Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."


Turning Dreams to Reality- Addressing Climate Change, Pollution and Species Extinction with Hope and Courage

Patricia DeMarco

November 20, 2022

The landscape has changed with the season from green filled with flowers to brown, red and gold of the deciduous tree canopy in this temperate Pennsylvania community of Forest Hills. As we push forward with budget setting we struggle to implement the plans laid down over the past several years- A Comprehensive Plan for Development, a Climate Action Plan and an Active Transportation Plan. The local governments of America are on the front lines of addressing the great existential challenges of our time. But they do not appear as cataclysmic surges everywhere at once. While coastal areas may struggle with rising sea levels and extraordinary king tides, we in the middle lands have different problems.

Light Up the Hills- Forest Hills Borough 11-19-2022

Here we seek to reinvest in communities long abandoned by the extractive industries of coal and steel and petrochemical production that laid down the wealth of the 20th century. Here we seek to reshape a future built on the foundations of past systems, but with the resilience and ingenuity that has sustained the people of this land for millennia. Adaptations come slowly, but now more quickly as the tools of policy begin to take hold. The grassroots ideas compiled into the ReImagine Appalachia Blueprint during 2020-2022 are now being implemented through successful incorporation into the Infrastructure and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act adopted by Congress this year. Funds begin to percolate down to the communities, with the new concept of Community Benefit Agreements attached to federal funds. We are slowly dragging equity and inclusion considerations into the policies that drive progress.

What does that look like at the Borough level? Well, we see the prospect of upgrading our sidewalks and public transportation corridors for safer and more frequent bus transit service, and eventually bicycle lanes. We see funds for repairing pedestrian walkways connecting shopping and parks with communities. Walkways and stairways were once prolific in the days when the community was served by electric streetcars, but have fallen into disrepair, overrun with vines and the inevitable succession of saplings growing into the cracks. The remnants of a more active society remain and can be restored.

As the cost of renewable energy systems comes down and is better supported with incentives, more people and businesses are making installations, some linked with their electric vehicle charging stations. The community looks toward establishing micro-grids where solar on business and municipal buildings helps to meet energy requirements, and centrally located battery storage units can ameliorate the cost for the whole community as well as offer better reliability and resilience in storms. The electric grid is being evaluated and upgraded to accommodate the changes that are coming soon. Investment tax credits and production tax credits that are established in law for 10 years, instead of two or three requiring constant budget reauthorization, now make investors more interested in these projects. Stability in the market actually works where exhortation and pleading fell on deaf ears.

As the crises of extended droughts afflict many parts of the world and even significant and growing areas of America, we see the pattern of abundant water from storms in our area instead. Stormwater surges and landslides are our greatest climate change vulnerabilities. This pattern of storm water from climate change carries a huge opportunity and also an obligation. In Pennsylvania and our neighboring Appalachian states, we will have water for growing food, for domestic use and for other purposes. We will not have water to waste, or to contaminate by deliberately adding contaminants for fracking or industrial sewer discharge. Fresh water is essential for life. We must become adept at managing the storm surges, storing water for later use, and conserving its integrity from contaminants. Water can be reclaimed, reused and recirculated endlessly, if the laws that govern its distribution and flow are respected and not abused.

The COVID pandemic that has cost over one million lives in the US alone has reshaped our society. We carry the scars of this pandemic in our loss of social interaction, our pain and grief at losing loved ones, and our economic stress. We have seen our vulnerabilities magnified in the global marketplace when supply chains have been disrupted. People begin to look again to regional and local systems for things that are necessary. Will the homogenized global marketplace yield once again to regional and local specialization? Can we look forward to specialties that make places unique, that mark them as home? I hope so. The handmade homemade craft of folks who made much out of little has earned a place in our history, and may become a hallmark of our future. COVID also revealed the disparities in broadband access and affordability. Here again, new laws begin to address this issue that restrains participation in the virtual marketplace for many people in both urban and rural areas. Is it time for broadband access to be an essential utility service?

I attended the Forest Hills community celebration of Light Up the Hills on Friday evening. There were people from all around the neighborhood and surrounding communities as well. The faces of children telling their wishes to Santa, the people coming in for hot chocolate and donuts after watching young performers all came together to greet each other, and share a few moments of joy. That is what makes communities matter. Shared joy, shared accomplishments, and the sense of belonging in a special place that we can shape, but that also shapes us.

As we prepare for the Thanksgiving Celebration, this week, I think of this time for extending gratitude and appreciation among our kinsfolk, and to our neighbors and friends. And I hope that we can also extend a smile and friendly expressions even to strangers we may meet along the way. We are more alike in our humanity than different in race, gender, culture, religion, or even politics. It is a time to remember the deep history of this land and the Indigenous Peoples who thrived here for thousands of years before the European colonists arrived. Their resilience to changes over millennia gives testament to the ability of people to adapt, to find ways of cooperating through changes, and to share the love and respect for this bountiful land.


