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


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Imagine Global Cooperation- COP-23

November 9, 2017

by Patricia DeMarco

On his way to the Conference of Parties- 23 (COP-23)  in Bonn, Germany, California Governor Gerry Brown stopped to speak to the Baden-Wurttenberg lawmakers in Stuttgart to address the issue of action on climate change:  “Let’s lead the whole world to realize this is not your normal political challenge,” he added. “This is much bigger. This is life itself. It requires courage and imagination.”[1] Calling for an international movement on behalf of life on Earth as a collective priority can transcend the political divisions that paralyze effective action. Building an international consensus on a way forward can release the inventiveness of human ingenuity in response to a common crisis. The sooner we begin an international collaboration with the goal of preserving the viability of the planet for all life, the sooner we can make real progress as a civilization. We are all more alike in our humanity than different in culture, religion or politics. We all depend on our common life support system: fresh air, clean water, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species with whom we share this Earth.

This is not a partisan issue. Reach across to your neighbors and friends and plan together to make each community more resilient, more sustainable, and less dependent on fossil fuels. We must all demand that Congress place priority on reinvestment in the infrastructure of the future, beginning with communities that have had fossil extractive industries as the base of their economy for so long. It is time to diversify, to re-imagine our future around sustainable systems that restore and regenerate the living Earth which supports our life.

War-torn Syria joined the Paris Agreement at the Bonn gathering of COP-23, leaving President Trump ‘s declaration to remove the United States from the global agreement as the solitary proponent of denial. Hundreds of US Mayors, several states and many hundreds of corporations have declared adherence to the Paris Climate Accord, vowing to take actions to help hold the increase in global average temperature to no more than 2° C or 3.6° F. Reducing the combustion of fossil fuels to lower the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere is the most efficient way to accomplish this goal.  But this is only the beginning of the energy revolution that will re-shape the way civilization relates to the natural world. Once communities and businesses begin to meet their energy needs through renewable systems, rather than destructive combustion, possibilities and innovations will multiply.

Adaptations for efficiency and resilience are already occurring, for example in solar panels where the solar photovoltaic system is integrated into the structure of roofing tiles, rather than affixing them to a roof, and window glass that can generate electricity as sunlight passes through it. The concept of designing buildings that create as much energy as they use- net zero energy buildings- has already taken off as a common sense and cost efficient way to provide space conditioning and electricity in homes and commercial spaces. Research and pilot projects designing electric micro-grids that connect energy generating sources located among the customers is challenging the traditional electric  utility structure.  Some are embracing the innovations and incorporating distributed generation into their operations, finding new categories of service in load management, storage and reliability assurance.  Other utilities are resisting the advance of renewable resources and customer- owned generation with punitive tariffs and restrictive conditions for connecting to the wider grid.  In many such cases, some customers find it easier to install their own storage, and simply drop off the connected grid- true “energy independence.”

The renewable energy industry is growing rapidly. One in 50 jobs in America are in the renewable energy industries.  Solar energy jobs have increased 178% from 2010 to 2016.[2]  The solar industry employs more than 260,000 Americans, a 25% increase from 2015 to 2016, and the average wage in the industry is $28.00 per hour; 25% of the workers are women.[3] If all renewable energy and efficiency improvement industries are included, there are more workers in the renewable energy sector than in coal, oil and gas combined. Deliberate suppression of this initiative by Congressional “Tax Reform” is not productive to a growth industry that also accomplishes greater public interest goals in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In the absence of strong leadership at the federal level, states and individual companies have made a wide range of approaches to using renewable energy systems.( See the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency http://www.dsireusa.org)  It is clear that this transition from a fossil base to a renewable energy system will not proceed smoothly until there is a wider consensus in the United States to commit to a fossil free future.

This is a major step for a country as large and complex as America, but we are also a country known for its ability to rise to hard challenges and to place the common good at the center of public policy initiatives many times in its history. This can be the galvanizing common challenge that unites our spirit in purpose.  Technology is not the impediment. Rather, it is the entrenched interests of the fossil extractive industries in coal, oil and natural gas that have taken a strangle hold on the public policy process.  It is time to call a halt to the suffocation of innovation.  It is time to unleash the forces of ingenuity and creativity that will allow America to resume its leadership role in the world. This is not a matter of “getting regulations off the back of business” but rather a matter of re-designing our laws to support and encourage actions that align better with the laws of nature.  We need to preserve the life support system that provides fresh air to breathe, clean water to drink, fertile ground to grow our food, and the well-being of people and all the other living things that share this earth. This is a challenge worthy of our best efforts.  It is a challenge to inspire our young people to have hope and faith in the future, rather than fear.  It offers a way forward that recaptures the spirit of community in a shared battle that is worth winning.

