Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."


The Rights of the Living Earth

Today is Earth Day 2019. It is time to move from awareness to action as we face the existential crises of our time – global warming and global pollution. It is time to recognize and assign a high value to the rights of the Living earth that provides our own life support system – fresh water, clean air, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species that comprise the ecosystems of this living planet. We must shift from making our decisions around only economic determinations of profit for corporations and bring back the balance that values a healthy environment, healthy ecosystems, and strong cultural and social resources. We cannot sustain our civilization in a world wrung dry and rendered barren from unfettered resource extraction and human greed. Only communities of caring people, respectful of the rights of the living earth as essential as our own , will preserve our options for the future. Our children deserve the right to fresh water, clean air and fertile ground. Let us stand today on this Earth day 2019 to defend the rights of Our Living earth.
Listen here

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2VPVHlrQ6E&feature=youtu.be


Leave a comment

Earth Day 2018 – A View of Hope from the Pit of Despair

April 22, 2018

by Patricia M. DeMarco

A bright profusion of daffodils rims the pond.  Young mourning doves explore the edge of the waterfall with their fuzzy plumage offering camouflage from the Coopers hawks soaring overhead.  Blossoms and tree leaves swell in readiness to burst forth with the rich foliage of summer.  I listen to the songs of the birds in their Spring courtship calls and take comfort that the flow of the seasons continues.  At the micro-level of a single back yard, the thrum of Life pulses within the Earth and gives me peace. So much of what gives life meaning is embedded in little things. Priceless things like Spring.

Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth
find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
Rachel Carson (The Sense of Wonder. P. 100)

My thoughts turn to Rachel Carson this Spring of 2018. Her heroic battle to complete her book Silent Spring in the face of the devastation of metastatic invasion of breast cancer into her bones, her lungs, her every nerve ending wracked with the devastation of a disease that in her time was a death sentence.  The one in eight women in America who face this same disease have a much more favorable trajectory for survival.[1] Rachel Carson’s voice calling for precaution in the use of man-made materials that are biologically active has fallen on deaf ears.  Even the protections for clean air and water and the toxic substances controls imposed by law have failed to stem the flow of toxic releases. Now labeled as “burdensome regulations” even the minimum standards in place are under attack in favor of unfettered pollution to create short–term economic profits. The myth that protecting the environment costs jobs is well entrenched and shows no sign of abatement. I look at a trajectory forward from this year and see nightmare visions of rivers flowing black with coal waste, plastic suffocating the life of the oceans, air thickened by noxious emissions newly relieved of constraints.  I think of the Pittsburgh of the late 1950’s when I was old enough to notice and complain of the sulfurous smell that suffused my world. Is it even remotely possible that this past will be the future my grandchildren know? I tremble in rage at even the possibility of such an outcome.

For the first time in the history of the world,
every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals,
from the moment of conception until death. 
Rachel Carson. (Silent Spring. P.12)

Rachel Carson’s precautionary message, vilified in the industrial mainstream in America, has taken hold in the regulatory systems of other countries, especially Europe. In the EU, the burden of proof of safety rests on the manufacturers who must demonstrate that products and their breakdown components pose no health or toxic danger to people or living things.  Not so in the US.  Here, the industry meets minimum requirements, and whole categories of materials are “generally regarded as safe” without testing for health effects.  The burden is on the consumer to prove that their illness was caused by exposure.  According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention biennial bioassay of the US population, for example, the average American has over 300 synthetic chemicals in his or her body, 75 of which are known mutagens or carcinogens.[2]  93% of the adult population has Bis-Phenyl-A in their bodies, a known endocrine disruptor found in plastic container linings, thermal paper such as receipts, and plastics used for food.[3] Even babies are born pre-polluted, as documented by a study of cord blood in newborns that showed 237 synthetic chemicals present at birth, including carcinogenic and mutagenic compounds.[4] The wanton disregard for post-consumer fate of synthetic materials now forms a global chemical stew that surrounds all living things. The modern Age of Plastic has been a massive experiment on life without any controls.