What will it take to make a policy U-Turn on Climate Action in America? 

By Patricia M. DeMarco

We, the people of 2022 are experiencing already the irreversible effects of global warming, global pollution and loss of biodiversity that herald the degradation of our life support system. Presented in the form of data, the statistics are frightening.[1] Carbon dioxide measured at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory peaked for 2022 at 421 parts per million in May, now 50% higher than before the Industrial Revolution.[2]

IPCC Report “Code Reds for the Planet”

     Most people notice incremental changes in the weather, and in trends in warming compared to recent past experience, but the gradual change does not cause a sense of danger for most people. The reality of the climate situation calls for an urgent transformative response, a Policy U-Turn. But the reality of the political situation portends the reverse of what is needed – a resurgence of regulation in favor of the fossil extractive industries. The oil, coal and gas magnates press for new investments based on hydrogen from fracked fossil methane and a further push for single use plastics to bolster the industrial petrochemical complex.[3] These are false solutions perpetrated by short–term economic interests which, if pursued, will assure the even more rapid destruction of this living earth.

     I want to scream in frustration at the misinformation and greed that perpetuates these disasters. I want to lash out in anger that so many in power refuse to see the needs of the people for now and for the future. I weep for what has been lost already, and for what will yet be exterminated from the face of the earth. Yet, out of this frustration, anger and grief comes a passion to intervene, to give voice to the solutions that are in hand, to organize for political action. This election. This summer. Now. Before it is too late.

     No elected official would ever deliberately send hundreds of people into homelessness, but they decide that preventing wildfires is too expensive. No elected official would deliberately poison people, but every day decisions are made to allow uncontrolled pollution to continue in neighborhoods of marginalized people. We let injustice continue like a creeping blight – 

  • Air pollution spreads asthma to one in five adults and one in four children in Clairton PA;
  • Chemical contamination spreads endocrine disruptors throughout the population until 93% of Americans have detectable levels of Bis-Phenyl A in their blood and a body burden of hundreds of synthetic chemicals in our bodies, even in newborn infants; 
  • Obesity afflicts 33% of Americans who live in food desserts; 
  • Water supplies in most major cities are contaminated with lead and other infrastructure failures. 

The government has become powerless to change the laws to protect people now, and even less to protect people and other living things for the future. 

     If we were to govern FOR THE PEOPLE, the opinion of the majority of Americans clamors for urgent action on climate. “63% of Americans favor broad government action on climate. At a time when partisanship colors most views of policy, broad majorities of the public – including more than half of Republicans and overwhelming shares of Democrats – say they would favor a range of initiatives to reduce the impacts of climate change, including large-scale tree planting efforts, tax credits for businesses that capture carbon emissions and tougher fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.”[4] Even in the face of national opinion polls indicating that a majority of Americans believe that addressing climate change is important, Congress remains deadlocked. Inert. Ineffective. A few Senators, Manchin and Collins and McConnell, successfully block action on climate policy to protect fossil industry interests.  Now the Supreme Court is eroding the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to rule on carbon emissions.[5]

      Local governments end up on the front line for dealing with the effects of climate change and protecting people where they live. Efforts at the local level can move forward a bit with climate action plans, however, for the sweeping structural changes from fossil fuels to renewable energy systems, there need to be changes in the underlying laws. This will not happen unless there can be a veto-proof majority of Senators willing to stand up for the future of our planet, for our children, and for the emerging industries of the clean economy: renewable energy systems; regenerative agriculture and permaculture; and circular materials management for consumer goods.

     Many local and regional communities have put forward a vision for a better future critically needed to ameliorate the inevitable disaster that will occur if we continue on the current path. The ReImagine Appalachia Blueprint, the Marshall Plan for Middle America, internationally The Natural Step Framework, the German Energiewende and many others lay out a sustainable future. We know what the solutions are. We know they work. We need to amass the political will to make it happen. The laws of Nature are not negotiable: if we continue to add to the greenhouse gas burden in the atmosphere, we will experience global warming, ocean acidification and the consequences of ecosystem failure. Indeed, we are already seeing these effects beginning to accumulate.

     We suffer from a failure to communicate effectively not only the urgency of the situation but the availability of the solutions.  We cannot spare our children from the effects of climate change already in motion, but we can still shift to adaptations that can slow the progression and lead to a less disastrous fate.

Earth Day 1970

     What will it take to change the direction of the country?  Earth Day 1970 brought 10 million Americans into the streets, the halls of Congress, the union halls, the city chambers to demand clean air, safe drinking water and protection from toxic chemicals.  The Climate Convergence has mobilized fewer than five million, and the effort is scattered, fractured and fraught with infighting. Scientists leap to challenge, critique and shred each other, as good scientists do in the rigor of academic pursuit. But that very rigor of the scientific process is turned against the message in the public eye. The message of science is discredited successfully by pseudo experts and mouthpieces for the industry who cast doubt on climate findings and disparage the solutions by exaggerating minor flaws and disagreements.

