Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."


A New Decade- A New Reckoning

Winter oaks in a rare clear sky P. DeMarco photo Forest Hills, PA 1-1-2020


1-1-2020

A new decade dawns with fresh snow and a bright clear sky. We face a world fraught with strife, misery and hatred, exacerbated by the inexorable march of global warming and global pollution. We must meet these fearful prospects with courage. 

The United Nations Science Advisory Council Report submitted to the 2019 Climate Summit stated the dire facts we face:[1]

  • Warmest five-year period on record
    The average global temperature for 2015–2019 is on track to be the warmest of any equivalent period on record. It is currently estimated to be 1.1°Celsius (± 0.1°C) above pre-industrial (1850–1900) times. Widespread and long-lasting heatwaves, record-breaking fires and other devastating events such as tropical cyclones, floods and drought have had major impacts on socio-economic development and the environment.
  • Continued decrease of sea ice and ice mass
    Arctic summer sea-ice extent has declined at a rate of approximately 12% per decade during 1979-2018. The four lowest values for winter sea-ice extent occurred between 2015 and 2019.
    Overall, the amount of ice lost annually from the Antarctic ice sheet increased at least six-fold between 1979 and 2017.  Glacier mass loss for 2015-2019 is the highest for any five-year period on record.
  • Sea-level rise is accelerating, sea water is becoming more acidic
    The observed rate of global mean sea-level rise accelerated from 3.04 millimeters per year (mm/yr) during the period 1997–2006 to approximately 4mm/yr during the period 2007–2016. This is due to the increased rate of ocean warming and melting of the Greenland and West Antarctica ice sheets. There has been an overall increase of 26% in ocean acidity since the beginning of the industrial era.
  • “Only immediate and all-inclusive action encompassing: deep de-carbonization complemented by ambitious policy measures, protection and enhancement of carbon sinks and biodiversity, and efforts to remove COfrom the atmosphere, will enable us to meet the Paris Agreement.”

Irreversible effects are upon us from continued dependence on natural gas, coal and petroleum for the base of our economy.  It is time to change course toward pathways that offer better choices and a more secure and resilient future for our children and for those yet to be born in the 21st century. Time is of the essence as each ton of carbon dioxide released into the air from burning fossil fuels or making petrochemicals will stay in the atmosphere for over 200 years.

We stand at a crossroad now. In one direction, we can continue toward a future based on petrochemical industries- build out the infrastructure that will bind our economy to natural gas and plastics for another fifty years. Or we can recognize the ultimate futility of this pursuit and turn our investments, our education tools, our might and political will toward building a sustainable future.  The tools for doing this are at hand: Renewable energy systems; Regenerative agriculture that captures carbon and restores the fertility of the land; Non-fossil based materials in a circular supply chain; and the Biodiversity of the earth in living ecosystems that provide fresh water, clean air and fertile ground.

This is the decade we must recognize the true existential crises we face from human activities that destroy the natural systems of the living earth. We must make a U-turn in our policies. This requires a level of commitment equivalent to the the mobilization of World War II. The tools are at hand. For 2020 these priorities can drive progress:

  1. Stop subsidizing fossil fuels research, exploration, production, processing and use. Taxpayer dollars in the U.S. alone exceed $649 Billion annually in direct subsidies. Replace this with a bottom line tax deduction for all property owners for energy efficiency, renewable energy installations, carbon sequestration in trees and organic farming, and replacements of fossil resources with non-fossil materials such as bamboo, hemp and algae.
  2. Reverse the primacy of mineral rights over surface rights. Ecosystem services such as wetlands, grasslands, forests depend on intact surface conditions. Disruptions for mining, drilling, excavation and erosion destroy the ecosystems that provide our life support.
  3. Re-invest in communities. Give communities the resources to plan for a diverse and stable future based on renewable resources and affirming community values. Invest in people, rather than multi-national corporations with no allegiance to sustainability.
  4. Protect and care for the people who are victims of social and humanitarian disruptions associated with the response to climate change. For the workers of the oil, gas and coal industries, transition to productive jobs in the new economy, protecting pensions and health benefits, and maintaining the dignity of their worth are essential. Millions of people are thrust into forced migration from climate effects around the world, and even within the US. Criminalizing people who face extended drought and social collapse is inhumane and demeans our humanity.

This may seem like an impossible task. Legislation will be needed that fundamentally changes energy policy, land use policy and social safety net systems. But without the coordinated effort at a national level, without the collective will of all of us acting together to make the changes necessary, our children have no future. We must find common ground and take the bold necessary actions to retain a viable living condition for our civilization. The corrupting power of the fossil industry wealth was gained at the cost of our survival. Our children and grandchildren for generations will pay the price of our cowardice in allowing the continued plunder of our earth for the profits of a few multi-national corporations who hold accountability to no nation or people.

