Project The Breathe Collaborative is a coalition of local residents, environmental advocates, public health professionals and academics with a common commitment to advocate for the air the Pittsburgh region needs in order to be a healthy, prosperous place. For more information about the Breathe Project and detailed information about the Shell Appalachia Petrochemical Facility see https://breatheproject.org

Patricia DeMarco, IWL Member, Author: “Pathways to Our Sustainable Future – Global Perspective from Pittsburgh“, Forest Hills Borough Council, 2016-2020

Robert Schmetzer, Chairman of the Beaver County Marcellus Community / BCMAC . and Citizens to protect the Ambridge Reservoir. CPAR. 

Terrie Baumgardner – Beaver County activist, Field Organizer for Clean Air Council, volunteer with Beaver Marcellus Community and Citizens to Protect the Ambridge Reservoir. 

Thaddeus Popovich – Co-founder Allegheny County Clean Air Now, Protect Franklin Park, Climate Reality Project 

A major part of this event will be a discussion between audience activists, and the presenters. Please join us for this excellent educational event.

Sponsored by:  The Izaak Walton League of America, Allegheny County Chapter, Harry Enstrom (Green County) Chapter


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Reflections at Winter Solstice 2018

Patricia M. DeMarco

Days and days of rain and clouded skies succeed an early snowfall. The frozen ground deflects water into drains and stream beds winding their way down the hillsides of this tree-covered neighborhood. Here most of the houses are smaller than the overarching canopy and branches interlace across property boundaries. Many neighbors also interconnect at this season, for parties, for informal invitations for coffee or greetings. The interconnectedness does not end with the dreary weather. The evening is brightened with holiday lights in windows and in lighted garden and house displays.

For the deciduous trees and the plants of this biome, this is the time for rest. The sap retreats to the depths of the ground, secure in holding to the Earth until the warmth of Spring signals the time to rise and fill the budding leaves with life-giving nutrients from the depths of the ground. If the leaf fall of the previous season rests on the ground to cover and protect and later to decay and return the elements back to the ground, the cycle is complete enriching the soil with each year. 

In these short days and long evenings of Winter, there is time for reflection, for writing, and laying down thread in a long-delayed quilt. For me, it is a miracle to see this winter after a long nine months of battle with breast cancer. Thankfully, the scourge of this disease has been set at bay one more time, making these Winter days free of pain, free of drugs, free of exhaustion, so much more precious. I think of all the afternoons spent lying on the garden settee or on the grass, gazing through the interlaced branches of the red oak Elders above me, and feeling the thrum of life running from the ground to the utmost edges of their spreading leaves. Trees full of life force, supporting endless numbers of insects, visited by birds and squirrels and chipmunks, included me in their domain. I opened my heart to their healing energy and felt myself a part of this miracle of the living Earth. Healing is a state of mind. The technology of medicines and surgery deal with the mutiny of cancer cell growth, but the battle to overcome and to survive takes place in the mental space that recognizes the force of will to live. 

I realize that these elder specimens have witnessed such great changes in the world around them. They have stood here for more than a century, as seedlings when this area was a dairy farm, growing up amid the smoke-filled air and volatile emissions from the height of the steel mills operating over the hill along the Monongahela River. They witnessed the change from farmland to houses, fortunate that trees were valued in the landscape and were not bulldozed into flat acres when the houses were built. Now, many are experiencing with us the strange weather patterns of a warming planet, driven by the very emissions that stunted their growth in the decades of the Industrial Revolution. Some have fallen to storms and high winds. Some have fallen to drought and strangulation from invasive ivy. Others fell from boring insect invaders. These two red oaks stand as sentinels, guardians at the top of the hill, giving testament to the resilience and stability of the living Earth.

With great humility, I see them now as mentors and models of a way forward. There is no path to a sustainable future that does not include protection for the natural world, the wisdom of ages stored in their collective interconnectedness. It is only humans who are cut apart from the life force of the Earth. We live under the delusion that our technology is our salvation, that human knowledge can outwit the changes we have wrought upon ourselves. It is not so. It is only by embracing the force of the natural world that humans will survive and thrive. The harmony of Natural law has evolved over many millions of years, fine-tuned to the ways each part of the biome affects another, how each small piece contributes to the whole. We see daily reports of how the insects are declining worldwide, how coral reefs have bleached to dead skeletons. With increasing numbness, we hear of the extinction of creatures and plants, of whole ecosystems. We are seeing the harbingers of our own fate. The preservation of the living Earth is our only hope. We must recognize that humans are only a part of the natural world, intimately dependent upon the health of the living things around us. We thrive when the butterflies and birds are healthy. We flourish when the songs of frogs fill the summer night. 

It is my hope for the coming year that I can resume my quest for our communities and our nation to transition to a civilization living in harmony with Nature. I am thankful for the chance to be a part of this great web of life for one more year.