Climate Denial = “Patriotic”

     We are indeed in a battle for survival as a species, as a civilization of Humanity. It is time to pull together and lift our eyes to what it is possible still to preserve for our children. It is time to see the vision of a finer future with a shared prosperity, equity and dignity for all people, a style of living that is sufficient but not profligate, where we can celebrate the richness of talent and spirit rather than race to consume and throw away more and more stuff we do not need.

March for Science- Pittsburgh 2017

     Every election this November of 2022 presents a choice for decision makers and policy makers who will determine the fate of our country and our world.  It is time for all of us in the science world, in the sustainability movement, in the arena of believers in the best that people can be to stand up and be counted.  We need to make our voices heard and our demands recognized.  Put climate on the agenda in the public debates.  Build momentum to demand action on behalf of our children.  Those who cannot vote yet are excellent ambassadors for climate change.  We must stand for our youth and demand accountability from those in power or who wish to sit in seats of power.

     And scientists- real ones – need to run for office and win.


[1] : (https://www.ipcc.ch/assessment-report/ar6/ )

[2] https://www.noaa.gov/news-release/carbon-dioxide-now-more-than-50-higher-than-pre-industrial-levels

[3]  “Our Region’s Energy Future” Allegheny Conference Energy Task Force Report April 2022. https://www.alleghenyconference.org/energy-report/

[4]   ALEC TYSON AND BRIAN KENNEDY. Two-Thirds of Americans Think Government Should Do More on Climate. Pew Research Center. June 23, 2020. 

[5] West Virginia vs EPA before the Supreme Court https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/20-1530


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Marshall Plan for Middle America Summit

Next Steps for Local Government

By Patricia DeMarco, Ph.D., Chair of CONNECT, Vice President of Forest Hills Borough Council

The Marshall Plan for Middle America Summit took place virtually on September 27, 28 and October 4,5  in partnership with The City of Pittsburgh, Heartland Capital Strategies, ReImagine Appalachia, and Resilient Cities Catalyst.[1]

As we have been deliberating over these last four days about how the communities of Middle America can address the challenges and opportunities facing us together, we must recognize that we are collectively in an existential battle for the survival of our children. There is no more time to play games, for political posturing and jousting.  If we do not take bold action to address climate change NOW, more people will die. And our children will face a bleak future. The laws of Nature are not negotiable; we must stop burning fossil fuels, or the Earth will continue warming beyond the range of tolerance for life as we know it.

Given that we face a crisis, it is exciting to come together to plan the transformation of our economy and our society so we can address the climate issues in ways that also address equity, build resilience, bring more inclusive practices to our operations, and redress social and environmental injustice. Solving the interlocking problems associated with moving away from fossil fuels also offers the opportunity to take the skills of our workers who built America and re-direct them to re-building America for the 21st century and beyond. We are beginning to count and value not only the next quarter profits but the community benefits: good paying union jobs, cleaner air and water, healthier people, and safer communities.

Capacity building for local communities is a key to the success of our transformation to a resilient sustainable society. Local governments are on the front line when people need help. Yet, many small communities like mine are constrained in the competition for big government funded programs. We have no “Planning Department.” We have no grant writer or development office. We certainly do not have 50::50 or worse 90::10 matching funds to access federal grants. So, we succeed by coalition building. CONNECT- The Congress of Neighboring Communities including the City of Pittsburgh and 42 neighbors- work together to solve common problems and share resources.[2]  We also connect the intellectual capital of the university of Pittsburgh to applied problems in our communities in real time. Problems like opioid addiction and planning for climate change, and shared police, fire, and emergency services. We also join coalitions on a regional basis like ReImagine Appalachia, a Blueprint for a New Deal that works for all of us in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky to build on our strengths and come together as a block in Congress so we are at the table, not on the menu.[3] Along with the Marshall Plan for Middle America, we will have shovel-ready projects to cue up when federal programs materialize.

In all of this, the workers are essential. When we include workers and labor unions in the discussions about what the future can be and how we can get there, they keep focus on real jobs that pay well. We are not seeking to retrain people for jobs they don’t want in places they don’t want to go. We need to restructure the fossil extractive industry workforce to capture their excellent skills and turn them toward the essential work of the green economy. We need to be sure there are pathways to good union jobs as we create new enterprises for renewable energy systems, a circular materials management system, and regenerative agriculture and permaculture, especially to heal abandoned mined lands. Workers deserve the right to organize and negotiate for fair wages and safe working conditions. When we invest in communities, we invest in building the local workforce too.