Global awareness of global pollution as an existential problem is growing across the world.  It is impossible to ignore the millions of ocean creatures coming to land dead from consuming plastic debris floating in the ocean in great gyres concentrated by the currents. Our habit of converting fossil raw material to trash as rapidly as possible with no plan for retrieving the waste creates millions and millions of pounds a year of synthetic material that does not break down into smaller molecules that can re-enter the cycle of life.  Synthetic materials made from fossil resources, extracted with great damage to the living systems of the Earth, transported, manufactured into materials for convenience. 300 million tons of plastic is produced every year, over half for single use items that become trash – More than eight million tons of plastic debris ends up in the ocean every year.[5] Modern living has hundreds of daily actions depending on plastics- structural components of buildings, vehicles, electronics, tools, instruments, fibers. The problem of plastic pollution is complex, and has evolved over fifty years at least.  The solutions will require dedicated effort, but most critically, a force of will to change the process toward solutions.

It is a moral and ethical problem, not a technology problem. The plastic pollution of the globe is the most serious unintended consequence of convenience combined with a failure to take responsibility for the waste produced at any level.  Manufacturers have failed to take responsibility at the design stage to prevent toxicity and harm in the biological activity of the synthetic material they produce.  Unless regulatory restrictions are imposed and enforced, there is no ethic of assuring safety in the products or their degradation by-products.  Industry, especially in the US screams about burdensome regulation and insists that restrictions limit profits and kill jobs. Producers of plastics, especially single-use consumer convenience products, take no responsibility for reclaiming or recapturing the waste. There is no profit in recapturing the used materials, it is apparently cheaper to make new plastics from more fossil raw resources like petroleum and natural gas liquids.  Retailers and advertisers promote ever more items for convenience, representing the single use and throw away concept as a convenience to the consumer. Cutlery, plastic cups, dishes, straws, food containers, take-out foods, packaging everything within packages then clad in shrink-wrap… the list is endless. Consumers take little responsibility for the waste created with all this “convenience.” Americans recycle less than 5% of the plastic waste.  The ethic of taking responsibility for recycling plastic has evaporated with the old-fashioned practice of returning beverage bottles for re-use. Soda. Milk, beer, water once came in bottles with a deposit and refund on return.  Glass bottles could be cleaned and reused five or more times before being recycled and reformed for renewed use.  A circular fate for the silica based resource of glass.  This practice is routine in Germany, where re-use of beverage bottles is standard.[6]  They also recycle and re-use some plastic bottles with machines that shred the bottles at the point of sale for a deposit.

Solutions to the single-use plastic problem can begin immediately with citizens calling for responsible plastic policies.[7] REFUSE single-use plastics: straws, shopping bags, water and soft drink bottles, cutlery, food containers.  REDUCE the amount of disposable plastic in a conscious effort at the point of purchase.  Ask: “Is there a reusable version of this product?  Is the container recyclable? Is the packaging excessive? What becomes of this product when I am done with it?” Plan ahead to bring re-usable shopping bags, re-usable cutlery, cups and water bottles. Bring re-usable containers fort take-out rather than Styrofoam or polystyrene take out boxes. RE-USE items that can be re-purposed for creative applications from crafts to the selection of goods made from recycled materials, such as wrapping paper, carpet, flooring, some furniture. Recycled plastic for 3-D printing and ocean recovered plastic for product containers are two initiatives from industries developing more responsible global practices. (Ref) RECYCLE responsibly. Know the requirements for recycling in your community. Sort appropriately; wash out food contamination, avoid cross-contamination that will send the entire load to a landfill. RAISE YOUR VOICE to demand better plastics management policies.  From the local level, seek community action to have efficient recycling programs, compositing clean materials for community gardens being careful to prevent plastic contamination. Stand up for state and federal rules that make product safety a priority to protect consumers. Call product manufacturers of brands you use and demand a responsible waste recovery program.  Send the packaging back! In the UK, a group of consumers have been leaving excess single-use packaging at the store after check out….. Call your Representatives and Senators to demand stronger regulations that protect consumers and the environment by reducing the production of single-use materials at the source.[8]

