Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."


Gifts of the Living Earth

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

by Patricia M.DeMarco, Ph.D.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pollinators provide essential eco-system service

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

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

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

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

The Universal Rights of the Living Earth

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

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

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

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

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

A Matter of Ethics and Justice

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

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

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

A Transformation for a Better Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Moral Imperative

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

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

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

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

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

Photograph courtesy of Kirsi Jansa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Accessed September 19, 2019. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Power of Joined Voices

July 11, 2019

A Reflection on Songs of Struggle and Protest

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

By Patricia M. DeMarco

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

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

Mike Stout- Trubadour of Labor

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


Green Jobs and A Living Planet: Make It Happen

Patricia M. DeMarco

May 20, 2019

The fragrant, lush explosion of growth in the deciduous Pittsburgh landscape reminds me that Nature is resilient and has evolved through millions of years to thrive and flourish. Though the reality that human actions have precipitated existential crises from global warming and global pollution is undeniable, the burgeoning life of Spring brings hope. What humans have caused, humans can change. The laws of Nature are not negotiable, but the laws and policies of nations can be changed to preserve natural systems. The time is ripe and the tools for a sustainable transformation of our economy and our culture are at hand.

The Situation

The natural systems of the earth have evolved to provide everything we need to survive and thrive – the essential conditions for life as we know it: solar energy (both incident and stored), oxygen-rich air, fresh water, fertile ground, and the vast biodiversity of species that constitute the living earth. This essential life support system is under stress from human driven actions: fossil fuel combustion, resource extraction, uncontrolled population expansion, and hyper-consumption, especially in America. Americans comprise about 5% of the world’s population but use 25% of the worlds energy resources.[1]It would take five and a half planets to provide our lifestyle for everyone on earth, but we have only one Earth. The Mauna Loa Observatory has measured carbon dioxide levels at 415 parts per million, an atmospheric concentration not seen on planet Earth for over three million years. [2],[3]We are entering planetary conditions never experienced by current living systems, including human civilizations.

The situation is more urgent than ever. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) issued itsreport on Global Biodiversity compiled by 145 expert scientists from 50 countries. Sir Robert Watson, Chair of the IPBES said: “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide. … it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” he said. “Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably – this is also key to meeting most other global goals. By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”[4]

How can we accomplish this critical task? The Green New Deal framework presents a catalyst to stimulate creative discourse on bringing a positive transformation to our system.[5]Town Hall meetings on the Green New Deal are taking place across the country as people begin to work out the specifics of a green economy. These conversations offer an opportunity to bring many more people to awareness of the severity of the situation we are facing, and to move to action in every aspect of our lives. This problem is too important to leave to “other people” or “whoever is in charge.” Everyone has a stake in preserving a habitable planet for now, and especially for the future. Sustainability must become the new normal.

The Concept of Sustainability

We are not facing a technology problem- we are facing an ethics and a moral problem. There is ample evidence in recent history of America leading transformative changes in a short time when united in purpose and guided by a specific objective, as illustrated by the rapid industrialization of our economy in World War II to defeat Hitler. [6]Sustainability requires that we place a higher priority on taking responsibility to preserve a living earth for future generations. The Brundtland Commission definition of sustainability states simply: “Meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.[7]If we care at all about our children and grandchildren, it is critical to recognize that this an existential challenge for all of life on Earth, and an intergenerational imperative. We already experience the effects of a one degree increase in the average temperature of the earth.[8]To achieve sustainability within the next twenty years, we must pursue system solutions to systemic problems.  

Plan for a Sustainable Economy

A true transformation of our economy and lifestyle requires moving in a new direction on multiple levels. The energy system must shift from a fossil fuel basis, – oil, natural gas and coal – to energy use and production around modular, renewable resources. The food production system must shift from a chemical-dependent process to regenerative agriculture processes that restore the fertility of the land, sequester carbon, and provide food more locally.  The processes that create materials and goods must shift to using resources that do not create toxic products and by-products, such as plastics from fossil feed-stocks, but rather use components that can be broken down in natural systems. Moving these major systems to a different platform does not require new technology, but a commitment to shifting to a life-sustaining system instead.[9]The transformation is in process all over the world and in many places in America as well. When people visualize the changes in a positive light, they will no longer fear moving to the unknown. Workers in the oil, gas and coal industries, in the traditional petrochemical production industries, and commercial scale agriculture industry feel fear and uncertainty about changes proposed to achieve sustainability. The immediate threat of job loss and meeting needs of family overwhelm philosophical attention to the fate of future generations, even the rapidly approaching fate of today’s children. We must replace that fear with concrete plans for a sustainable economy. 