Finally, it is critical that we keep building the story. We have a vision of a more just, equitable and inclusive society, a better America. We are already seeing the technology penetrate for net zero energy buildings, for electrified public transit and vehicles, for advanced manufacturing. We do not have a technology problem!  We do have a problem of moral fortitude to commit to making the necessary political choices to move forward.  Ignoring these issues will not solve them but articulating the vision for a better tomorrow will change the tide of obstruction.  People do not move toward what they cannot visualize.  People will not move to something they perceive as a hardship. We are building a better America already. We need to tell the stories of success and multiply the impact of our work by standing together. The power of this country is vested in the People in our Constitution. We must use that power wisely and use it well to solve this crisis and reach the next plateau of excellence in a resilient sustainable future with justice, equity and inclusion for all of the people.


[1] Marshall Plan for Middle America Roadmap https://www.sustainablebusiness.pitt.edu/sites/default/files/marshall_plan_for_middle_america_roadmap_0.pdf

[2] CONNECT- The Congress of Neighboring Communities operated through the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. https://www.connect.pitt.edu

[3] See the ReImagine Appalachia Blueprint, jobs reports and resources here https://reimagineappalachia.org


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Hold AMAZON Accountable

Published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Other Opinions” on Sunday, July 25, 2021

by Patricia M. DeMarco, Ph.D.

In September 2019, AMAZON made a public commitment to become carbon neutral in all of its operations worldwide by 2040 and launched a $2 billion fund to implement it.[i]

As The Borough of Churchill and other communities around Pittsburgh see advances of AMAZON interest in locating distribution centers in the area, those making the decisions and responsible for granting the building permits must stand to hold them accountable to their rhetoric.

Taking the former Westinghouse Research Park in Churchill as an example, there are three things that can be done on this site to ameliorate the climate impact of this proposed new facility.  Many of my constituents and neighbors have expressed concerns about diesel pollution and emissions from the operation of this facility and outrage over the destruction of hundreds of mature trees on the site.  Air quality, stormwater run-off, and destruction of carbon reducing trees are serious issues. Remedies to mitigate these issues are readily available and should be required in the permitting process.

First: This new construction should be based on a passive solar design with geothermal earth tube and heat pump systems for heating and cooling.  The electric load of the facility should be met by installing a photovoltaic solar array on the roof. This will reduce emissions both from burning a fossil fuel on site for heating and from the regional power supply to produce electricity to serve the facility. A well-designed new building can be cost effective to build, cheaper to operate, and have a net zero energy profile.[ii]

Second, AMAZON has touted its electric fleet as one of its innovations for climate action.[iii]  This new facility should be required to use electric vehicles, with charging stations at the facility to prevent the diesel emissions that will otherwise certainly inundate the area with particulate and organic compounds in the air.

Third, the site should be required to install bioswales and permeable paving in the parking areas and along the roadways.  Stormwater runoff from this site is already an issue for neighboring areas, and the removal of the large trees to accommodate this facility will only worsen this effect.  Sloping the parking areas toward bioswales and designing the area around the building to capture runoff will help to mitigate stormwater effects.

Finally, the removal of mature trees should be kept to an absolute minimum with careful siting of the facility on the land.  Preserving the remnants of an Indigenous People trail and maintaining trees as visual and noise screening from the surrounding residential areas should be a priority for the site design. The Borough of Churchill has the opportunity to hold AMAZON accountable to its own rhetoric.  This new facility can become a model for innovation and adaptation to the reality of our climate crisis, not a capitulation to the lure of “jobs” at any co


[i] AMAZON Climate Pledge and Climate Pledge Fund. https://sustainability.aboutamazon.com/about/the-climate-pledge  https://sustainability.aboutamazon.com/about/the-climate-pledge/the-climate-pledge-fund

[ii] The Forest Hills Borough municipal building completed in 2018 has generated more energy than it uses for a net zero operating profile.

[iii] “AMAZON’s custom electric vehicles are starting to hit the road.” https://www.aboutamazon.com/news/transportation/amazons-custom-electric-delivery-vehicles-are-starting-to-hit-the-road

Patricia M. DeMarco, Ph.D. is the author of Pathways to Our Sustainable Future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh Press. 2017. She is a Senior Scholar at Chatham University and writes a blog “Pathways to a Just Transition” at https://patriciademarco.com  She is Vice President of the Forest Hills Borough Council and Chair of CONNECT – The Congress of Neighboring Communities surrounding Pittsburgh.


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Green New Deal – Pittsburgh Discussion Group

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

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

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

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

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

Adopted May 25, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the recorded session I here: https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/RZ0MsittrNb8UssGTLoZjGUmYhsMgVEBTukerLRPAqd31jBP0xUSNspwxY5iLSZM.8NQyiqRJYba1F4I1?startTime=1626305570000 

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

See the recorded Session II here https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/AbR_3TWBzg9E3QT04j4KZmFkQddjLeBpGqe1JaiP3a1H5RnlklhGsUpZKgnnyUSA.FcgFw9G7FlavmT-C?startTime=1627243338000

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

Listen to the recorded session here https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/voC6aV9VJlZPN8Vg-sJwf-CulwvAhbM9RbzarzU2L-zviYAf22d-6BlwGLAo8mX0.kpyzApZE5qzbQQls?startTime=1628453275000

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

Join the discussion for our consideration of Mike Stout’s book “Homestead Steel Mill: The Final Ten Years- USWA Local 1397 and the fight for union democracy”


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

April 22, 2020

Patricia M.DeMarco,Ph.D.