Blessed Be


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Re-thinking Plastics in Our Future

R

Patricia M. DeMarco

December 21, 2018

Presentation is on video by Blue Lens, LLC : https://youtu.be/iJrSADqS9pA 

Our beautiful, fragile, resilient Living Earth provides everything we need to survive and thrive. All the living things on the planet have co-evolved forming an interconnected web of life with a life support system that provides oxygen-rich air, fresh water, and fertile ground. The functions of the living earth – ecosystem services – support life with elegance and simplicity following the laws of Nature. These laws were discovered to human knowledge over many years but still hold many mysteries. The laws of Nature – the principles of chemistry, physics, biology, ecology- are not negotiable, whether humans acknowledge them or not. The human enterprise has brought the delicate balance of the natural world under acute stress in modern times. Overpopulation, resource extraction for minerals and materials, fossil fuel combustion, and hyper-consumption now threaten the stability of our existence. Global warming from the accumulation of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide and methane; and global pollution, especially from plastics, now threaten life on Earth as we have known it. [1]

If the goal of our entire civilization is to achieve sustainability for future generations, some adjustments must be made in the way people relate to the natural world. In a sustainable condition, “people meet the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”[2]This condition of sustainability has a balance among environmental values, social and cultural values and economic values. In today’s civilization, the economic values far outweigh environment and social values, leading to an increase in environmental degradation and social inequity. The damages are distributed unevenly around the globe, with those least responsible for creating the problem most affected by the results of climate change. The children, non-human living things and those unborn of the next generation will pay the heaviest price for decisions made today. Therefore, this is not a technology issue; rather it is a moral and ethical issue: are our decisions going to preserve the wealth and privilege of the fossil industry corporations, or will our decisions move to preserve a viable planet for our children?

Nothing characterizes modern life so well as plastic – long-lasting, resilient, malleable, diverse in applications and uses. We find plastic everywhere from food containers to personal care products, structural materials, fibers and finishes. Whether single use products like plastic bags or structural materials like car dashboards or PVC pipe, all plastics are made from materials found in fossil fuels- natural gas and petroleum. The plastics industry burst forth in the decade following the end of World War II when the industrial might amassed for munitions turned to domestic products like fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, and plastics. Worldwide 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced since then, and over half of that material has been discarded as waste. The problem is only expected to grow as plastic production increases exponentially—from a mere two million metric tons annually in 1950 to more than 300 million metric tons today, and a projected 33 billion metric tons each year by 2050.[3]

NOAA image: Albatross found on Midway Island

Plastics are made of long-lived polymers, they do not break down easily in the environment, neither in landfills nor in the oceans. Plastics are not readily broken down by biological systems- they are indigestible and provide no nutrition when introduced into food chains. Nearly all the plastic ever made is still in the biosphere.Worldwide, factories produce 400 million tons of plastic per year, with plastic bottles produced at a rate of 20,000 per second.Globally, 60% of all plastics ever produced were discarded and are accumulating in landfills or in the natural environment. Americans discard 33.6 million tons of plastic a year; only 6.5% of plastic is recycled for re-use, and 7.7% is burned in trash to energy facilities.[4]Until 2018, most of American recycled plastic was collected as mixed waste and sent to China for processing. However, China is no longer accepting material with more than 1% contamination for recycling.[5]So, most of the plastic waste generated in America is now destined for landfill. Worldwide, plastic demand is expected to drive petroleum and natural gas production to use for feed stocks for many decades, especially to serve growing markets in Asia. 

The ubiquitous contamination of the earth from man-made plastics presents a system problem. We need to seek a systematic solution.The problem of global pollution from plastics has three components: 1. Economic Issues; 2. Environmental and health issues; and 3. Ethics Issues.

1. Economic issue: The entire plastics enterprise is based on taking fossil derived raw material extracted from natural gas and petroleum deep underground, refining the products and producing polymers, forming the polymers into the desired product, distributing and trucking to the wholesale and retail operations for a product that is often used once and discarded. 

 Image from PA Department of Commerce and Economic Development https://dced.pa.gov/key-industries/plastics/

This system only works economically when fossil fuels are valued at a relatively low price, and no cost is imposed on the discarded or wasted material. This approach is entirely incompatible with a sustainable society. In many situations, the fossil extraction and production phases are heavily subsidized, and the single-use products are inexpensive to the users, or costs are unseen, as with plastic packaging or plastic bags at the retail check-out counter. In 2014, UN Environment Programme estimated the natural capital cost of plastics, from environmental degradation, climate change and health, to be about $75 billion annually.[6]As of 2018, the hydraulic fracturing sector of the oil and gas industry continued its nine-year streak of cash losses. In 2018 Third Quarter, a cross section of 32 publicly traded fracking-focused companies spent nearly $1 billion more on drilling and related capital outlays than they generated by selling oil and gas.[7]The fracking industry is anticipating the ultimate sale of gas liquids for plastic production in refineries, such as the proposed Shell Appalachia Project, to generate positive revenue from sales of plastic pellets for production of consumer goods, many of the single-use packaging like plastic bottles, bags and flatware.

2. Environment and Health Issue

Many plastics and by-products of their production are directly toxic to humans and other living things. Some are also disruptors of endocrine functions, such as by mimicking hormone activity yielding results that over-stimulate or suppress normal hormone functions. Such compounds have been associated with reproductive and developmental disorders, obesity, fertility, and neurologic disorders. Over 80,000 synthetic chemicals are in common commercial use; of these only 200 have been directly tested for health effects. It is nearly impossible to avoid exposure to chemical contaminants- they are in BPA plastic packaging for food and containers, in consumer products phthalates and parabens as well as plastic microbeads are common; fire retardants in upholstery, curtains, and electronics expose people to PBDE (Poly-brominated di-phenyl ethers), and residues of long abolished chemicals like PCB (used in insulation oil for transformers and banned in 1979) continue to contaminate the food chain.[8]

Should we be concerned? Industry advocates argue that there is no “proof of harm” that any particular chemical caused a specific instance of illness or disease. But human epidemiology studies are uniquely challenging because individuals respond differently to the same exposure, and the effects can vary widely for children, elderly, and especially unborn fetus development.  Furthermore, people are not exposed to one chemical at a time but experience a chemical stew of myriad chemicals, some without their knowledge. The use of animal models where some of the variables can be controlled present problems as well, especially in court where the industry defense can argue that animals are not exactly like humans, and reasonable doubt prevents a clear ruling of harm. The burden of proof is on the consumer, and the case is rarely successful.[9]

People are exposed as minute quantities of potentially harmful materials are magnified through the food chain. Observations in the field conflict with rosy promotion of the benefits of plastics. Attempts to move legislation to protect consumers and prevent widespread exposures to questionable materials become bogged down in a regulatory quagmire. Citizen action groups use information campaigns and argue for better testing, but as industry experts infiltrate the regulatory agencies, the credibility of government agencies is eroding.