A just transition must include a plan for taking care of the workers in industries that need to change. That means protecting workers and their unions, including their wages, pensions and health benefits, providing meaningful training and re-training, and making investments in communities for new infrastructure, new systems and effective social infrastructure of laws and regulations. Simply mandating fuel substitutions is inadequate to this task. We need to re-frame the problem and reach to the root causes of social justice and environmental justice issues to make a meaningful and effective transition.

Re-Framing the Problem

We measure the well-being of our country on the basis of how well the economy is doing. Consumer confidence, the Gross Domestic Product, the performance of Wall Street, the size of the trade deficit all mark the measure of success. The most widely quoted indicator, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the sum of Consumption (Consumer spending) plus Investment by private companies plus Government Spending plus the net of Exports minus Imports. Our economy basically depends on turning raw material to trash as rapidly as possible with consumer spending at the heart of the system. This approach does not account for the priceless contributions of the living ecosystems that provide fresh water, clean air, fertile ground and support of the entire biodiversity of species. These essential functions are not explicitly reflected in what is measured, and in fact, the destruction of such essential services often counts as a positive value in the GDP, such as filling wetlands for building sites.[10]The priceless services the living Earth provides, like pollination, oxygen creation, water purification and so many others, do not count in the GDP. In a sustainable system, the economic value would be balanced with social and cultural values, and environmental values for a holistic approach to measuring the well-being of society.[11]By placing overwhelming emphasis on the economic value as indicated by the GDP, the balance of society is skewed. 

This one-dimensional way of measuringvalue obscures the full environmental and social consequences of consumer’s decisions. Prices of goods and services to not reflect the cost in environmental damage to land and ecosystems, the cost of air pollution on health, the contamination of water supplies, or the loss of farmland to prolonged drought. In fact, many policies actually supportenvironmental destruction. 

In the energy system, for example, moving toward sustainability requires that fossil fuel combustion must be quickly curtailed. Yet, government policies, some dating back to the early nineteenth century, heavily subsidize fossil fuel extraction.[12]In the U. S. direct production subsidies for oil, gas and coal extraction amount to $20.5 billion per year hard-wired into the tax and budget process.[13]PermanentInvestment Tax Credits for oil, gas, coal development amount to an additional $7.4 Billion/year.[14]This is compared to $1.3 billion/year for all renewables tax credits, which decline on a sliding scale and end in five years unless Congress explicitly extends them. There are additional federal tax credits and loopholes for oil, gas and coal amounting to $10 billion/year:

  • Intangible drilling oil & gas deduction ($2.3 billion)
  • Excess of percentage over cost depletion ($1.5 billion)
  • Master Limited Partnerships tax exemption ($1.6 billion)
  • Last-in, first-out (LIFO) accounting ($1.7 billion)
  • Lost royalties from onshore and offshore drilling ($1.2 billion)
  • Low-cost leasing of coal-production in the Powder River Basin ($963 million)[15][16]

Changing this wide array of subsidies would require explicit changes in the law by an act of Congress. 

Why do all of these subsidies matter? First, 98% of all operating coal plants are unprofitable if environmental controls are updated and enforced, and 50% of yet-to-be-drilled oil and gas wells are not profitable (at $50/barrel oil price) if they do not have tax preferences. [17]The fossil industries spend an enormous amount of money to keep these preferential treatments in place.[18]For example, in the 2015-2016 election cycle, oil, gas, and coal companies spent $354 million on campaigns and lobbying, and received $29.4 billion in subsidies.[19]The laws will not be changed as long as the people in Congress are beholden to the fossil interests. The status quo will not achieve sustainability within a reasonable window of time. It is too late for small incremental changes. Major changes through a comprehensive and bold initiative are necessary. The Green New Deal approaches a solution in a multidimensional way.