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

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


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

by Patricia DeMarco

November 15, 2019

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

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

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

What do we value?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Profits and Who Pays?

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

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

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

•Master Limited Partnerships tax exemption ($1.6 billion)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The people pay. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is our legacy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The way forward:

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

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

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

Sources and Citations


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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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“We don’t know what we’ve lost till it’s gone.” World Ocean Day 2018

“We don’t know what we’ve lost till it’s gone”
World Ocean Day – June 8, 2018
Patricia M. DeMarco

“Don’t it always seem to go that we don’t know what we’ve lost till it’s gone?”  Joni Mitchell

Photo: winner in the Youth Category
of World Oceans Day Photo Competition/Jack McKee.[1]

“The Ocean is a place of paradoxes.  It is the home of the great white shark, two-thousand-pound killer of the seas, and of the hundred-foot blue whale, the largest animal that ever lived. It is also the home of living things so small that your two hands might scoop as many of them as there are stars in the Milky Way.”Rachel Carson[2]

Walking along the edge of the sea in the early morning after a storm reveals the power and the wonder of Nature. Long ribbons of winged kelp, Alaria, with rock clinging to their moorings wrenched from the depths by the power of the storm clump along the tide line.  Strewn among them are the spiral egg cases of the Channeled Whelk, stranded jellyfish, or sea urchins along with bits of shell and an occasional starfish cast out of its depth.  The sanderlings and gulls prod through the debris running back and forth, or swoop and dive into the shallows. The detritus of humanity is there too, adding unnatural bright colors of plastic bottles, straws, styrofoam cups, toys, tampons, plastic containers of joint compound or kitty litter, shards and pieces of plastic goods once used and discarded. Indigestible even by the bacteria and detrital consumers of the ocean deep, this accumulated debris of human convenience chokes the life out of the creatures of the sea.  Inevitably, it will choke the life out of all of us, too

The ocean as we have known it for hundreds of years now exhibits the effects of careless and deliberately harmful human actions. The ocean has been considered so vast that no amount of contamination could possibly affect it.  Now the effects of endless dumping, runoff from chemical agriculture, and the acidification of the water from absorbing carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels are degrading vast areas of the ocean.  Coral reefs stand bleached and dying over 50% to 80% of their reaches.[3]No coastline on earth is free of plastic debris washed to the ocean from land.

Since 1983, the United Nations has celebrated World Oceans Day on June 8thto help raise awareness of our dependence on the ocean for most of the oxygen in the atmosphere, food for millions of people, tempering our climate and contributing endless connections in the global web of life.  The ocean covers 70% of the surface of planet Earth. Though part of the Earth from the time of its ancient origins, vast expanses of the ocean remain unexplored, shrouded in mystery.  All of life on Earth depends on the functions of the ocean and the myriad of living things embraced in its waters.  Most critically, 50% of the free oxygen in the atmosphere comes from phytoplankton living in the top 18 inches of the ocean water. These small life forms convert sunlight to sugars and oxygen as they float on the surface of the sea.  At the ground base of the food chain, plankton feed creatures from beluga whales, to sockeye salmon to small fry of fishes. Millions are suffocated by oil slicks. Worse, the plankton are now joined by micro-plastic particles, ground into bits from years of tossing in the ocean, now intermixed with the life forms, reducing the food value and offering surfaces on which toxic bacteria and toxic pollutants accumulate. Some of the plankton will ingest the micro-plastic, and thus incorporate this material into their own systems.[4]The feeding fishes and whales do not distinguish the plankton from the plastic micro-particles, ingesting huge quantities of the increasingly contaminated material to the point of starvation. Plastic has been found in the bodies of fish caught for human consumption also.[5]

Plastic pollution is causing tremendous harm to our marine resources. For example:

  • 80% of all pollution in the ocean comes from people on land.
  • 8 million tonnes of plastic per year ends up in the ocean, wreaking havoc on wildlife, fisheries and tourism.
  • Plastic pollution costs the lives of 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals per year.
  • Fish eat plastic, and we eat the fish.
  • Plastic causes $8 billion in damage to marine ecosystems each year.[6]

The global contamination of the ocean from single use plastic is an especially poignant tragedy because it represents the epitome of the unintended consequences of modern progress. Plastic came into the market as a convenience, a wonder material that could lower cost and bring myriad improvements in critical things such as health care, packaging and disposable consumer products. Since the 1950s, plastic use has grown exponentially. While the uses of plastic have grown, there has been no concerted effort to address the waste stream that now reaches 300 million tons per year of plastic waste.[7]The uses of plastic and their production represent a $184 billion industry, with exports expected to grow by 7% per year until 2030 based on increased use of shale gas as a feedstock.[8]But the reclamation, recycling, or re-use of the raw petrochemical derived material has no value as a profit center, and thus accumulates as trash, and erodes the public amenities of water, land and ocean ecosystems. The unintended consequence of creating a material that is strong, non-biodegradable, light weight, formable into a variety of shapes are the same properties that make plastics a scourge when discharged into the oceans.