3. Ethics Issue 

The entire matter of global pollution, especially from plastics products and the by-products associated with their production, is a question of moral commitment to preserve the life support systems of the Earth, or to allow destruction of the living part of the planet for the sake of short-term profit for a very few corporate interests.  It is really a matter of asserting the right for life to EXIST! The surge in plastic use, especially single-use plastics like plastic bags for purchased items, developed as a consumer convenience. But we are seeing now the unintended consequences of convenience. But is it really from convenience that we see 48 tons of garbage, mostly plastic containers and packaging, left in the parking lot after a concert?[10]Is this convenience, or is it really a consumer sense of entitlement and total oblivious disregard for the consequences of their actions? The freedom to act as we wish without the sense of responsibility for the consequences of our actions yields chaos. As we see the cumulative effects of single-use plastics in the environment, in fish and sea creatures, and even in human bodies, we must begin to question the obligation to control this material at its source. Recognizing that the source is a fossil-based feed stock, the need to re-think plastic reaches a higher plane. Are we killing our planet for convenience?

II. Solutions: 

As horrific images begin to filter into the media, people are beginning to move from awareness to action. The plastic problem will not go away without fundamental changes in expectations and the reality of packaging and single-use materials. According to a United Nations Environment Programme study: “To get the plastics problem under control, the world has to take three primary steps. In the short- term society needs to significantly curtail unnecessary single-use plastic items such as water bottles, plastic shopping bags, straws and utensils. In the medium -term governments need to strengthen garbage collection and recycling systems to prevent waste from leaking into the environment between the trash can and the landfill, and to improve recycling rates. In the long run scientists need to devise ways to break plastic down into its most basic units, which can be rebuilt into new plastics or other materials.”[11]Three kinds of solutions present good options for re-thinking how we develop, use and dispose of plastic:1. Restructure the Value System;2. Use Green Chemistry to prevent environmental and health harms;3. Take precaution in protecting living systems. 

1. Restructure the Value System

To the consumer, and to many manufacturers, plastic looks cheap. The price of the oil or natural gas liquids used as feed stocks for plastic are way too low, compared to the actual cost to extract, refine, process and transport the plastic products.  And, it is cheaper to produce plastic from virgin material than from recycled plastics because recycled material needs to be cleaned, sorted, and is difficult to define precisely.  Plastic was designed to melt at temperatures lower than metals, so metal molds can be used repeatedly to shape plastic into products, conserving the capital needed for the machinery, while using a relatively cheap ingredient. Oil and natural gas have significant price supports for extraction and production embedded in the laws, tax treatments, and land uses that have supported the supremacy of mineral rights since 1837. These subsidies have kept the apparent cost of fossil based products artificially low.[12]The system is set up to reward manufacturers for producing products in the form of profits, but to impose the cost of disposal of waste on the taxpayers. The system gives economic incentives for turning raw (fossil) material into trash as rapidly as possible. Thus, the cost of the entire life cycle of the plastic is not included in the price of the product. If the full life cycle cost of the extraction, production and disposal or recapture of the plastic were included in the price the consumer sees, plastics would not seem so inexpensive, and there would be a greater incentive to avoid waste. In a circular model of materials management, incentives for designing products to be re-used or recaptured and re-purposed would reduce the waste. 

Plastics also seems inexpensive because much of the cost of their production and use is not counted at all. The Gross Domestic Product, one of the most common measures of the economy, does not include the value if services provided by the living earth… essential things like producing oxygen, regenerating fresh water, and providing food, fuel and fiber from natural materials. The Gross National Product as measured for the global economy is about $19 Trillion (US Dollar equivalent) while the services provided by ecosystems have a value of $33 Trillion globally.[13]By comparison, the global plastics industry is valued at $1.75 trillion, growing at an expected 3% annually.[14]The degradation of ecosystems and ignoring the value of essential services we take for granted has allowed products like fossil fuels and plastics derived from fossil origins to seem cheap, when in fact, their use is destroying the priceless life support system of planet Earth. The artificially cheap price of plastics has contributed to the hyper-consumption that is clogging our landfills and oceans with wasted materials that may never completely break down to innocuous components. One large part of the solution would be to adjust the value calculation to reflect the true cost.

2. Use Green Chemistry to prevent environmental and health harms

Just as plastics were engineered to resist breaking down, materials can be designed to serve useful functions without the biological and physical characteristics that make plastics a problem when they interact with living systems.  Risk to health and to the environment is a function of the inherent hazard and the exposure to the hazard. The current regulatory system that controls environmental and health risks from chemicals and materials is based on limiting the amount of exposure, or emissions into the environment. Thus, even very toxic materials can be deemed “safe” if they are limited to a very small release. Under this system, over 5.2 billion pounds of toxic or hazardous material is emitted into the air and water by permit each year.[15]Green chemistry takes the approach of designing chemicals and materials to have inherently benign characteristics. Thus, the risk is reduced by reducing or eliminating the inherent hazard itself, instead of trying to limit the exposure.