We, The People have the responsibility to call out this destruction and resume the leadership America can show in taking the path of protecting the public interest for now and for the future. Have we gone so far into the pit of despair that we have no faith in our power for change? I look into the faces of my students and think not. It is time for every person to join hands and stand up for the Mother Earth that gives us life, and gives us hope. The laws of Nature are not negotiable. When we accommodate our laws and life style to living in harmony with nature, we will find that the Earth can heal, and we will see a better future.

Here is my plea for 2020:
Find your centered, still point of calm in this churning world.
In the face of hatred, show kindness. Greet the people you see with a smile and a nod. 
Counter divisiveness with solidarity. We are more alike as humans than different in culture, race, gender, religion or political persuasion.
Have faith in the power of the Earth to heal. Embrace the force of life and make it your own.
Challenge the arrogance of those who block change and preach hate. Stand up for what is true and good.
Speak for our children. Find your voice and use your power.
Practice Peace and work for Justice.

VOTE!
Blessed Be!

Patricia DeMarco

[1] Report of the United Nations Science Advisory Group. United in Science. United Nations Climate Action Summit, September 2019.   https://public.wmo.int/en/resources/united_in_science


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A Clean Power Plan for Pennsylvania

September 21, 2015

Comment on the Pennsylvania Clean Power Plan

There is no more serious or urgent issue facing us. I speak on behalf of those who have no voice in this matter but who will be affected grievously by the decisions we make -the unborn children of the next generation, and the living earth that supports all life as we know it.

System problem needs system solutions

Our economy is based on extracting resources to be burned for fuel and it operates on a regional basis. Finding solutions would be most productive in a regional setting, collaborating with economic districts established through trading and production patterns over many years, for example the Power of 32 Region, for which a Regional Energy Flow has been established. (enclosed as Attachment A.)

Coal and natural gas production and exports account for 43% of the energy produced in this region; and 41% is wasted as lost energy from electricity generation and internal combustion engines in transportation. Only 15% of the energy produced in the region is used for work: transportation, residential, commercial and industrial energy use. Only 6% of the energy used in the region comes from renewable resources. BUT, this this is about half of the energy we actually use to do work!

The energy system is designed around the production and use of fossil fuels. The majority of what is produced leaves the region for use in other locations. That means that the profits for the sale of extracted resources from Pennsylvania go out of the economy, with little remaining in the commonwealth in the form of tax payments or royalties; the profits go to private companies. They leave behind the acid mine drainage that has ruined over 3,000 streams in Pennsylvania, land subsidence, devastated landscapes that remain barren for generations from longwall and mountaintop removal of coal, the deep deposits of toxic materials lurking for incursion into the groundwater, and the devastation of mined out communities. Even in dense residential areas communities such as Churchill are threatened with industrial gas development with no recourse to protect residences, schools, cultural and historic areas, or sensitive places such as watersheds. The fossil bonanza has enriched a few and left the consequences to be paid on the public ledger, often a generation removed from the profiteers.

Leadership position in energy – innovation

We have the ability to offer leadership and innovation in the approach to modernizing and rebuilding our power system. If we establish a goal to use as much renewable and regenerative energy as possible, and fill in the gaps with natural gas bridging to bio-gas, we can craft a Clean Power Plan for Pennsylvania that empowers new industries, new investments and crafts a way forward that can sustain a diverse and robust economy. First, raise the Renewable Energy Portfolio standard from 9% to 50% as a 2030 goal. Establish a State Investment Tax Credit to supplement the federal incentives, and make the Green Energy Loan Fund available to homeowners as well as to commercial establishments. Allow Virtual Net Metering for community solar installations to promote shared use in suitable locations such as schools, churches, and municipal buildings. Establish model zoning guidelines to help communities set out the rules for maximum use of solar and wind systems. The City of Pittsburgh Zoning Overlay for renewable and energy efficient development may provide a model.

Take note of the innovations adopted at the Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps Conservatory and the guidance available from the Innovation Workplace at Carnegie Mellon University. Buildings can become generators of energy as well as users, with net positive results for the community.