Without concerted action, we face the tragedy of a loss beyond measure – an ocean sterile of life, bereft of the resilience and regenerative power of millions of living things from the smallest plankton to the mightiest of whales that rise from the depths to breathe. There is no way to “recycle” out of this problem, though recapturing plastics for re-use is one part of the solution.  We must address the need to design systems for the capture of waste, so the “garbage” of modern life does not end up in the ocean. We must address the problem of excess plastic at the source. We must adopt policies and systematic solutions that prevent further pollution from plastic, and begin to clean up what has already accumulated in the ocean.

The United Nations has adopted an action focus for 2018: preventing plastic pollution and encouraging solutions for a healthy ocean. Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment, said, “It is past time that we tackle the plastic problem that blights our oceans. Plastic pollution is surfing onto Indonesian beaches, settling onto the ocean floor at the North Pole, and rising through the food chain onto our dinner tables. We’ve stood by too long as the problem has gotten worse. It must stop.”[9]At the closing of the G-7 meetings in Charlevoix, Canada, six of the countries, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, adopted an Ocean Plastics Charter: “Plastics are one of the most revolutionary inventions of the past century and play an important role in our economy and daily lives. However, the current approach to producing, using, managing and disposing of plastics poses a significant threat to the environment, to livelihoods and potentially to human health. It also represents a significant loss of value, resources and energy.” [10]The charter includes a five- part commitment to take action toward a resource-efficient lifecycle management approach to plastics in the economy by:

  1. Sustainable design, production and after-use markets
  1. Collection, management and other systems and infrastructure
  2. Sustainable lifestyles and education
  3. Research, innovation and new technologies
  4. Coastal and shoreline action

As we enter the summer season, many people travel to the seashore to enjoy the beaches, or fishing, or just being at the seaside. It is important to recognize that the simple pleasures we derive from experiencing the coast depend on much larger forces at work. The unthinking carelessness and wasteful practices surrounding our conveniences in using plastic take a relentless toll on essential life systems.  We cannot live without the complex living ocean, but we can certainly live without plastic straws, plastic bags and hundreds of other single-use items. For hundreds of suggestions about reducing plastic in your life, see https://myplasticfreelife.com/plasticfreeguide/  The most important step is to care about preserving the life of the ocean, to care about preserving our planet for our children. The   mysteries of the ocean depths are worth preserving, worth fighting for, and worth making changes in the “convenience” we take for granted without counting the cost.

“But even with all our modern instruments for probing and sampling the deep ocean, no one can say that we shall ever resolve the last, the ultimate mysteries of the sea. … For the sea lies all around us. The commerce of all lands must cross it. The very winds that move over the lands have been cradled on its broad expanse and seek ever to return to it. The continents themselves dissolve and pass to the sea, in grain after grain of eroded land. So the rains that rose from it return again in rivers. In its mysterious past it encompasses all the dim origins of life and receives in the end, after, it may be, many transmutations, the dead husks of that same life. For all at last return to the sea – to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end.”  
Rachel Carson. 1951. The Sea Around Us- Commemorative Illustrated Edition. Oxford Press. (2003) Page 259.

 

References and Citations:

[1]As the photographer of this young yellow boxfish (Ostracion cubicus) said, small marine creatures as well as large ones are fascinating and worth protecting. The fish was in a rocky crevice in the Tweed River, New South Wales, Australia.

[2].” Rachel Carson “Undersea” Nawaukum Press. Santa Rosa. 2010.

[3]https://www.insidescience.org/news/bringing-plight-coral-reefs-our-screens

[4] https://inhabitat.com/plankton-pundit-video-shows-exact-moment-plastic-enters-the-food-chain/

[5] Chelsea M. Rochman,Akbar Tahir,Susan L. Williams, Dolores V. Baxa, Rosalyn Lam,Jeffrey T. MillerFoo-Ching Teh, Shinta WerorilangiSwee J. Teh. “Anthropogenic debris in seafood: Plastic debris and fibers from textiles in fish and bivalves sold for human consumption.”