This alignment of nations in the Paris Climate Accord to address the common goal of preserving a viable planet is rare, and offers an opportunity for common ground unprecedented in our time.  It is not a technology problem. It is an ethics problem we can solve by making a commitment to care for the living earth, and care for each other. A future based on renewable and sustainable systems offers a better future, not one of greater deprivation and distress.  A civilization dedicated to preserving and regenerating the life force of the Earth holds the promise of a great renewal of spirit and a richness of legacy to sustain future generations. We need the courage to move away from what has become familiar over a hundred years and adopt practices that bring the prospect of a better future closer to reality. We need the fortitude to overcome the forces vested in short-term gains at the expense of our very survival.  It is time to leave the dinosaurs at rest in the ground and welcome the sun.

Actions:

  1. Review your own energy use profile and find ways to reduce what you use in your home, your transportation and your business. https://www.nature.org/greenliving/carboncalculator/index.htm
  2. Examine your personal “supply chain” and see what you can change to reduce the amount of material you throw away or waste. Commit to cutting out disposable plastics, and recycle everything you cannot avoid. http://learn.eartheasy.com/2012/05/plastics-by-the-numbers/
  3. Call your Congressional Representatives and Senators and urge them to support climate action, especially retaining the investment tax credits for solar and wind. Punitive removal of these modest measures while adding substantial subsidies to coal, gas and nuclear fuels is an unethical choice for the future. https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials
  4. Ask your local community to make a commitment to the Paris Climate Accord. Make a plan for your local community commitment to the future of our world. https://www.wearestillin.com/us-action-climate-change-irreversible

Remember to find time to experience the wonders of nature all around us every day.  We will preserve what we love. So, do indeed adopt a tree or a stream or a landscape and keep it in your heart.

Blessed Be.

 

[1] Erik. Kirschbaum. “Gov. Gerry Brown Delivers a Blunt Climate Change Message in Germany>” Los Angeles  Times. November 8, 2017.  http://beta.latimes.com/world/europe/la-fg-germany-jerry-brown-climate-change-20171108-story.html  Accessed November 9, 2017.

[2] The Solar Foundation. State Solar Jobs Census. https://www.thesolarfoundation.org/solar-jobs-census/

[3] The Solar Foundation. “The Potential of State Solar Jobs- 2017.” http://www.thesolarfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/TSF-Census-Future-State-Solar-Jobs-2021.pdf


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The Voice of the Earth Rising

As 2015 comes to a close, we mark a rare congruence of awareness and a call to action on climate change. In advance of the COP-21 talks in Paris, the leaders of all of the world’s major religions have called for true stewardship of the Earth.  The Encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato Si

 http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html,

the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change http://islamicclimatedeclaration.org/islamic-declaration-on-global-climate-change/

and the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth from the People’s Climate Conference in Cochabamba,  https://pwccc.wordpress.com/programa/

calls to action resound with increased urgency. The COP-21 Accord, though non-binding, united the voices of 195 nations to strive for a 2 degree ceiling, with many advocating a goal of a 1.5 degree limit, in temperature rise by mid-century.

imagesIt is my hope for the new year that we can recognize the critical importance of the living Earth. We hear the voice of the Earth not in words but in the songs of birds and of whales; in the intricate ballet between flowers and pollinators; in the exhalation of forests and phytoplankton; and the sweep of landscapes. Earth speaks also in pain as forests are felled; oceans become acidic; mountaintops are scraped off; and the carbon dioxide of human energy production and agriculture pollute the air and water.

As we celebrate our Holidays and make plans for the New Year, may we remember that we are more alike in our humanity than different in cultures, religions or customs. May we reach out to work together to preserve and restore the life support systems of the living Earth- fresh water, clean air, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species that constitute the global web of life. May we work together for justice and equity as we face the necessary transitions from despoiling to preserving the resources of the Earth.

To my Colleagues who have helped me in so many ways this year as my manuscript has come together, I offer thanks for gifts beyond measure. Thank you for all you are doing to build a Pathway to Our Sustainable Future. May we all hear and embody the great power of the voice of the Earth. The children of the 21st century deserve our fullest effort to preserve our beautiful living Earth. To my grandchildren, and the nieces and nephews of my family, I solemnly promise my whole life to protecting your future.

Buon Natale!


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Moving Targets – A Reflection From A Century Passing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAArt uniquely captures the complex responses surrounding the fact of extinction. Moving Targets juxtaposes the unintended extinction of the Passenger pigeon with the forced migration of Jews from Eastern Europe. These two interwoven stories show how fragile life is, for the abundant creatures of Nature, and ultimately, for humans as well.