The Cost of NOT Acting on Climate

As initiatives ranging from the “cap and Trade” proposals of 2009 to the Green New Deal of 2018 come forward, the prevailing reaction has been that green options are too expensive and therefore impractical. However, failingto address climate change is already very expensive. The Global Change Research Act of 1990 mandated a climate assessment be filed to Congress every four years. The Fourth Climate Assessment was filedin November 2018, by 17 current federal agencies appointed under President Trump. The findings of this report are unequivocal:

  • $160 billion in lost wages a year from heat-induced productivity reduction;
  • $87 billion a year by 2100 in higher energy costs due to mounting demand on a power system made less reliable by extreme weather.
  • $507 billion worth of infrastructure damage from real estate at risk of being inundated by rising sea levels by 2100; and
  • $1.2 to $1.4 Billion/year from Inland flooding destruction of thousands of bridges by 2050
  • $230 million/ year—loss on shellfish harvests. 
  • $140 Billion/year recreation industry losses from disappearing coral reefs alone 
  • cold-water fishing and skiing would also be affected. [20]

These costs are considered to be minimum estimates of the potential damages and resulting costs as the result of climate change. The economic damages on industries, communities, individuals and institutions are already accumulating across the country, and around the world.[21]

Better Choices: The Green Jobs Economy

What is a “Green Job”? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Green Jobs are “Jobs in businesses that produce goods and services that benefit the environment and conserve natural resources.” These are in diverse fields and enterprises ranging from biological materials processing to regenerative agriculture.  For simplicity, I will focus here on the energy sector. 

Green jobs in the energy sector are expanding rapidly as technology costs in renewables are dropping sharply. In 2013, based on unsubsidized life cycle cost analysis by Lazard investment bank, both wind and solar utility scale systems fell below the cost of coal, and the costs have continued to decline against coal, oil and gas.[22]Demand is also increasing for energy efficiency and clean energy solutions as businesses seek to save operating costs. Businesses especially recognize that energy efficiency has rapid returns and is an under-used tool for productivity improvement. Investment in energy management software alone is expected to increase by 10% in the next four years. [23]In many states, more supportive policies encouraging renewable energy use and removing barriers such as restrictive zoning are advancing renewable energy systems.[24]

The green energy field has a diversity of job opportunities in sectors ranging from clean energy production to environmental management. All have shown robust job growth over the last decade, with trends increasingly positive.[25]Renewable energy systemsinclude hydroelectric, wind and solar energy, both passive solar incorporated into building design and active photovoltaic power generation. Solar energy alone employs more people than oil, gas and coal combined with 777,000 jobs posted in 2016. Solar jobs are growing at 25% per year and wind at 16% per year, though the trend has slowed a bit due to federal policy uncertainty and the tariffs imposed on imports of solar panels and components from China.[26]The renewable energy production field employs skilled workers such as Electricians, Electrician helpers, Solar Installers, repairers, and Electric power plant operators. When these renewable energy systems are built in America, they also employ machinists, construction workers, and building trades workers.

Energy Storage and Advanced Electric Gridopportunities showed a 235% surge in growth in 2016-2017with 98,800 jobs in storage and 55,000 jobs in advanced electric grid operations. These fields are critical for building the infrastructure to integrate renewable resources into a smoothly functioning electric system. Adding storage both as utility scale functions and as modular additions to individual buildings creates flexibility, reliability and resilience in the operations of electric service. Using artificial intelligence for grid management and load adjustments also expands the capability of the system. This is an exciting and rapidly growing field.

The Energy Efficiency fieldincludes diagnostics, engineering modifications, retrofitting, adapting and installing energy efficiency improvements to commercial and residential buildings. This sector employs 2.2 million workers, mostly in construction trades such as Roofers, Roofer- Helpers, Pipe-layers, Plumbers, Pipefitters, Steamfitters, HVAC Mechanics, and HVAC Installers. The opportunities in energy efficiency grow as communities and businesses invest in infrastructure improvements and modernization. Because these jobs are tied to local initiatives, they are an excellent bridge to a more resilient economy.

The transportation sector is undergoing a massive transformation in Advanced Vehicles and Transportation. Developing and manufacturing electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles provided 174,000 jobs in 2016-2017. It is a growing field, for example, Ford announced $11 Billion in investment for 40 EV and Hybrid vehicles targeted to be on the market by 2022.[27]In addition to traditional automotive workers, this sector adds skills in artificial intelligence, engineering and electronics. 