Scientific Reports. volume 5, Article number: 14340 (2015) https://www.nature.com/articles/srep14340#auth-8

[6]http://www.un.org/en/events/oceansday/

[7]Briony Harris. This is what countries are doing to fight plastic waste.” World Economic Forum. June 8, 2018. https://medium.com/world-economic-forum/this-is-what-countries-are-doing-to-fight-plastic-waste-d7673132230b

[8]https://www.americanchemistry.com/Trade-Overview/

[9]http://web.unep.org/unepmap/un-declares-war-ocean-plastic

[10]https://g7.gc.ca/en/official-documents/charlevoix-blueprint-healthy-oceans-seas-resilient-coastal-communities/#a1


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The Power of Joined Voices

 

The Power of Joined Voices

By Patricia M. DeMarco
May 20, 2018

 “It took hundreds of millions of years to produce the life that now inhabits the earth –    eons of time in which that developing and evolving and diversifying life reached a state of adjustment and balance with its surroundings. Given time – time not in years but in millennia – life adjusts, and a balance has been reached. For time is the essential ingredient; but in the modern world there is no time.” [1]Rachel Carson

Daily headlines document the gleeful devolution of our environmental protections, even as the conditions of climate and pollution grow worse.[2]A numbing effect sets in; beyond disbelief, a paralysis of will sends people into a shocked retreat. We pretend that some visionary leader will step in to save us. Or that a yet undiscovered technology will emerge to reverse the effects of global warming and global plastic pollution. We pretend it will all be fine, and try to go on with our lives while the basic life support system of our earth is torn to shreds. It is the children who are outraged, who bring suit and scream for justice.[3] It is the Native American defenders of water and land who rise up with their lives on the line to protest and object.[4]When rules protecting endangered species, drinking water, farm workers and children are dismantled in the name of immediate profits, or the lure of jobs, where is the outrage against the harm? Against the injustice? In nine states laws are under consideration that would make protesting energy infrastructure a criminal act, subject to prison as domestic terrorism.[5]Where is the outrage against the basic violation of First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly? When did cruelty become a value that makes America “Great”?

No visionary leader is going to come forth to save us. We must take responsibility to object directly to those in office at all levels who are making these decisions. We must take action ourselves, in our daily lives. There is no way to generate the necessary uprising of protest against the outrageous actions of this Administration and those complicit by silence without each one of us standing up and declaring ENOUGH!  There is a better choice for a way forward.  We have better options for our economy, for our way of life, for our children’s future. We do not need to destroy the Earth to have a thriving civilization. Indeed, we must preserve and restore the living systems of the Earth if we are to survive at all.

On this day, my 72ndbirthday, I call on all of my colleagues and friends, collaborators and associates to Stand Up! Speak Up! End the complacent silence that gives tacit permission for the destruction of our world to continue. We must exercise our obligations as citizens, as caring human beings, as children of Mother Earth to preserve the life support system of our planet. I urge a call to action as a manifesto for the environment.[6]

The rationale for this call to action rests on the following facts:

  1. The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania States The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all 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.” Article 1, Section 27.[7]
  2. All forms of 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.[8]
  3. Communities and people of color have been disproportionally affected by the environmental, health, social and cultural effects of energy and resource exploitation and development. [9]
  4. Burning fossil fuels, the principal cause of global warming, compromises the life support system of all oxygen-breathing, freshwater-dependent organisms, including humans, while global pollution from man-made chemicals, especially those with endocrine disrupting properties, threaten the health of creatures throughout the world. [10]
  5. The health and well-being of people and especially children are significantly degraded[11]:
    • One in 12 Americans suffer from asthma[12]
    • In 2018, an estimated 1,735,350 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and 609,640 people will die from the disease [13]
    • Newborn babies have more than 200 synthetic chemicals in their blood, 75 of which are known to cause mutations and cancers. [14]
    • Sperm counts have declined by 50% to 60% in the last 40 years in America and other Western countries.[15]

It is critical to seek and support people in office at all levels who support the following positions:

  1. To protect, restore and preserve for future generations the fresh water, clean air, fertile ground and biodiversity of species of Pennsylvania, the United States and the world.
  2. To promote urban and rural ecological policies to clean up and rebuild our cities and rural areas honoring the cultural heritage of all our communities
  3. To support investment in renewable energy systems and regenerative agriculture and train workers to pursue careers in these fields.
  4. To oppose destructive practices such as slick water hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas, destructive coal mining practices, and wanton pollution of water, air and land.
  5. To promote non-toxic manufacturing with an economy designed to reclaim and reuse materials, such as recycling of glass, plastic, paper and metals, and to limit or eliminate single-use plastics.
  6. To promote policies based on mutual respect and justice for all peoples, free from any discrimination or bias.