The beautiful Passenger pigeon, with its iridescent feathers and graceful form, assembled in enormous flocks for annual gatherings to mate and raise their young. When the European colonists arrived on the American continent, half of the land was covered with thick and diverse forests from coast to coast, with lush prairie in the middle. The Passenger pigeon flocks of three to five billion individuals coursed from north to south, swooping across the country, feasting on nuts and berries. The habitat was so abundant and diverse that a decade would elapse between visits. The birds’ challenges began with the settlers clearing forests for farmland, housing, and timber masts for the British navy. Between 1620 and 1920, the forested area fell from 50% to less than 5%, and 53% of wetlands were converted to other uses.[i] This massive loss of habitat affected the food supply, and the migratory circuit of the Passenger pigeons.

The second most devastating challenge, was the ease of taking the birds for food. Their massive numbers gave protection against severe depletion by normal predators, so they did not have a well- developed instinct to fly from danger. From colonial times through the late 1800s, Passenger pigeons were hunted relentlessly to feed the growing population centers of the East coast. Birds were a cheap source of protein, selling at about a penny a bird, and enjoyed as “pigeon pie.” Once the railroads developed the capacity to ship birds across the country, millions were salted and shipped in barrels. The town of Plattsburg, New York, is estimated to have shipped 1.8 million pigeons to larger cities in 1851 alone, at a price of 31 to 56 cents a dozen.[ii] The birds’ reproductive patterns offered no defense against the unrelenting slaughter. Each pair produced a single squab, nesting at most twice in a season. Successful breeding depended upon large communal gatherings in nest sites that might cover 850 acres. In smaller groupings, as the numbers of birds began to decline in the 1860’s, reproductive success was less likely.

When conservationists sounded alarms in the late 1860’s, the laws passed were weak, unenforceable, and mostly ignored. Passenger pigeons declined slowly from 1800 to 1850, accelerating in the last part of the century until the demise became irreversible. In the early 1900’s attempts to breed them in captivity were unsuccessful. The last Passenger pigeon, named “Martha,” died in the Cincinnati zoo on September 1, 1914. Her passing marked our heedless extinction of one of Earth’s beautiful, abundant creatures. President Theodore Roosevelt took initiatives to preserve some wild places. At a Conference of Governors in 1908, he said, “The natural resources of our country are in danger of exhaustion.” This meeting was described by Gifford Pinchot as a “turning point in human history” which led to establishing the National Conservation Commission and the first inventory of the nation’s natural resources.[iii]

Laws to preserve wilderness and natural resources were hard-won, even modern efforts face opposition from business interests in mining and resource extraction, housing and agriculture. Globally we see massive destruction of natural habitat. The United Nations Environment Programme report on Global Biodiversity estimates that one third of the land has been compromised or destroyed by infrastructure, one third has been fragmented or disturbed, and one third afflicted with pollution and invasive species. No place on Earth is free from human impact. Some of the pollution that encompasses the entire earth affects reproductive success. Many of the chemical pollutants found in each of our bodies are known to cause cancer, birth defects, mutations and decline in fertility of humans.[iv]

Have we begun the accelerating decline from billions to few? How much of the living Earth can we destroy before we find ourselves on a planet inhospitable to life as we know it? The story of the Passenger pigeon gives us a chance to ask these questions, with the knowledge that even the most abundant of nature’s creatures falls to massive assault on habitat and reproductive stability. We can take this lesson of the Passenger pigeon: market forces alone will not solve a crisis. Concerned people raising their voices and standing together can change the course of history. The economic expediency and greed of the Passenger pigeon hunters assured their extinction. Refusing to address our own fossil fuel combustion habit, knowing that it is irreversibly compromising our atmosphere, may be setting the stage for ours.

“Martha” can symbolize the clarion call to change. We can take actions that preserve the living earth if we realign our priorities and values to favor the resilience of the human spirit, the community of caring, the sense of wonder in nature. These values, beyond mere economic measures, make us truly human. These are the characteristics that helped people survive the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust. The stories of survivors, global migrants in their passage, can inspire us in the face of disaster. We can place priority on the pursuit of knowledge, art and wisdom, the time spent in friendships and community, and the appreciation of the beauty of the natural world. If we value the quality of all of our lives over the quantity of our treasuries, we will preserve our life support system for our children – fresh air, clean water, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species with whom we are interconnected as passengers through time on this planet Earth.

See http://atrart.net/moving-targets/ for a description of the Moving Targets project.