Forty-eight years ago, the first Earth Day called millions of people to action.  We filled the streets in droves, held Teach-Ins and demanded that law-makers pay attention to the pollution of water air and land that was killing us and our children. Today, the approach of limiting the exposure by determining allowable levels of emissions has still resulted in 5.2 billion pounds per year of toxic releases into air, water and land.[9]  Today’s technology has the capacity to go beyond the old adage that the “Solution to pollution is dilution.” We have managed to pollute the oceans globally, the air worldwide, entire watersheds, acres and acres of farmland.  It is time to exercise the precautionary principle in full force.  Design materials to be safe from the beginning – benign by design through green chemistry practices.[10] The culture of convenience based on consumer freedom to act without restraints and for industries to make decisions based exclusively on the economic profit as a driver, leaves the priceless attributes of the living Earth exposed to wanton destruction.[11] Freedom without responsibility and accountability for damage leads to chaos. The moral obligation to preserve the priceless life support system of the Earth must balance the economic drive of profits at any cost.  We can live without plastic straws; we cannot live without fresh water, clean air, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species that constitute the interconnected Web of Life, of which humans are but one part. On this Earth Day, take a walk through your neighborhood, and pick up all the trash around you. Notice how much plastic debris has become a normal part of the landscape, and resolve to be part of the solution.

 

Citations and References

[1] U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics  http://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statistics

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Biomonitoring Program. https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/index.html

[3] Edna Ribiero et. Al. Occupational Exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA): A Reality That Still Needs to Be Unveiled. Toxics. 2017 Sep; 5(3): 22. Published online 2017 Sep 13.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5634705/

[4] Sara Goodman. “Tests Find More Than 200 Chemicals in Newborn Umbilical Cord Blood.” Scientific American. December  2, 2009. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/newborn-babies-chemicals-exposure-bpa

[5] Joe McCarthy. “9 Shocking Facts About Plastics in Our Oceans.” Global Citizen. June 12, 2017. https://www.ecowatch.com/plastic-oceans-facts-images-2436857254.html

[6] James. How Does The German Pfand System Work, And Is It Effective? 21 May 2017.

https://liveworkgermany.com/2017/05/how-does-the-german-pfand-system-work-and-is-it-effective/

[7] Beth Terry. 100 Steps to a Plastic Free Life.  https://myplasticfreelife.com/plasticfreeguide/

[8] National Council of State Legislatures offers resources and model legislation.    HTTP://WWW.NCSL.ORG/RESEARCH/ENVIRONMENT-AND-NATURAL-RESOURCES/PLASTIC-BAG-LEGISLATION.ASPX

[9] Environmental Protection Agency.Toxic Release Inventory. National Analysis 2015.  www.epa.gov

[10] Patricia M. DeMarco. Pathways to Our Sustainable Future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. (University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh. 2017) Pages 140-169.

[11] Report of the World Commission on The Environment and Development “Our Common Future.”  United Nations 1985.  http://www.un-documents.net/our-common-future.pdf

 

 


1 Comment

Earth Day 2017- A Call for Earth Teach-Ins

The first Earth Day, April 22, 1970 grew from a rising awareness of the need to protect the environment from the pollution of industry. It started nearly a decade earlier in 1962 with Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring calling attention to

1970 Earth Day Protesters

the effects of pesticides such as DDT on all living things, including people. The practices of the Industrial Revolution produced smoke-filled air, polluted lifeless rivers and toxic waste dumps. The prevailing attitude was that “the solution to pollution is dilution” but by 1970, the environmental laws enacted in the early 1960s had not yet made much effect, and a series of tragedies in 1969 brought sharper focus on the need for a stronger system to defend clean air, safe drinking water, fertile land, and the biodiversity of species. The Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio caught fire and burned down two bridges; an oil tanker ran aground and contaminated the beaches of Santa Barbara; and a spill from a DDT manufacturing plant caused a massive fish kill in the Mississippi River.

From this concentrated spate of outrages, Senator Gaylord Nelson (D) Wisconsin, called for a day of “teach-ins” on Earth Day to raise awareness and call for public action to protect the environment more systematically. There were public seminars in the streets, in union halls, in university courtyards and churches all across the country. Millions of people came to listen, to march and to protest. The result of this effort finally led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, signed into law by Richard Nixon in 1974. It took more than a decade for the alarms Rachel Carson raised to see fruition in a legal apparatus to protect our life support system- fresh air, clean water, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species – the interconnected web of life of which humans are but one part.

