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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International Women’s Day 2018

International Women’s Day 2018
Today my thoughts are centered on my brave beautiful daughter who is just recovering from breast cancer surgery. She has excellent prospects for a full and happy life, but I think of the many women who do not have such excellent care. I also am so thankful that the understanding and treatment are so much more advanced than when Rachel Carson faced a tragic encounter with this disease. In only a few decades the diagnosis of cancer has gone from a stigma and certain death sentence to a treatable condition.
I think of Rachel Carson who wrote much of Silent Spring while in serious suffering from the advanced
stages of breast cancer. She faced not only the lack of technology for diagnosis and treatment but also the difficulties of dealing with a male oriented medical establishment. Her courage in the face of her private and ultimately losing battle with cancer qualifies her as a heroine not only for the environmental movement but also for the millions of women who suffer the affliction of breast cancer.

“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

 So many people deal with cancer now. Many have multiple tumors over a lifetime. Some explain the higher incidence of cancer to the longer life span in modern times. Others draw a strong correlation with the chemical stew that penetrates our bodies from birth to death. The average newborn child in America has over 200 synthetic chemicals in his or her body at birth, 79 of which are known mutagens and carcinogens.(1) While scientists continue to explore the causes of cancers, and some are better understood than others, there is a sinister accumulation of man-made materials that play a role in our collective vulnerability.
To make cancer a less prominent feature of our health expectations, we need to reduce the flow of toxic synthetic materials. The entire regulatory system is designed to try to limit the amount of toxics that can be released into the air or water. However, the additive effect of even permitted levels yields millions of pounds of toxic releases a year. (2) A better approach would limit the hazard of products  by design. This is the exciting field of Green Chemistry which can limit the amount of carcinogenic and mutagenic material in the air, water and land by designing materials that are benign and biodegradable by design. Prevention rather than dilution will produce better materials with less impact on the living Earth.

Terry Collins- Theresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University

If we are to take a serious effort to control cancer and endocrine disruption for the next generation, we must begin by redirecting our materials supply chain away from fossil based precursors and toward biologically benign materials. The process of converting fossil based raw material to products and then to trash as quickly as possible is killing the living Earth. And as part of the creatures of the living Earth we are killing ourselves too. Green chemistry and bio-based materials as well as processes to remove and destroy synthetic hydrocarbons from water supplies holds great promise for a much more healthy and sustainable world.(3) Technology will not save us unless we add the Ethical element of choosing to pursue technologies that support and preserve the life support system of the Earth.

 

As I am now facing my fourth tumor, all of independent origin over two decades, I wonder about the many exposures I have experienced in my life.  The technician at the MRI lab sternly telling me to control my breathing said there are many people with multiple tumors as they reach advanced years.  She seemed to think it was a normal thing to accumulate cancers with age.  I do not accept that as normal!  I think of the many years I spent as a child living in a community where every house burned

Pittsburgh 1952

coal for heat, and we played in the coal pile, looking for fossils, and finding many! Of course we were covered in coal dust.  Then, the skies were full of smoke, with cinders actively falling to coat everything with a foul, oily and gritty blackness from the steel mills and coke operations that defined Pittsburgh.  Beyond that, DDT was sprayed on everything from trucks that coursed through the neighborhoods, especially on the compound we lived in in Manilla, Philippines in the ’50s. And, I worked in a biology laboratory as an undergraduate, in times when scintillation fluid was washed down the sink, and I stood over the toluene fumes for hours at a time cleaning the vials. And what of the open air testing of nuclear weapons that filled the air with radioactivity around the globe? Or the teflon frying pans everybody thought was so wonderful? I have reverted to well-used cast iron but nobody alive is immune from the plastics and preservatives and additives in our food.  It is a wonder we survive at all!

The worst horror of my nightmares is not my own saga of assault by out of control cells, but the thought that my children will suffer from something in my life of chemical exposure and environmental mutagens. This is the motive that propels my purpose and my advocacy for reform.  I have such fears for the next generation as the evidence that the “Fable for Tomorrow” Rachel Carson described in Silent Spring is already upon us.

~~~~~~~~~

  1.  Sara Goodman. “Tests Find More Than 200 Chemicals in Umbilical Cord Blood. Scientific American. December 2, 2009.  Accessed 8 March 2018. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/newborn-babies-chemicals-exposure-bpa/  
  2. US Environmental Protection Agency. Toxic Releases Inventory (TRI) 2016- Executive Summary. Accessed 8 March 2018. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-01/documents/2016_tri_national_analysis_execsumm.pdf
  3. Terry Collins. Green Chemistry. Science and Society.July 27, 2012.  Accessed 8 March 2018. http://scienceandsociety.net/2012/07/27/dr-terry-collins-–-green-chemistry/