[i] Status and Trends of the Nation’s Biological Resources.
Land Use. Vol 1. Page 38. http://www.nwrc.usgs.gov
[ii] Schorger, A.W. (1955). The Passenger Pigeon: Its Natural History and Extinction. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press. Page 145. .ISBN 1-930665-96-2.
[iii] Kevin Hillstrom. 2010. U.S.Environmental Policy and Politics: A Documentary History. “President Roosevelt’s Address at a Conservation Conference of Governors May 13, 1908.” CQ Press. Washington D.C. Page 187.
[iv] Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., DABT, ATS. Director, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health, and Director, National Toxicology Program U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health Committee on Environment and Public Works United States Senate.” February 4, 2010. http://www.epw.senate.gov/ Accessed March 10, 2015.


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A Reflection on the “Energy for the Power of 32” Conference

Energy for the Power of 32 Conference was organized to establish a baseline and catalyze a regional energy plan and strategy for the 32 contiguous counties encompassing western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.  The preparations included a regional compilation of the Energy Flows in a Sankey diagram of Production, Consumption, Net Imports/Exports, and Losses.  the full report and analysis can be found at www.energy4p32.org

Regional Energy Flow showing Production, Consumption, Net Imports/Exports, and losses is a critical starting point for analysis. The three issues that emerge from this set of data are:

  1. the dominance of coal for electricity generation and as an export product
  2. Net exports (1,470 Trillion Btu) far exceed the regional consumption of energy for all uses (520 trillion Btu).
  3. The largest sources of “Unused Energy” result from electricity generation and transportation, Both sectors rely predominantly on technologies from the 1800’s- the Rankine cycle thermoelectric steam turbine and the internal combustion engine.

Data showing the global context creating an impetus for a change in our energy system was not allocated to a regional profile. Data adapting the EPA Sankey diagram on greenhouse gas emissions[1] to a regional profile would be helpful in isolating principal targets for change. Coal combustion for generating electricity is the most significant source of greenhouse gas emissions in the region.

A large data void exists in the failure to present, or even discuss, the ecosystem service components of the economy. There were some presentations about health effects and costs related to loss of productivity associated with pollution. However, the positive attributes derived from ecosystem services such as water purification, oxygen generation, food production through photosynthesis etc were not included. To the extent that the strategic plan seeks metrics and indicators to track economic conditions forward, it is essential to include metrics that reflect the health of the environment, our life support system. Measures for clean air, water quality, soil fertility and species diversity reflect not only quality of life conditions but also the resilience and sustainability of conditions upon which the economy ultimately depends. The failure to consider such parameters in economic development planning has largely contributed to the climate changing circumstances we are facing today. The classic papers of Robert Constanza et al. may be helpful in addressing this critical component of a regional strategic plan.[2] [3]

A second major omission in this discussion may be due to the absence of the presentation on environmental justice that would have been covered by Mustafa Ali. It is critical to recognize that the options for future development in energy are not limited by technology, but must be shaped by choices grounded in the ethics and values of our society. It is an ethical criterion to preserve our life support system for future generations, and indeed this is a part of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Article 1, Section 27, the Environmental Rights Amendment.[4] It is an ethical criterion to transition from a resource extraction based economy to a value adding economy, a legacy of manufacturing and innovation well rooted in our region’s history. It is an ethical criterion to establish conditions that reflect social equity among workers past and future. It is an ethical criterion to plan for a healthier solution to our energy requirements than we have done in the past.

Establishing an energy system that provides for a robust economy requires that we recognize the absolute need to rapidly move away from burning fossil fuels, in all aspects of our economy. In our region, the conditions are not favorable to take maximum advantage of the natural flows of renewable and sustainable energy. The myth that renewable energy is insufficient to serve our needs must be addressed directly. The flow of solar energy to the surface of the earth exceeds our current and projected needs by many orders of magnitude. [5] The energy uses in the region for all sectors – residential, commercial, industrial and transportation – require only 520 trillion Btu. The Unused (wasted) portion to deliver this amount of energy in useful form 1,400 trillion Btu, represents the compelling reason to change our system. If we focus on the work that needs to be delivered, rather than the replacement of the fuels that are mostly being wasted in the current system, the options are far more exciting.

