Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."


Gifts of the Living Earth

Presented to Integrity of Creation Conference: toward a Healthy Planet at Duquesne University on September 25, 2019

by Patricia M.DeMarco, Ph.D.

Fifty years ago, on July 20, 1969 Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, marking the first time humans had stepped out in space: “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”[i] The iconic images of our fragile blue planet spinning in the vast reaches of space cemented the perception of Earth as our only home. This giant leap in perception of the fragility of our planet set the stage for many of the environmental protections written into law in the United States during the 1970s.

The living earth fueled by the power of the sun provides the essential elements of our life support system: fresh air, clean water, fertile ground, and the biodiversity of species that constitute the interconnected web of life, of which humans are but one part. The gifts of the living earth include the many ecosystem services that humans rely on without thinking about them. The supporting services that provide nutrient cycling, soil formation, habitat formation and primary production; the provisioning services that produce food, fuel, wood and fiber and fresh water; the regulating services that temper the climate, control flooding, control pests and diseases, and purify water; and the cultural services that offer spiritual, aesthetic, educational and recreational benefits.[ii] This priceless life support system is in crisis. Burning fossil fuels has accelerated the accumulation of greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, leading to global warming.  Resource extraction to obtain fossil fuels and other minerals has destroyed nearly one third of the natural habitat areas of the earth. Human populations, with life spans extended by modern health treatments, have spiraled beyond the carrying capacity of the natural world as the world’s people increasingly model their behavior after the Western standard of hyper-consumption. These four stresses on the earth have produced the twin existential crises of our time- global warming of the climate and global pollution, especially from plastic materials.

Solving the existential crises of global warming and global pollution is not a technology problem. It is a moral and ethical problem. The laws of Nature are not negotiable. We must change the way our society operates to abide within the laws of Nature in ways that can sustain life on earth. The United Nations Brundtland Commission in 1985 framed the concept of sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This concept implies a commitment to preserve the well-being of future generations on a global basis. 

The most recent United Nations Report of the IPCC[iii] finds that limiting global warming to 1.5°C requires “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air. “Limiting warming to 1.5°C is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes,” said Jim Skea, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III.[iv] Achieving a more sustainable path for modern civilization requires an adjustment of priorities. 

In the current system of the global economy, business decisions and government policies, especially recently in the United States, place highest value on monetary gains, with diminished or minimum weight on environmental and social values. This heavy stress on economic outcome regardless of environmental or social damage or inequity has resulted in rapidly accelerating deterioration of ecosystems, habitat, and quality of life across the country, and in many places around the world.

To achieve a more sustainable civilization for our children, preserving and restoring the ecosystems that provide our life support system must assume a higher value in decision making at all levels. Likewise, to achieve a higher level of equity, justice, and fairness, the social and cultural values that provide quality of life must have higher importance in all levels of decision making.

Pollinators provide essential eco-system service

The industrialized economy takes the basic premise that the resources of the earth are available for exploitation giving profits to investors. The land is not restored or regenerated as part of this process because there is no immediate profit in restoration. Only when regulations require remediation or protection do most corporations indulge in repair of damaged land. Likewise, to maximize profits, labor is paid as little as possible, with investment in machinery to reduce labor costs as much as possible. The entire tax structure and investment reward strategy of our current U.S. economy rests on these concepts.[v]

The earth is a living system of which humans are but one part; not human property to be owned or destroyed for profit. The laws of nature co-evolved over millions of years – chemistry, physics, biological and physiological responses to conditions in the environment -define complex inter-relationships among all living things and connect the living earth elements with the mineral and inert elements. These functions are inherent in living systems, priceless attributes of the living earth that are not reflected in the drivers of the economy. To achieve meaningful and lasting solutions to the existential crises of global warming and global pollution, the laws of nature must be incorporated into the practices of civil society.

Indigenous Peoples all around the world have long recognized the necessity of living within the laws of nature and do so by respecting the rights of the living earth. A gathering of Indigenous Peoples in the People’s Climate Conference at Cochabamba, Bolivia in 2010 adopted a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth that was introduced at the COP-15 meeting in Paris in 2015 arguing for a 1.5°C increase above pre-industrial ceiling for global warming. The goal of a 1.5°C ceiling was incorporated into the Paris Climate Accord of 2015 signed by 195 nations due to these efforts. The justification for this action states in part:

We the Peoples and Nations of Earth are all part of Mother Earth, an indivisible, living community of interrelated and interdependent beings with a common destiny; and … Recognizing that capitalism and all forms of depredation, 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 … establish this Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.[vi]

The Universal Rights of the Living Earth

The Indigenous Peoples Congress defined ten Universal Rights of Mother Earth.