Green chemistry uses the kind of processes found in nature- ambient temperature and pressure, catalysts and enzymes, biological processes, and non-toxic ingredients and by-products.[16]Creative application of green chemistry principles has produced exciting innovations and has the potential for changing the way we produce and use materials.[17]Green chemistry uses bio-mimicry as an inspiration for making new materials. Using catalysts simulating the processes of living systems to address the breakdown of organic chemical contaminants has proven productive. Using plant-based feed stocks instead of fossil resources has produced many innovations in both pharmaceutical applications and in materials. The whole field of bio-plastic is emerging with very promising innovations using algae, hemp, and bamboo. Taking the approach to design for benign, or even helpful, effects on the natural world will revolutionize materials management.[18]The waste stream is part of the cost. The circular economy that can emerge offers productive and sustainable ways to meet the need for materials without increasing the burden on living systems from materials that cannot be used or broken down by living systems.[19]

3. Precaution in protecting living systems

The problem of global pollution from plastics will not go away without specific and deliberate intervention both from individuals and from governments. An ethic that places value on retaining and re-using materials that will not degrade in the environment must replace the expectation of convenience regardless of the true cost. The demand for convenience has come at a terrible price for the oceans, for the health and well-being of millions of creatures, including people. For the millions of people for whom using plastic is the only choice for clean water, or single-servings of essential items of food or sanitation, the systemic problems of wealth distribution must be addressed. There is an obligation upon the industrialized societies to resolve the material problem created initially as a by-product of industrialization. Making massive amounts of plastics without considering the implications of their disposal places an ethical burden upon the producers to protect the living systems that are being choked by the waste. Waste has become a cultural norm of modern life, but it is not a condition that can persist if survival of life on the planet is to be sustained.

The regulatory system must also be adjusted to require independent testing for health and biological effects in advance of mass production, not only after consumer complaints materialize. The burden of proof of safety must rest on the producer, not on the consumer. It is critical to protect workers from chronic exposures and to evaluate by-products and wastes for the potential to cause harm as well. 

Consumers have a role to play in moving both the markets and the regulatory infrastructure of plastic. In re-thinking plastic, we can refuse single-use plastics. Ask yourself how materials will be disposed of at the point of purchase. Plan ahead when shopping to take a reusable bag, water bottle, cutlery with you. When in a restaurant, before the server brings anything just say, “No plastic, please,” and you will not have a plastic straw. You can carry bamboo or re-usable straws with you easily. While some situations may be challenging, it can become a focus for family joint activity to seek creative ways to avoid plastic in everyday functions. (You may find helpful suggestions here: https://myplasticfreelife.com/plasticfreeguide/)

It is important for consumers to communicate to manufacturers and stores that the excessive plastic used in packaging everything is not acceptable. Challenge the grocery manager for wrapping individual vegetables in shrink-wrap. Ask for less packaging, and bring your own for as many items as you can. Obtain re-usable containers for storing produce and other foods at home instead of plastic wrap, bags or single-use containers. For things like yogurt or other dairy products, re-use the plastic containers for storage, re-purpose them for take-out containers; or craft projects. A little preventive thinking can eliminate much of the single-use waste stream: No K-Cups-  use a single serve brass insert instead. Get out of the habit of buying beverages in plastic bottles. Cook real food to avoid excess packaging and choose bulk food items.

Re-use and re-purpose as many items as possible. It is becoming fashionable again to use real dishes and glassware and cutlery. These need not be heirloom porcelain to be effective, and dishwashers without the heat element use less resources than the extraction, production and disposal of plastic goods. Choose quality forever items. You can swap or re-design clothing and visit consignment shops, especially for things that you will wear infrequently.

It is more important than ever to recycle correctly. Many recycling requirements have changed recently, as mixed waste streams are harder to separate into useable product lines. It is most important to avoid Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC), Styrofoam and styrene because these are the most difficult to recycle, and they have a 450-year life in the landfill. These materials are especially noxious when they arrive in the ocean, delivered there from materials washed down to the rivers and through the waterways to the ocean. Remember that the Mississippi River drainage covers more than one third of the U.S. land. Clean plastic for recycling and separate it from non-recyclable trash. Cross-contamination will disqualify an entire load. Recycle electronics at a recapture facility where the components are recovered and returned to the production cycle. These are not always free, but the cost is an important part of moving to a circular economy.

Finally, to protect the living systems of the planet, it will be important for consumers to support policies that require less packaging, establish markets and procedures for recovery and re-use of materials, and align the value to reflect the true life-cycle cost of the plastic burden on the Earth. 