In the years since those early days of concern for protecting the environment, a continuous erosion of the power of environmental laws has made its way through amendments, exemptions, and revisions of the laws. Industry has a larger say in the approval of new pesticides, herbicides or synthetic products. Entire industries such as hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas are exempt for seven federal environmental and worker safety protections. The regulatory review process has become so complex that only experts and teams of specialized attorneys can successfully navigate the labyrinth. Regulatory agencies at both federal and state levels have suffered from continuously shrinking budgets, required to do more with less.

More insidiously, industry interests have infiltrated the administration of the regulatory process, to shape the outcome for maximum economic effect, rather than maximum public or environmental health and protection. Doubt, reasonable or otherwise, has replaced reasoned judgment based on the facts of science. Opinion has replaced evidence based on observation and measurement, and political rhetoric has replaced peer-reviewed assessments. President Trump has

Senate confirms EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt 

overtly rejected science as a basis for sound public policy. His appointed, and Senate confirmed, administrators vow to deconstruct the regulatory protections for the environment, for addressing climate change, and for protecting public health and worker safety. His Executive Orders in the first 100 days of his tenure illustrate the ardor of his passion for destruction of all that holds the living Earth dear. National Wildlife Refuges, National Parks, public lands – the legacy of our nation to the future- all fall to the greed of exploitation. The natural resource capital of the nation is squandered for short term corporate profits, while the public taxpayer pays the costs in the form of worse health from air and water pollution, costs for cleaning the public water supplies, or fighting wildfires, floods or droughts from climate change.

Rachel Carson provides a role model for a responsible scientist. She carried the revolutionary passion that all living things have the basic right to exist! She spoke for the unborn

Rachel Carson Testifies to Congress June 1963

of future generations. She spoke for the oceans, forests, grasslands, winged creatures and soil dwellers- the great interconnected web of life. In her testimony to Congress months before her death, she called them to account: “Our heedless and destructive acts enter into the vast cycles of the earth and in time return to bring hazard to ourselves.” This living Earth is the precious hallmark of our planet. This unique living mantle of the Earth evolved to a finely tuned balance over 7,000 years, resting on millions of years of evolution before then. Humans have now strained the limits of the natural systems that keep the living Earth in balance. We see the evidence in the rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the consequent acidification of the oceans, rising global temperatures with the consequent melting of glaciers, expansion of drought areas, and more frequent extremes of storm events. Scientists observe, document and measure. We model the possible outcome and attempt to predict what has never happened before in recorded time. We wring our hands, and preach to each other. The journals are filled with data and documentation of ever more dire forecasts. And Trump became President!

We march in protest of his policies. We rise in rage at the folly of ignoring the facts, and despair for our children, and the unborn of all creatures whose fate we shape with our actions today. But, in the mainstream media, nobody reports on the peer-reviewed science. No media cover the extinction of a

Great Coral Reef in Australia- under threat

Monarch butterfly and other pollinators under threat

species, or the effects of destroying the coral reefs, home to 30% of the fishes in the ocean. Ordinary people do not
automatically make the connection between rising global temperatures and the fate of our life support system. People do not make the connection between the death of pollinators and their own lives. They do not read peer-reviewed journals. Why would they?

We who stand as scientists with fists raised in outrage have enjoyed the freedom to pursue intellectual curiosity to the ultimate end of finding truth. We who know have the obligation to inform. Not in a pedantic way, which we can impart through our students. But in the vernacular. In the media. At our dinner tables. In the classrooms and PTA meetings where our children are. In the playgrounds, and on the sidelines where the coaches gather for soccer games or track meets. We need to be in the churches and community centers where people struggle with keeping whole in the face of adversity of all kinds. Science matters in everyone’s daily life. Where are the Teach-ins about climate change? Where are the street theater demonstrations of the better path forward? Where are the scientists at the tables where political decisions are being made? The ivory tower is not where we live. The community needs engaged scientists. The halls of Congress need our voices, as constituents, as experts, and as opinion leaders holding them accountable for their decisions. We need to take the truth to the streets and teach people across all levels to know the difference between manufactured doubt and established facts.