  1. The right to life and to exist. The diversity of living plants, animals and micro-organisms on earth have a right to life and to exist. The complex interactions among the parts of ecosystems work best when all the components are in place and functional. Human habitat destruction, exploitation, and life cycle interruption drive hundreds of species to extinction. 
  2. The right to be respected. Indigenous Peoples lived on the Earth for thousands of years in harmony with Nature. Colonial appropriation of lands, especially for resource extraction, has destroyed many cultures. The cultural wisdom of Indigenous Peoples holds great value for guiding the transformation of society.
  3. The right to regenerate bio-capacity and to continue vital life cycles and processes free from human disruption. Human activities have permanently destroyed habitat, for example by converting rain forests to mono-crop plantations. Entire ecosystems have been disrupted by such activities as strip mining and mountaintop removal. Global pollution of air and water have damaged the viability of many living things. North American bird populations have declined by 29% since 1970 due to habitat loss.[vii]
  4. The right to maintain identity and integrity as a distinct self-regulating, and interrelated being. Complex symbiotic systems such as coral reefs, wetlands and rain forests are compromised by human actions both directly by development and exploitation and indirectly by the effects of pollution and global warming. The Great Barrier Reef in Australia has experienced fatal bleaching for 50% of its range. [viii]
  5. The right to water as a source of life. Fresh water is a critical indicator for the viability of all living things on earth. Co-evolution of the integrated living systems currently on earth depend on the availability of fresh water. Over 140 million people are expected to face migration due to prolonged drought caused by climate change by 2050.[ix]
  6. The right to clean air. Air pollution transcends local, regional and continental boundaries. In many parts of the United States, pollution has reduced the distance and clarity of what we see by 70 percent. One in four children in the U.S. have asthma. Global air emissions contribute to global warming, ocean acidification, and particulates
  7. The right to integral health. The concept of health as a universal right recognizes the interconnectedness of physical, psychological, emotional, social and spiritual health. Healthy beings only can exist in a healthy environment. To keep the planet and people healthy, we need food systems designed to protect natural resources, absorb greenhouse gas emissions, provide nutritious and affordable food, and strengthen the resilience and prosperity of rural populations.[x]
  8. The right to be free from contamination, pollution, toxic or radioactive waste. Pollution from the by-products of modern society have contaminated the entire world. There are now 15–51 trillionpieces of plastic in the world’s oceans. Thousands of seabirds and sea turtles, seals and other marine mammals are killed each year after ingesting plastic or getting entangled in it. The fossil fuel industry plans to increase plastic production by 40 percent over the next decade in petrochemical plants across the United States to turn fossil natural gas liquids extracted by hydraulic fracturing into single-use plastic.[xi]
  9. The right to not have genetic structure modified or disrupted in a manner that threatens integrity or vital and healthy functioning. 105 commonly used agricultural pesticides, fungicides and herbicides have endocrine- disrupting effects on wildlife.[xii] In addition, the use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture and other industrial processes compromises wild stocks as pollen travels without restriction on the winds.  
  10. The right to full and prompt restoration from violations caused by human activities. Many environmental harms from extractive industry particularly are not reversible.  Extinction is forever. And for some damages, there is no recovery possible. For example, Mountain top removal mining of thin coal seams has destroyed 500 mountains throughout Appalachia.[xiii] The “restored mine sites have vastly different, less diverse landscapes subject to erosion and acid runoff. 
“Restored” mountain top removal coal mine site in West Virginia. 

The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth articulates an urgent plea for use of the precautionary principle in shaping the relationship of human activity to the natural world. The concept of protecting, and restoring to the extent possible, the natural systems of the earth lies at the heart of preserving the priceless life support systems of the living earth for current and future generations. As Rachel Carson wrote in her essay “On the Pollution of Our Environment,” 

Underlying all these problems of introducing contamination into our world is the question of moral responsibility – responsibility not only to our own generation, but to those of the future.[xiv]

In some cases, the harms to the environment or to living systems may not be known until long after the fact. But in many cases, especially with modern techniques for assessing biologic harm, the potential for harm is either well established, or can be shown to be highly likely. For example, Bristol Bay Alaska is home to the largest wild salmon run in the world. The open pit Pebble Creek Mine, if it begins operation, would end this $1.5 Billion fishery from arsenic contamination.[xv] Arsenic released from mining gold and highly soluble in water, even in minute amounts is toxic to salmon especially as they spawn and in the juvenile stages of growth. The livelihood of over 14,000 people directly depends on the wild runs of salmon, including the subsistence villages of Bristol Bay.[xvi] Even species as abundant as salmon can vanish quickly if critical habitat is lost, or harvesting is heedless of regenerative needs, as happened with the abrupt extinction of the Passenger Pigeon.[xvii] Some harms are not reversible. Extinction is forever.