The Moral Imperative

America operates under the banner of freedom, but has not embraced the concept that freedom without taking responsibility for consequences yields chaos. Technology used without accountability and wisdom yields disaster. We are seeing all around us today the unintended consequences of convenience. It is time to take responsibility for the trash. Everyone can dispose of plastic responsibly- litter kills. We can connect to the natural world and recognize its true value to our life, our survival, and the dependence we have as humans on all the other living things with which we share this time and space. We can find the courage to defend and protect the living Earth

~~~~

Citations and Sources:


[1] https://www.ipcc.ch/2018/10/08/summary-for-policymakers-of-ipcc-special-report-on-global-warming-of-1-5c-approved-by-governments/

[2]DeMarco, Patricia. “Listening to the Voice of the Earth.” Pathways to Our Sustainable Future-  Global Perspective from Pittsburgh.2017. (University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh) Pages 13 to 35. 

[3]Andrea Thompson. “Solving Microplastic PollutionMeans Reducing, Recycling – And Fundamental Re-thinking.” Scientific American November 12, 2018. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/solving-microplastic-pollution-means-reducing-recycling-mdash-and-fundamental-rethinking1/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=policy&utm_content=link&utm_term=2018-11-12_featured-this-week&spMailingID=57769378&spUserID=MzUxNTcwNDM4OTM1S0&spJobID=1521540986&spReportId=MTUyMTU0MDk4NgS2 Accessed December 18, 2018.

[4]Geyer, Jambeck, and Law, “Production, Use, and Fate of All Plastics Ever Made,” Science Advances 3, no. 7 (July 2017)http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782

[5]Laura Parker. “China’s Ban of Plastic Trash Imports Shifts Waste Crisis to Southeast Asia and Malaysia.” National Geographic. November 16, 2018. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/11/china-ban-plastic-trash-imports-shifts-waste-crisis-southeast-asia-malaysia/China refusal of mixed plastic waste

[6]UNEP. 2014. Valuing plastics: the business case for measuring, managing and disclosing plastic use in the consumer goods industry. United Nations Environment Programme. https://wedocs.unep.org/rest/bitstreams/16290/retrieve

[7]Clark Williams-Derry. “Nine-Year Losing Streak Continues for US Fracking Sector.”  Sightline. December 5, 2018. www.sightline.org.)

[8] Irfan A. Rather et. Al. “The Sources of Chemical Contaminants in Food and their Health Implications.” Frontiers in Pharmacology. 2017. 8:830  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5699236/

[9]Sam Levin and Patrick Greenfield. “Monsanto Ordered to Pay $289 million as Jury Rules Weedkiller Caused Man’s Cancer.” The Guardian. August 11,2018. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/aug/10/monsanto-trial-cancer-dewayne-johnson-ruling

[10]http://triblive.com/news/allegheny/10719475-74/concert-alcohol-amount

[11]UNEP. 2014. Valuing plastics: the business case for measuring, managing and disclosing plastic use in the consumer goods industry. United Nations Environment Programme. https://wedocs.unep.org/rest/bitstreams/16290/retrieve

[12]Geyer, Jambeck, and Law, “Production, Use, and Fate of All Plastics Ever Made,” Science Advances 3, no. 7 (July 2017)

[13]Costanza, R., R. de Groot, L. Braat, I. Kubiszewski, L. Fioramonti, P. Sutton, S. Farber, and M. Grasso. 2017. “Twenty years of ecosystem services: how far have we come and how far do we still need to go?” Ecosystem Services. 28:1-16.

[14]Clare Goldsberry. “Global market for plastic products to reach $1.175 trillion by 2020” BusinessExtrusion: Film & SheetExtrusion: Pipe & ProfileInjection Molding. December 17, 2017 https://www.plasticstoday.com/author/clare-goldsberryAccessed December 19, 2018.

[15]EPA Toxic Release Inventory. National Analysis 2015. www.epa.gov

[16]For an explanation of Green Chemistry Principles see Paul Anastas and John Warner. 12 Design Principles of Green Chemistry. American Chemical Society. https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/greenchemistry/principles/12-principles-of-green-chemistry.html

[17]DeMarco, Patricia. 2017. “Preventing Pollution.” Pathways to Our Sustainable Future – A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. (University of Pittsburgh Press. Pittsburgh PA) Page140-169. 

[18]Lord, R. 2016. Plastics and sustainability: a valuation of environmental benefits, costs and opportunities for continuous improvement. Trucost and American Chemistry Council. https://plastics.americanchemistry.com/Plastics-and-Sustainability.pdf

[19]A detailed description of the circular economy can be found in EMF, 2013. Towards a circular economy – opportunities for the consumer goods sector. Ellen MacArthur Foundation. https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/publications/TCE_Report-2013.pdf


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The Tipping Point: A Life or Death Decision Point on Global Pollution and Climate Change

Patricia M. DeMarco

September 8, 2018

The summer of 2018 goes down in my life history as the turning point in my fifteen-year fight with cancer.   After being free of any disease from 2001 to 2017, I have faced two cancers in the last two years.   Knowing that I have been living on borrowed time changed the direction of my life. In 2006, I left the corporate world, divorced from a destructive relationship, and came home to my roots as an environmental activist. I vowed to stop trying to be “successful” and wealthy, but to do work that has meaning and purpose for the future. I came home to Pittsburgh, to Rachel Carson, and to a life devoted to preserving the living earth. Now as my strength is waned through a 24 week regimen of chemotherapy, I find that my role has shifted once again from the strong voice, standing with raised fist to one who writes the words, and empowers others to speak.

After a decade of public activism, the message echoes back to me through my students, through my family, and through my community. I see the power of many voices joined in demands for clean air, fresh water and fertile ground. The hopeful vision of a future where people can make better choices for energy, food, and materials emerges one community at a time.

A life and death decision point acts as a catalyst to crystallize priorities. There is no time left to wait for others to act. When you have nothing to lose, there is no point to preserving proper dignity or protocol. And this is exactly the situation of the world we are living in today.  We face a life and death decision point on global warming and global pollution, yet people still act as though the ponderous machinations of due