Existing sources of natural gas can act as bridging fuels in the truest sense of the word. Investment in bio-gas from anaerobic digestion of municipal waste and sewer wastes can provide non-fossil based methane as a fuel. This process recognized and broadly used in Germany and Korea can support industrial applications and act as base load support for renewable energy in distributed sources. Investment and linking to technologies that do not burn gas, but use it in chemical power production mode, such as in fuel cells, can provide efficient energy supplies without the burden of carbon dioxide at the levels produced from burning methane for electricity production. (See Fuel Cell Energy, Inc. of Danbury Connecticut, which has many suppliers of parts in Pittsburgh www.fuelcellenergy.com)

Innovations using direct current micro-grid systems can increase energy efficiency at the point of use. Models of how to integrate these more efficient systems into the existing grid are in pilot mode at the Center for Energy Innovation. The regulatory system for allocating costs and resources needs to be re-visited in light of the shifts in technology from centralized large generation operations to resources integrating generation and use into the same locations. The PUC should convene a generic investigation to explore and conduct pilot trials of new utility paradigm structures that optimize the use of renewable and sustainable energy systems.

Simply shifting our electric power supply from coal to natural gas is not a true solution. It just kicks the can down the road to the next generation.

Attention to the just transition: workers, smooth integration of technologies.

Moving our energy system from a fossil base to a renewable base will require transitions. It is instructive to examine some of the issues that emerge from transitions that have been successful in the past. Moving from the horse drawn buggy to the internal combustion driven automobile occurred over a period of 15 to 20 years. In that time, the process was expedited by paving the roads, making rules for licensing vehicles and drivers to generate a revenue stream to pay for the roads, developed a fuel supply and delivery system. We set up a whole supply chain for the manufacture sale and distribution of vehicles.

The renewable energy system has struggled to become established, and now has reached a condition where the technical capability is stable, but the rules are different in each state, the business conditions of tax incentives and investment conditions are variable and uncertain, and the regulatory interface takes place in a hostile environment. Much of this comes from the fears and concerns of those displaced from the fossil industries, especially the workers. Miners, oil field workers, and the suppliers and supporters of the energy system as it is today have a vested interest in keeping the same process in place. An energy plan to move to a system that places a higher priority on environmental impact must address the displacement of workers.

A fair and just transition must recognize the needs of the fossil industry workforce. Transitions here must include re-deployment of the workforce, re-training and redress of the needs of workers for assurance in pensions and benefits earned through long years of service. The unions have played a huge role in establishing the rights and needs of workers, enriching the entire middle class, including non-union workers. It is essential to maintain the standards for working people in transition times. Communities depend on the stability and resilience of the work force. Embracing innovation can allow significant improvements in working conditions and in job opportunities. Jobs in energy efficiency infrastructure and renewable energy systems are not easily shipped offshore.

“Made in Pennsylvania” standards for renewable energy systems should be part of the 2030 goal for the Clean Power Plan. Re-deploying the workforce to do those jobs here should be a priority. We can replace the export of raw fossil fuels with the export of manufactured parts and systems for solar and wind energy systems, grid technology and software, and innovations in building materials and construction practices. The skills of today’s workforce are transferrable. The work ethic and the production system expertise of long tradition in Pittsburgh can be harnessed to expedite and optimize the transition to a renewable energy system. If it is not the job of the EPA or the DEP to “take care of the workers,” then, the Commonwealth should establish a parallel planning process to address these serious issues. Revamping our entire energy system cannot happen in a vacuum.

Intergenerational Justice:

We are experiencing a time of transition driven by the constraints of the natural world. The laws of nature are not negotiable. As we burn fossil fuels, we release sequestered carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Over the last 50 years, the process has so accelerated that measurable changes to the composition of the atmosphere, and sea water have been documented. The need for change is urgent, and the changes we see are irreversible in our time. The window of opportunity for adapting to the existing situation and securing a measure of stability forward is critical. We resist change, and we resist dramatic changes with arguments, denial, and predictions of dire results. However, if we do not address this process of burning fossil fuels in a despicably wasteful manner, using technology from the 1800’s, we bear the burden of condemning the next generation to a future with fewer options, and a more dire and deprived state of being.

The choices we face are not those of technology alone. They are choices of ethical values. We have the obligation to look forward and take responsibility to preserve the resources of the Earth for the next generation. We owe our children a planet with its life support system intact. Oxygen rich atmosphere, fresh water and fertile ground supporting a broad diversity of living things are the only way forward to assure the survival of life as we know it. We do not have the right to squander the future for the sake of short term profits or instant conveniences.

We can embrace the challenge of living within the laws of the natural world, in harmony with the regenerative bounty of the living Earth. The sun provides 23,000 times more energy than we can use each day. We need only to organize our efforts to capture the flow that falls on us instead of extracting and consuming what is sequestered in the mantle of the Earth.

Presented to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection “Listening Session” on the PA Clean Power Plan.