Environmental Managementin the green economy has a role of increasing importance.  This field defines the intersection of change where traditional systems are adapting to incorporate renewable energy, efficiency and operations. [28]Because of the strong financial benefit of sustainability, 43% of corporate executives have placed sustainability on the agenda for their operations. Though the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track “sustainability” jobs at this time, there are strong indicators of rapid growth in this field.[29]Jobs in the energy management field include Hazardous waste management, Refuse Recycling management, Septic system engineers, Plant and system operators, Conservation scientists.[30]This field is evolving and is shaping the direction for future enterprises both from within corporations and as new business areas of opportunity.

Wages and Skills in the Green Economy

An often – repeated allegation about the green economy holds that green jobs don’t pay well.  This is not true. Wages in the clean energy economy are above the national average of $23.86 per hour. For Clean Energy Production (renewables) wages average $28.41 per hour; for Energy efficiency, $25.90 per hour; and for Environmental Management, wages average $27.45 per hour. [31]

The scope and range of job opportunities offer a wide array of skill requirements and opportunities.  This is an area of high diversity and high prospects for growth. Jobs that improve the environment and conserve resources offer a foundation for moving to a sustainable future. The barriers and impediments to this path can be overcome. The problem is much like that of the Suffragettes who had to overcome the objections of the men in power to obtain rights for women to vote. The fossil industry interests hold the power in Congress, and they must be overcome to accelerate the transformation necessary to address climate change and global pollution. Workers in current fossil industries such as coal mining look at green job opportunities through the lens of wages won by long and hard union negotiations, years of organizing for rights and benefits, and a generation of struggle. The jobs of the Industrial Revolution are not the jobs of the future. But the wages, benefits and conditions of work are negotiable, and can be improved. These new jobs have the benefit of being inherently healthier both for the workers and for the environment of the communities. Organizing, negotiating and demanding more equitable wages, fair distribution of resources between workers and corporate owners, and a basic respect for the dignity of work lie at the heart of this initiative for green jobs. The days of man-killing work are over, and we should rejoice that the future holds better choices.

A call to action

There is no reason to delay the rapid transformation to a sustainable green economy. We need only to listen to our children.  From young Greta Thornburg pleading for her future to the United Nations to our own children in lawsuits against inaction by the U.S. Government, children around the world are begging for their future. Our Constitution offers Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness as an inalienable right. If we leave our children a planet so compromised that the life support functions we take for granted do not operate, haven’t we failed in our Constitutional obligation to them? As stated in the International AFL-CIO Confederation climate statement in Copenhagen this year, “Economic transformation cannot be left to the “invisible hand” of the market.”[32]This is a time for workers to unite and organize for the sake of our children and grandchildren, to learn the lessons of the union labor movement and demand a more equitable solution.

The laws of Nature are NOT negotiable. Climate change will continue its inevitable course with ever increasing disastrous consequences for all of life on Earth. OUR Laws must change to enable and promote “Green Jobs” instead of protecting fossil industries. The majority of Americans want action on climate change.  We must find the determination and organize broadly to change the direction of our government policies. The current policies of the United States are moving backward – rejecting the Paris Accord on Climate Action, refusing to sign the Plastics Reduction amendment to the Basel Accord on international trade in hazardous materials, and rescinding 87 environmental and health protections by Executive Order, for example. None of these actions serve the public interest, rather they seek to re-establish a world that no longer exists.

Momentum is building for action on climate change: 22 states, 550 cities, and 900 companies with operations in the US have made climate commitments.[33]All 50 states have some type of policy that could bring about emissions reductions. When people demand action, we can make change happen. The key elements for action on climate change include:[34]

1. Government-driven investments in the Green Economy

2. Innovation and skills development 

3. Social protection- especially pensions and benefits 

4. Consultation with social partners (unions and employers) 

5. Healthy environment for healthy people and planet

6. Equitable redistribution of resources and power.

These are essential to the necessary transformation to a better, sustainable future.

We can DECIDE to leave a Living Earth as a legacy for our children! 