process will get us to a solution. But the laws of nature proceed without “due process.” Greenhouse gases accumulate; the atmosphere warms; the oceans acidify;  glaciers and ice caps melt; storms intensify. People as well as plants and animals cannot adapt quickly to the intensity or speed of these changes.  But, we can act much more effectively than is the case now if we act together, with common purpose and directed intent.

So in this tortured summer of 2018, I feel my strength wane, but I see the strong voices of my students- Eva Resnik-Day in the Fight for 100% renewable energy; Seth Bush coaching and empowering entrepreneurs and activists; Kacie Stewart taking a role in renewable energy in manufacturing with Epic Metals. I see young colleagues making a huge impact through film and media- Mark Dixon with Blue Lens, LLC documenting the movement and calling others to action; Kirsi Jansa making documentaries and pushing creativity in response to crises and becoming a new citizen activist; Maren Cook holding gatherings to keep the movement together; Matt Mehalik working for clean air through the Breathe Project; Mike Stout documenting the struggle of organized labor and the importance of democratic process through unions; Charlie McCollester, Wanda Guthrie, so, so many others raising the call to action. Jackie Dempsey and the Indivisible Forest Hills movement, mirroring a whole country of people taking politics seriously.

The human spirit is hard to quench. Re-defining aspirations to value preserving the living Earth as a critical need above profits in a monetary measure alone may take a generation. We have no time for gradual transitions.  A crisis point is upon us, now, in this generation.  We have tools at hand to solve the problems of climate change and global pollution.  There is no longer time to reverse the trajectory toward a hotter drier planet, but action can still be effective to mitigate the worst of the effects and preserve viability for the next generation.  This is not a technology problem- it is an ethical and moral challenge: Do we living today make decisions that preserve the option of life for the next generation? Or do we persist on a path of instant gratification and greed, heedless of known disastrous consequences of our actions?

Energy Transfer Corporation pipeline explodes days after installation in Beaver PA

Protestors arrested at PA Pipeline Task Force meeting

This is the time- our time- to face the existential crises of climate change and global pollution, especially from plastic.  This is our time to take the actions needed to curtail fossil resource extraction and combustion. Climate change and environmental destruction must be on the central political agenda in every election, every race, every town hall.  We who care about the future cannot stand silent while those in power continue to pretend there is a positive outcome for continuing on the fossil path.  We will follow the dinosaurs into extinction if we continue burning their remains. It is time to place priority on the vital functions of the living Earth – the ecosystem services – embedded in the interconnected living systems on the surface of the earth.  Instead of criminalizing those who stand to protect watersheds, wetlands, forests, farmland and refuges, we should be prosecuting those who rip fossil materials – oil, coal, fossil methane- from the depths of the earth. The 1837 laws that gave mineral rights superiority over surface rights continue to subsidize and destroy our life support system. The Pennsylvania laws that demand access to mineral “rights” over the objections and concerns of landowners and citizens, in violation of our own Constitution, need to be overturned.  The federal law and regulations that made exemptions for natural extraction from deep shales legal in spite of environmental harms need to be overturned. It is time to place the health and safety of people and the living planet above the short-term profits of multi-national corporations.

 

Take these three actions today:

  1. Make sure climate and environment issues are in the discussion for every candidate for office.  Demand a position statement- hold them accountable for votes taken against sustainability actions. Find your elected officials here:
    For PA: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/findyourlegislator/  
    For federal https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members 
  2. VOTE in every election, every time! work to Get Out The Vote for candidates that stand for climate action and environmental justice. (There are MANY action groups!) Find a local action group here:https://350.org
  3.  Pledge to take action in your personal life to move toward a more sustainable lifestyle. Recruit your family, friends and neighbors to do the same.  Find more suggestions here:   https://www.greenpeace.org/archive-international/en/campaigns/climate-change/Solutions/What-you-can-do/              and here  https://www.lifewithoutplastic.com/store/10_easy_tips_for_living_with_less_plastic#.W6PeWC2ZOL8

I will be working to preserve our Living Earth every day for the rest of my life.  My book, “Pathways to Our Sustainable Future” lays out the argument and tells some stories of success. I hope you will join me and tell me of your own journey.


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A Timeless Romance

A Timeless Romance

February 14, 2018

On this bleak February day with unnaturally warm rain pelting the frozen ground, with news of yet another school slaughter and invasion of disease into the most personal spaces of family, with an endless but unheralded litany of misery as Nature screams for protection from unbridled greed, the pit of despair looms depthless and dark tempting the weak, the exhausted, the desperate into the abyss of drugged stupor or the oblivion of deliberate ignorance. As I contemplate this bleak scene, my mind wanders to the conditions my parents faced in a nation on the brink of war that already ravaged Europe and with unknown perils looming ahead. My Italian born Father, with his poet’s heart yet un- battered by the horrors he would live thorough as a special service paratrooper imagesin Donovan’s Devils unit behind the lines, wrote to his fiancé this wonderful anthem of love and hope.  Their dedication to the fight for justice and goodness never ceased until their ways parted when my Mother died in March 2000, followed by my Father in April 2001. The bond of their love encircled me and my brother and sister, the extended family as it grew, the students they each taught, and the many colleagues and friends they acquired from all around the world.  They did not fight for people to bear arms, but for people to know and speak out, to stand against tyranny and injustice whether on the battle line in time of war or on the picket line in times of strife for worker’s rights. Theirs was a romance tested by time and adversity, but proven by a legacy that lasts. Their newest great-grandchild came this week- Anne Marcella bringing once again hope and renewal to the cycle of life.