At this pivotal time in history, it is our obligation to speak out. To make our voices heard and to listen to the fears that underlie the obstruction. We are a country that strives for freedom- in markets, in personal pursuits, and in opinions. But freedom without responsibility yields chaos. We are a nation governed by laws, but when the laws are corrupted by greed and protections for private interests over the public good, we have the obligation to speak out, to protest and to demand accountability. The laws of Nature are not negotiable. The path we have set upon with economic profit as the primary determinant of value sets us on a path of certain destruction. Our life support system is being destroyed, and our economy registers only more jobs, more sales for extracted resources, more profits from plundered land. Unless we protect the common necessities for life to exist, we will leave a legacy of an uninhabitable planet. Scientists engaged in the debate, professing hope through better solutions, teaching the ways of life based on the laws of science can shape a better future. We who know have the obligation to act. We who see better options based on facts have the power to change the world. We must reach out beyond our comfort zones. We must invite people in to knowing the facts science can bring to the wonders of our fragile and marvelous living Earth.


1 Comment

Down to the Roots- Earth Day 2015

Earth Day is a good time to think about roots. Roots of the plants and trees now shooting forth leaves and flowers, soon vegetables and fruits, and roots of the Earth Day movement. Forty-five years ago the first Earth Day gathered 20 million people from all kinds of causes to call for a stop to the flagrant destruction of our environment.  Everyone from nuclear bomb and air pollution opponents, to civil rights activists, anti-war activists, women’s rights and GLBT rights advocates, and workers rights advocates came together to protect clean air and clean water.  It was a rare moment of unity of purpose, exhilarating, and fresh, and hopeful.

The plethora of foundational environmental protection laws passed during the decade from 1970 to 1980 set a course for the regulatory battles we face today.  Those early efforts to curtail the unrestrained extraction and use of resources without regard for the natural resources put corks in the smokestacks, stoppers in the emission pipes, liners in the landfills and established elaborate permit processes.  Today, the EPA Toxic Release Inventory reveals that over 5.2 billion tons per year of toxic materials are released into the air, water and land legally, by permit.

This Earth Day in the second decade of the 21st century, it is time to go down to the roots, to the sources and causes of our pollution habits. We need to look at the problem from a different direction.  My clearest enlightenment on this process came from Eric Beckman, a green chemist who uses bio-mimicry to create non-toxic medical products.  We were on a panel talking about how people can use greener approaches to home and garden care, and he rejoined to a person who was recommending a switch to an electric lawn mower from a gas powered one: “You are just buying your way to pollution in a different place, the coal plant that powers your electric mower instead of the gas you burn on site. The truly “green” solution is to plant lawn that requires no mowing, perennials that only grow a few inches high in the first place!”  The root of the problem of emissions from power plants, factories, chemical production, farming comes from re-thinking the process to prevent the pollution at the source.

This is the exciting challenge of our time: to prevent pollution at the source.  That means to generate the energy we need from renewable resources and from non-combustion technologies such as fuel cells so we can stop burning fossil fuels.  It means shifting our food production system away from mass mono-cultures that require tons of fertilizer, herbicide, pesticide and a treadmill of increasingly toxic products to stay ahead of pests. We can adopt organic and locally adapted sustainable agriculture practices that restore and regenerate fertile ground, protect watersheds and add biodiversity to our agricultural landscapes.  It means we design products to be safe, not diluted toxics.  It means we design things to be re-used, re-purposed or reclaimed instead of turning from hot new item to trash within two years, or less.

We see today all around us the signs of stress from our living earth.  Our early assumptions that the sky was so wide, the ocean so deep and the land so endless that people could not possibly affect it have proven to be false.  We see measurable changes in the composition of our atmosphere, in the acidity of the oceans, and in the fertility of the ground.  Drought, extremes of flood and storms present us with the unintended consequences of 200 years of civilization based on extractive industries.  We must now shift to replenishing and regenerative industry to move our economy to a state of equilibrium with nature.  We can enjoy the condistock-photo-22932947-small-maple-tree-with-rootstions of abundance and robust resilience evident in any balanced ecosystem.  Just as the roots of a two year old maple sapling extend  more than a foot below ground, branching and thrusting intimately into the soil, we have many branches and opportunities for exploration into the new roots of our economy. We can take this Earth Day as a starting point for living in harmony with nature, according to Nature’s laws.

Plant a tree and care for it. The Earth will thank you.