Citations and Resources:


[1]http://www.worldwatch.org/node/810

[2]Scripps Institution of Oceanography. CO2 Reading for May 11,2019. Mauna Loa Data Center. https://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/

[3] https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/carbon-dioxide-hits-level-not-seen-3-million-years-here-ncna1005231 

[4]https://www.ipbes.net/document-library-catalogue/summary-policymakers-global-assessment-report-biodiversity-ecosystem)

[5]H. Res. 109. Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal. 116thCongress, 1stSession. February 7, 2019. https://www.congress.gov/116/bills/hres109/BILLS-116hres109ih.pdf

[6]https://prospect.org/article/way-we-won-americas-economic-breakthrough-during-world-war-ii Accessed May 15, 2019

[7]  World Commission on Environment and Development Report “Our Common Future.” 1987. https://www.sustainabledevelopment2015.org/AdvocacyToolkit/index.php/earth-summit-history/historical-documents/92-our-common-future

[8]See discussion of effects of elevated carbon dioxide levelshttps://www.cnn.com/2019/05/13/health/carbon-dioxide-world-intl/index.html)

[9]For more examples see P. DeMarco. Pathways to Our Sustainable Future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. 2017 University of Pittsburgh Press.

[10]R. Costanza, R. deGroot, P.Sutton, S.vander Ploeg, S. Anderson, I. Kubeszewski, S. Farber, R.K.Turner. “Changes in the global value of ecosystem services.” Global Environmental Change. 2014. 26:152-158.   https://community-wealth.org/sites/clone.community-wealth.org/files/downloads/article-costanza-et-al.pdfAccessed May 17, 2019.

[11]Pennsylvania Land Trust Association. “Economic and Environmental Benefits of Biodiversity”   https://conservationtools.org/guides/95-economic-benefits-of-biodiversity Accessed May 19, 2019.

[12]The National Energy Act of 2005 explicitly granted exemptions from seven federal environmental and worker safety protections to allow natural gas extraction from deep shale formations by hydraulic fracturing. 

[13]http://priceofoil.org/fossil-fuel-subsidies/

[14]https://www.treasury.gov/open/Documents/USA%20FFSR%20progress%20report%20to%20G20%202014%20Final.pdf

[15]https://www.eia.gov/analysis/requests/subsidy/  also   https://www.nature.com/articles/s41560-017-0009-8

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

[17]http://priceofoil.org/2018/02/07/new-study-shows-axing-fossil-fuel-subsidies-could-deliver-major-climate-benefits-but-press-release-says-the-opposite/

[18]https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/mar/03/oil-and-gas-industry-has-pumped-millions-into-republican-campaigns

[19]https://www.opensecrets.org/industries/indus.php?Ind=E01

[20]https://nca2018.globalchange.gov

[21]https://www.ipbes.net/news/Media-Release-Global-Assessment

[22]Lazard. Levelized Cost of Energy Report. 2018. https://www.lazard.com/perspective/levelized-cost-of-energy-and-levelized-cost-of-storage-2018/

[23]https://www.energymanagertoday.com/11-experts-predict-the-future-of-energy-management-in-2019-0180643/

[24] Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy  http://www.dsireusa.org

[25]https://www.labor4sustainability.org/post/green-jobs-in-a-global-green-new-deal/

[26]https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2017/01/25/u-s-solar-energy-employs-more-people-than-oil-coal-and-gas-combined-infographic/#7cc2b7228000  

[27]Ford announces $11 Billion investment in 40  hybrid and electric vehicles by 2022. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autoshow-detroit-ford-motor/ford-plans-11-billion-investment-40-electrified-vehicles-by-2022-idUSKBN1F30YZ

[28]https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability/our-insights/sustainabilitys-strategic-worth-mckinsey-global-survey-results

[29]https://www.bls.gov/green/sustainability/sustainability.htm

[30]https://www.bls.gov/green/

[31]https://www.brookings.edu/research/advancing-inclusion-through-clean-energy-jobs/

[32]AFL-CIO Climate statement at Copenhagen  https://www.scribd.com/document/96838350/Final-Report-from-the-AFL-CIO-and-International-Trade-Union-Confederation-on-the-Copenhagen-Accord-on-Climate-Change

[33]Bloomberg Philanthropies. Fulfilling America’s Pledge: How States, Cities, and Businesses are Leading the United States to a Low-carbon Future. 2018. https://www.bbhub.io/dotorg/sites/28/2018/09/Fulfilling-Americas-Pledge-2018.pdf  Accessed May 22, 2019.