Only with the joined voices of all people who care about the future, about our children, and about the quality of life for all living things can we overcome the culture of greed that has evolved in America. The only value that matters in the current decision-making process is the dollar, the short-term economic benefit to interests vested in the existing political power structure. It is time to reassert the values of social equity, care and concern for the elderly, ill, weak and the children of our country. Many people in past generations — especially unionized workers — have fought for the protections put into place over the past 100 years. Their efforts changed the laws to protect worker health and safety, cleaned up the air and the water, established wage and labor protections so that life expectancy increased, worker safety and health become a priority, and broadly shared prosperity was accomplished alongside of real progress in cleaning up the environment. Those successful battles also made it possible for people to enjoy our national and state parks, not only because these areas were protected but also because of the negotiated rights of workers to have time away from work available for themselves and their families.  [16]

Everyone alive today has received the legacy of the struggles of the activists who came before us. What has been so hard won with blood, sweat and tears can be lost through indifference, and complacency. It is time to reclaim and rebuild a public education system that prepares all Americans to respond to a changing future. It is time to have healthy people and a healthy environment as a right for everyone. It is time to reclaim America as a land of hope, empowerment and caring communities instead of a place of ignorance, deprivation and fear.

We must each stand up for what is true and right, with courage, determination and passion. It is not enough to grumble to each other, to wring our hands and complain. It is time to act boldly. We do not want to see hard-won environmental protections rolled back to 1985, or worse. We do not want to see worker and child labor laws weakened or rescinded. We do not want to have education become a privilege of the elite. We do not want toxic emissions to air, water and land to become even more pervasive. A true democracy depends absolutely on an informed and engaged citizenry, on freedom of speech and of the press. We must stand up for our America, or we will be inhabitants of a despoiled and tortured land, her wealth squandered, her beauty plundered, her heart broken. To accept tyranny in silence is to become compliant in the slow murder of our culture.

I will fight for clean air, fresh water, fertile lands, and to preserve the beauty and wonderful intricacy of Nature to my last breath. Join me, for now, and for the unborn children of the 21st century whose fate we shape by our action, or by our silence. Joined voices of the People will prevail over tyranny and greed.

Blessed Be

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Citations

[1]Rachel L. Carson.Silent Spring. (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston,1962) 6.

[2] White House, Briefings and Statements. Energy and Environment Archive. 2017-2018 https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/?issue_filter=energy-environment

[3]Juliana vs. The United States. Constitutional Climate Lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in the District Court of Oregon. 2015.  https://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/us/federal-lawsuit/

[4] Grant Crawford. “Tri-Council Passes Resolution supporting Standing Rock Sioux.” Talequah Daily Press. May 1, 2017. http://www.tahlequahdailypress.com/news/tri-council-passes-resolution-supporting-standing-rock-sioux/article_89c0d220-2e88-11e7-9633-17825b450097.html

[5]Daniel Walmer. “PA Senator wants protestors to cover costs if they break the law.”  Lebanon Daily News. August 26, 2017. https://www.ldnews.com/story/news/local/2017/08/26/pa-senator-wants-protesters-cover-costs-if-they-break-law/601452001/

American Legislative Exchange Council. “Model Policy: Critical Infrastructure Protection Act” https://www.alec.org/model-policy/critical-infrastructure-protection-act/(Under consideration in nine states, including Pennsylvania.)

[6]Portions of this statement were developed in collaboration with Mike Stout, Anita Prizio, Jay Ting Walker, Cole McDonald, with input from Jules Lobel and Mark Dixon as part of a proposed Platform for the Community Power Movement.  See www.xxxxxfor details and more information.

[7]Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Article 1, Section 27.

[8]World Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. Cochabamba, Bolivia. April 22, 2010.   https://therightsofnature.org/universal-declaration/

[9]First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, “Principles of Environmental Justice.” Washington, D.C. October 27-29, 1991. https://www.ejnet.org/ej/principles.html

[10]Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report, Contribution of Working Groups I, II, and III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC Plenary 27, Valencia, Spain, November 12-17, 2007, page 36.

[11]Crimmins, A., J. Balbus, J.L. Gamble, C.B. Beard, J.E. Bell, D. Dodgen, R.J. Eisen, N. Fann, M.D. Hawkins, S.C. Herring, L. Jantarasami, D.M. Mills, S. Saha, M.C. Sarofim, J. Trtanj, and L. Ziska, Eds.  The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, 312 pp.  http://dx.doi.org/10.7930/J0R49NQXhttps://health2016.globalchange.gov:

[12]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Vital Signs- Asthma in the United States.” May 2011. https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/asthma/index.html

[13]National Institute of Health, National Cancer Institute. Cancer Statistics. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/statistics

[14]Sara Goodman. “Tests find more than 200 chemicals in newborn umbilical cord blood.” Scientific American. December 2009.    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/newborn-babies-chemicals-exposure-bpa/

[15]Hagai Levine Niels Jørgensen Anderson Martino-AndradeJaime Mendiola Dan Weksler-Derri Irina Mindlis Rachel PinottiShanna H SwanTemporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis. Human Reproduction Update, Volume 23, Issue 6, 1 November 2017, Pages 646–659, https://doi.org/10.1093/humupd/dmx022

[16]Matthew Mehalik, Executive Director, The Breathe Project contributed to this discussion.