WindStax Vertical turbine- Made in Pittsburgh

WindStax Vertical turbine- Made in Pittsburgh

The work of Lovins et. al. illustrate ample ways to move toward a much less wasteful energy system focus on suiting the energy source to the energy need, and addressing appropriate technologies for the task.[6] Thus as a goal, buildings will operate in net zero profile for energy, water and waste. We have current illustrations for the realistic achievability of this approach in the Phipps Living Building example, and even retrofit examples in the innovation workplace. [7] [8]

Transportation systems will require two types of transition first, to renewable fuels, most likely recovered from wasted food sources, but also new technologies such as methane gas fired or electric engines., ultimately to hydrogen driven systems. Transportation system solutions require better integration of non-mechanized mobility options such as designing communities for easier pedestrian access to services, recreation and workplace centers. Our region was once heavily dependent on pedestrian mobility, as the many remnants of pedestrian stairways testify. Walking distances to transit was normal as recently as 1968.

Industrial and manufacturing sector presents the largest challenge, but also the largest opportunity. As a strategic goal, think about converting the raw export component of the regional economy to value added production where raw materials convert n the regional economy to finished goods. Such activity can occur as part of creating a sustainable stream of energy system supports, including the technology and communication interconnects for a distributed electric system where the load and source are balanced. New categories of utility services emerge from such an inverted paradigm of utility system including DC as well as AC segments, load leveling and voltage regulation , and storage (including not only batteries but fly wheel, compressed ait, pumped hydro storage and chemical phase change crystals.) Making and installing adaptive technologies for existing buildings can also offer increased production opportunities, such as ground source heat pump auxiliary heating/cooling systems that tap into the existing water pipes with external heat exchangers.

Transformation from fossil fueled enterprise to renewable energy flow based enterprise seems daunting and “unrealistic” according to my working group colleagues. But, many times in our history we as a country have taken on major transformations in a very short span of time, often less than a decade. The industrial mobilization that shifted production to make vehicles machines and munitions for World War II happened in a span of three years. The rural electrification of America took only five years. The shift from horse and buggy to automobile took only 20. The shift from regulated communication to unregulated and competitive communications took less than a decade. What is needed in order to mobilize this kind of capability is a clear and urgent motivating force that enables cooperation among competing interests. That force can be national security in time of war, market opportunities opened by innovative technology, or collective moral outrage.

What we cannot lose sight of in this discussion is the essential truth that the climate of the earth is changing rapidly, irreversibly, due to human activity that we can control. If we defer meaningful action to contain the conversion of sequestered carbon into atmospheric carbon dioxide, the atmosphere will no longer support aerobic living organisms…that includes people. A graph projecting 600 to 800 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was presented as if it were a normal expectation for continued practices. This cannot be construed in any way as “Business as Usual” but as a catastrophe! Every year that we delay in addressing this situation narrows our options and reduces our chances of shifting successfully away from a course of disaster. Because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for 200 years or more, our actions today determine the fate of the unborn generations who have no say in determining their fate. We must consider the legacy we are leaving to them. We have seen the accumulated damages from mining and burning coal for fifty years, including the 3,000 miles of Pennsylvania streams permanently contaminated with acid mine drainage. We must take precautions going forward to preserve, protect and if possible restore the health of the living earth we depend on for our own survival.

As you develop the formal strategic plan for the Power of 32, I urge you to seek out and consider seriously the voices who speak for the living parts of our community, our economy and our selves. If we only focus on the infrastructure and technology, we will not preserve our own survival.

Respectfully submitted,

Patricia DeMarco

[1] EPA greenhouse gas emissions by source http://www.epa.gov

[2] Constanza, Robert et. Al. “The Value of the World’s Ecosystem Services and Natural Capital. Nature. May 15, 1997. Vol 387. Pages 253-260.

[3] Hunter Lovins. Natural Capitalism. 2010. Earthscan. London.

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

[5] NASA Chart on energy flow comparisons renewable vs fossil resources

[6] Amory B. Lovins and Rocky Mountain Institute. Reinventing Fire – Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era. 2011. Chelsea Green Publishers. Vermont.

[7] Phipps Living Building see http://www.Phippsconservatory.org

[8] Hartkopf and Loftness – innovation workplace Carnegie Mellon University


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Thanksgiving Blessing

To The Spirit of The Living Earth, who we call by different names,

We give thanks for this beautiful, bountiful planet that provides everything we need – fresh air, clean water, fertile ground and the millions of living things that create the web of life that supports us. As we gather today to celebrate this cultural tradition, we are thankful for our wonderful family. We hold in our memories our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who worked and sacrificed for us to have the opportunities we enjoy today. We hold in our hearts those of us scattered to other cities in places  across the country and around the world who are not with us today, and wish them all safe travels. As we share this celebration, may we remember those who have little, and take this time to dedicate our efforts to becoming responsible stewards of the earth.  May we become good ancestors by preserving this special, living earth for our children, and their great-grandchildren for years to come.

Blessed Be

(Grace for Thanksgiving Dinner- 11-27-2014)