[34](for more ideas on a just transition see https://climatejusticealliance.org/just-transition/


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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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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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For my Father In Honor of The OG PAT Mission 1944

My father was First Lieutenant Michael A. DeMarco, in the OSS Special Reconnaissance Regiment, Company B under General Donovan in the second World War.  Their mission, coded PAT, parachuted 15 men into the Tarn in France with orders to “harass and destroy the enemy, cut German communications and supply routes and strengthen the resistance movement.”  I have shared my Father’s memoir of that time, and now a broader history of the PAT Mission has been researched by Meredith Wheeler with a Fulbright Scholarship to support her research.  http://www.ossreborn.com/files/OG_PAT_A_Fresh_LookPhotos1.pdf

As I read this history again, the words that send shivers through me to this day are: “Within two weeks, the south Tarn was liberated. Some 4500 Wehrmacht soldiers surrendered to 12 OSS men and a few hundred Resistance fighters‐—most of them poorly‐ armed, under‐trained maquis.” My parents named me Patricia in honor of this mission.  I reflect on this Veteran’s Day on the legacy I carry from these brave people – a call to courage and a cry of hope.

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Michael and Marcella DeMarco 1995

From my Father comes the tremendous courage to prevail in spite of the odds and obstacles.  In all situations he brought caution, thorough preparation, ingenuity, and determination to the problem. This applied to recreational camping as well as to all domestic enterprises.  So growing up in these conditions was often a challenge as we were constantly being prepared for battle, whether one materialized at once or not.  From my Mother comes the outrageously defiant act of having a child in the wake of the atomic bomb. Her fierce determination to maintain hope and optimism in the face of gloom and disaster infused everyone she touched. I am so tremendously blessed to have such parents and the example of both of their lives of self-sacrifice, service and teaching.

In the aftermath of this election, I feel called in their honor to stand for what is ethically and morally necessary in the face of impending tyranny. As I have been reflecting on the serious implications of Trump’s election, I am torn with several emotions, including outrage that Democrats missed the pleas of the Sanders supporters so badly.  People wanted a change, and Hillary was just too cautiously embedded in mainstream politics to resonate with their frustration.  We are getting a change alright, but in the wrong direction!

Action from the passion of my soul is the only possible response. So, to all my friends and followers, I issue a call to action on three fronts:
1. Hold the people elected to account for the true principles guaranteed to ALL people by the Constitution.  We cannot sit quietly while freedoms and protections for women, minorities, the environment are rolled back or undermined. Democracy is not a spectator sport with events once every four years.  We must organize now and engage with voices and demands for accountability every day.
2. We must prepare to defend our environment, our public lands and wildlife refuges from the assault of “getting rid of regulations that hurt business.”  Standing in front of the bulldozers and saws and mining equipment may be necessary, as demonstrated by the Standing Rock Sioux.  This is our fate for the next two years at least.  Our wild lands and our environment must be labeled: “Protected by the People for Our Children and Their Grandchildren”
3. We must organize and bring forward new leaders.  The most passionate voices are those of the Millennials, but there is no room for them with 18 and 20 year tenured legislators, Congressmen, and Senators.  We have to give voice to the generation whose fate we are determining with the policies adopted now. We have to let them step up and shape the world they will live in.
I take hope that in spite of the bombast and vituperative rhetoric of the campaign, Trump is a pragmatist under it all.  He will be the ONLY world leader who does not support climate action. Peer pressure does work on such people as Trump.  At the federal and international levels, the US may actually lose the leadership position on climate action Obama has crafted, but the many cities, states, businesses, communities and individuals who are committed to sustainability and resilience are not going to stop.  Trump may make the federal supports harder, and the infrastructure more burdensome, but there is no way to stop this now.  We need to keep the positive benefits of moving away from fossil fuels in front of the public eye.  Local jobs, health benefits, long term environmental and economic stability – these things are not going away.
In the end, the laws of Nature are not negotiable.  Reality will hit at some point as an undeniable condition. IF we are to survive at all and thrive in this world, we must absolutely preserve the life support system of our Earth- fresh water, clean air, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species that constitute the web of life.  Humans are but one part, but we have dropped a boulder through the fragile web that holds us together. Prepare to stand and fight for what matters.  Plunder and devastation in the name of “good business” may be legal, but it is not right – not for all the living things of Earth that have the right to exist, not for the children of our time or the unborn of future generations.
I remember the lessons of those brave men who jumped into the black night to defend freedom in a strange land, and I prepare for the existential battle for life on Earth.