In the midst of my sadness and near despair, my sister sent me again this poem of hope and love from my father’s war journals. He was a young soldier at camp, knowing he was facing a high possibility of going to war and not returning. So he writes to his sweetheart a vision of what can be.  He returned to bring the dream to life.

 

FOREVER VALENTINE
Poem by Michael A. De Marco for Marcella Strutzel
Written in 1943 while in Training at Camp David, No. Carolina

There are some days in February, few
Rare, precious days when spring comes back and brings
Sunshine, breaths of warm air, and thawing winds.
If one lost track of time and left out March,
It would be Spring and easy to believe
That winter’s gone and Spring is here to stay.
It was Spring! We two forgot it was not May
And went to see the tree, our tree, the one
By us imagined, planted in the grove
Where it was growing with the other maples.
And as we walked, the spongey earth and sod
Made squeaky, sucking noises when we stepped.
We did not care about the wet, it was
So good to see that all the snow had gone,
That all the rocks were drying brown and grey,
And that in low spots, clumps of fresh, new grass
Thrust straight, green blades through last year’s rotted mat.

We walked on the path’s upper side, where sod
Grew thick and made a lapping rim, until
It wound itself away as if it were
A spool of yarn that had unrolled and left
Us standing, when unraveled, at the root
Of our adopted maple.  There it was
Growing up, big, spreading graceful branches
So its leaves would brush the other trees,
Cast shadows to protect from the hot sun
Dew drops, ferns, lilies, moss and violets.

I drew up close and rubbed the bark to see
If I could feel its pulse with my four fingers.
They touched a smooth spot just beneath the crotch.
There were not scars or rings; it was clean bark.
This was the spot for it I knew.

I took
My knife out from my pocket, opened it
And whet the blade on sandstone rock I found.
I tested the new edge for sharpness then.
It felt keen when I stroked it with my thumb.
The setting sun was perfect light, as if
I had commanded it to send its rays
At that one angle for my work, I dug
The knife blade in; and it cut quick and deep,
Clean through the bark to strike the white heart-wood.
Then with a turn I sliced a curve and made
The bottom of the point.  Another twist
And I had drawn the other side.  Now for
The cutting out and stripping of the bark.
She stood aside and watched my bright knife blade,
More interested in the sunlight’s flash,
Play, dance of fiery pin points on the steel.

At last I turned to her, said it was done;
But for a moment she stood silent, pointing
With forefinger at the sun and sky.
A cool wind blew the clouds until they rolled
Themselves into soft balls of eider down,
Lined up and formed in banks of threes and fours,
Then slowly rolled away on melting bars
Of sunlight, revolving puffs of golden mist.
And as the sun dropped down to rest behind
The shoulders of black hills, the wind whispered
Goodnight and stretched cloud banners there to mark
With streamers red where the sun slept till dawn.
We looked and saw the beauty of sunset;
Then with an easy motion she swung round
And gazed upon the heart that I had cut
Deep in the clear, grey bark of the young maple.

The outline on the inner heart-wood clean,
White, shaped a solid fullness in the bark.
A rounded heart, and through its middle came
The arrow straight and slim, perfect and true,
As if struck there half way exactly by
The golden bow of Cupid letting loose
The arrow of true love deep in our heart;
A last sun’s ray turned it to sudden gold,
Just for an instant made it livid, burning,
Shimmering and alive with quivering light.
Then it paled white, and slowly darkened
Silver, like the rising moon of coming night.
Our heart will grow and strengthen with the tree,
And with the bark become more warm and round.
Perhaps it may stir, beat, pulse like our own
Some day when sap starts through in Spring…when sun,
South wind, blue sky bring with them miracles,
Its soul will fill with everlasting love!

Unknown


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Imagine Global Cooperation- COP-23

November 9, 2017

by Patricia DeMarco

On his way to the Conference of Parties- 23 (COP-23)  in Bonn, Germany, California Governor Gerry Brown stopped to speak to the Baden-Wurttenberg lawmakers in Stuttgart to address the issue of action on climate change:  “Let’s lead the whole world to realize this is not your normal political challenge,” he added. “This is much bigger. This is life itself. It requires courage and imagination.”[1] Calling for an international movement on behalf of life on Earth as a collective priority can transcend the political divisions that paralyze effective action. Building an international consensus on a way forward can release the inventiveness of human ingenuity in response to a common crisis. The sooner we begin an international collaboration with the goal of preserving the viability of the planet for all life, the sooner we can make real progress as a civilization. We are all more alike in our humanity than different in culture, religion or politics. We all depend on our common life support system: fresh air, clean water, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species with whom we share this Earth.

This is not a partisan issue. Reach across to your neighbors and friends and plan together to make each community more resilient, more sustainable, and less dependent on fossil fuels. We must all demand that Congress place priority on reinvestment in the infrastructure of the future, beginning with communities that have had fossil extractive industries as the base of their economy for so long. It is time to diversify, to re-imagine our future around sustainable systems that restore and regenerate the living Earth which supports our life.

War-torn Syria joined the Paris Agreement at the Bonn gathering of COP-23, leaving President Trump ‘s declaration to remove the United States from the global agreement as the solitary proponent of denial. Hundreds of US Mayors, several states and many hundreds of corporations have declared adherence to the Paris Climate Accord, vowing to take actions to help hold the increase in global average temperature to no more than 2° C or 3.6° F. Reducing the combustion of fossil fuels to lower the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere is the most efficient way to accomplish this goal.  But this is only the beginning of the energy revolution that will re-shape the way civilization relates to the natural world. Once communities and businesses begin to meet their energy needs through renewable systems, rather than destructive combustion, possibilities and innovations will multiply.

Adaptations for efficiency and resilience are already occurring, for example in solar panels where the solar photovoltaic system is integrated into the structure of roofing tiles, rather than affixing them to a roof, and window glass that can generate electricity as sunlight passes through it. The concept of designing buildings that create as much energy as they use- net zero energy buildings- has already taken off as a common sense and cost efficient way to provide space conditioning and electricity in homes and commercial spaces. Research and pilot projects designing electric micro-grids that connect energy generating sources located among the customers is challenging the traditional electric  utility structure.  Some are embracing the innovations and incorporating distributed generation into their operations, finding new categories of service in load management, storage and reliability assurance.  Other utilities are resisting the advance of renewable resources and customer- owned generation with punitive tariffs and restrictive conditions for connecting to the wider grid.  In many such cases, some customers find it easier to install their own storage, and simply drop off the connected grid- true “energy independence.”

The renewable energy industry is growing rapidly. One in 50 jobs in America are in the renewable energy industries.  Solar energy jobs have increased 178% from 2010 to 2016.[2]  The solar industry employs more than 260,000 Americans, a 25% increase from 2015 to 2016, and the average wage in the industry is $28.00 per hour; 25% of the workers are women.[3] If all renewable energy and efficiency improvement industries are included, there are more workers in the renewable energy sector than in coal, oil and gas combined. Deliberate suppression of this initiative by Congressional “Tax Reform” is not productive to a growth industry that also accomplishes greater public interest goals in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In the absence of strong leadership at the federal level, states and individual companies have made a wide range of approaches to using renewable energy systems.( See the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency http://www.dsireusa.org)  It is clear that this transition from a fossil base to a renewable energy system will not proceed smoothly until there is a wider consensus in the United States to commit to a fossil free future.

This is a major step for a country as large and complex as America, but we are also a country known for its ability to rise to hard challenges and to place the common good at the center of public policy initiatives many times in its history. This can be the galvanizing common challenge that unites our spirit in purpose.  Technology is not the impediment. Rather, it is the entrenched interests of the fossil extractive industries in coal, oil and natural gas that have taken a strangle hold on the public policy process.  It is time to call a halt to the suffocation of innovation.  It is time to unleash the forces of ingenuity and creativity that will allow America to resume its leadership role in the world. This is not a matter of “getting regulations off the back of business” but rather a matter of re-designing our laws to support and encourage actions that align better with the laws of nature.  We need to preserve the life support system that provides fresh air to breathe, clean water to drink, fertile ground to grow our food, and the well-being of people and all the other living things that share this earth. This is a challenge worthy of our best efforts.  It is a challenge to inspire our young people to have hope and faith in the future, rather than fear.  It offers a way forward that recaptures the spirit of community in a shared battle that is worth winning.

This alignment of nations in the Paris Climate Accord to address the common goal of preserving a viable planet is rare, and offers an opportunity for common ground unprecedented in our time.  It is not a technology problem. It is an ethics problem we can solve by making a commitment to care for the living earth, and care for each other. A future based on renewable and sustainable systems offers a better future, not one of greater deprivation and distress.  A civilization dedicated to preserving and regenerating the life force of the Earth holds the promise of a great renewal of spirit and a richness of legacy to sustain future generations. We need the courage to move away from what has become familiar over a hundred years and adopt practices that bring the prospect of a better future closer to reality. We need the fortitude to overcome the forces vested in short-term gains at the expense of our very survival.  It is time to leave the dinosaurs at rest in the ground and welcome the sun.

Actions:

  1. Review your own energy use profile and find ways to reduce what you use in your home, your transportation and your business. https://www.nature.org/greenliving/carboncalculator/index.htm
  2. Examine your personal “supply chain” and see what you can change to reduce the amount of material you throw away or waste. Commit to cutting out disposable plastics, and recycle everything you cannot avoid. http://learn.eartheasy.com/2012/05/plastics-by-the-numbers/
  3. Call your Congressional Representatives and Senators and urge them to support climate action, especially retaining the investment tax credits for solar and wind. Punitive removal of these modest measures while adding substantial subsidies to coal, gas and nuclear fuels is an unethical choice for the future. https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials
  4. Ask your local community to make a commitment to the Paris Climate Accord. Make a plan for your local community commitment to the future of our world. https://www.wearestillin.com/us-action-climate-change-irreversible

Remember to find time to experience the wonders of nature all around us every day.  We will preserve what we love. So, do indeed adopt a tree or a stream or a landscape and keep it in your heart.

Blessed Be.

 

[1] Erik. Kirschbaum. “Gov. Gerry Brown Delivers a Blunt Climate Change Message in Germany>” Los Angeles  Times. November 8, 2017.  http://beta.latimes.com/world/europe/la-fg-germany-jerry-brown-climate-change-20171108-story.html  Accessed November 9, 2017.

[2] The Solar Foundation. State Solar Jobs Census. https://www.thesolarfoundation.org/solar-jobs-census/

[3] The Solar Foundation. “The Potential of State Solar Jobs- 2017.” http://www.thesolarfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/TSF-Census-Future-State-Solar-Jobs-2021.pdf


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A Perspective on Nuclear Power Past and Future

Here is a presentation from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom presentation of May 18, 2017. I was honored to be on a panel with Ellen Thomas and Odile Hugonot Haber who are on a Nuclear Free Future WILPF-US  to end nuclear war, weapons of mass destruction and nuclear armaments. See more about their work here:  https://www.facebook.com/wilpfustour

My presentation is here:

5-18-2017 Nuclear Power Past & Future – PD Panel

I welcome your comments and questions.

PD