A Matter of Ethics and Justice

How we as a society address the challenges of climate change is not a matter of technology, but rather a matter of justice and ethical choices on several levels. Most urgently, addressing climate change effectively now is a matter of intergenerational justice. Actions taken or not taken by the current generation will markedly affect the fate of future generations.  While this has always held true in the past, these times are different because actions taken today will have irreversible consequences that compromise options for the future. It is important to recognize that within the range of options available now, there are many choices that will lead to a better future, without relying forever on fossil fuels.  For example, the re-Imagine Beaver project facilitated by the League of Women Voters in Beaver County PA developed a four-part plan for diversifying and renewing the economy as an alternative vision to having the Shell Appalachia Petrochemical Plant dominate the area’s economy.[xviii]

Climate action is also a matter of international justice because the effects of global warming are not evenly distributed around the world.  The richest 10% pf people produce half of the global carbon dioxide emissions, while the poorest 50% of people produce only about 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions.[xix] Globally, the industrialized countries mostly in the northern hemisphere are greatest causes of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, but the greatest damages from resource extraction and global warming occur in the southern hemisphere among poorer nations. Global market drive resource extraction practices that destroy habitat as well.  For example, palm oil used for snack foods devastates 27 million Hectares of tropical rainforest and is endangering hundreds of native plants and animals.[xx] Island nations and coastal areas along all continents are affected by sea level rise, more extreme and frequent storms and tidal surges. Even within single nations such as the United States, climate change has varied geographic effects. Coastal areas suffer flooding and storm surge while other areas suffer from prolonged droughts, wildfires, and advancing deserts. The World Bank estimates there will be 140 million climate migrants fleeing lands made uninhabitable by loss of water due to climate change.[xxi]

People of all faiths all around the world hold common concern for the well-being of people and for the need for justice and equity in interpersonal transactions. As a civilized society, we must consider the present and impending conditions that require understanding, empathy for our fellow beings, and a sense of obligation for the welfare of future generations. We must recognize that the laws of Nature are NOT negotiable. Humans cannot legislate the laws of chemistry or physics or the biologic system responses to changes in the environment.  We must adjust our laws and cultural customs to live in harmony with Nature. The time for exploitation and subjugation of Nature for short term profits is over if we are to survive as a species.

A Transformation for a Better Future

When faced with the alarming facts of the effects of climate change, many people respond with fear. At the hearings on the Clean Power Plan in the summer of 2016, the streets of Pittsburgh were filled with demonstrators on both sides of the proposed action to close coal power plants and move toward renewable energy systems.  Coal miners and their allies in the IBEW, AFL-CIO and trades unions marched 3,500 strong with uniform T-shirts, loudspeakers and goading from Governor Corbett. In contrast, a few hundred assorted environmental activists, mothers with children in strollers, and students gathered on the corner of Grant Street near the Federal Building to chant and sing. This sharply drawn contrast belies the reality under the demonstrations.  Coal miners understand that their work gives them lung diseases and faces a stark future, but their fear stems from knowing that if nobody goes into coal mining, there will be no new workers to support their pensions, health benefits and families. Laws protect corporations in bankruptcy, but as has been evident as Patriot Coal, Murray Coal and others have gone bankrupt, the workers are left with pennies on the dollar to fend for themselves.[xxii] Union strength has eroded significantly, and many workers in the oil and gas fields are not unionized.  Transformation to a sustainable economy must address the entire social fabric of our culture, not just fuel switching.  The human face of the transformation must be a major part of the way forward.  The AFL-CIO statement to the Copenhagen Climate Accord states: “We are asking for a just transition of the workforce that creates decent work and quality jobs.” [xxiii] But the climate crisis is much more complex than a simple transition.  It requires a rearranging of the elements of our society to reach a sustainable civilization, much as the caterpillar becomes a butterfly.

We must make a plan to move to a sustainable future.  The tools for this process are at hand, lacking only the political will to move forward.  There are three principal pathways for our sustainable future:

  • Renewable Energy Systems that conserve and restore resources
  • Regenerative Agriculture for a non-toxic food system that captures carbon in fertile ground
  • Pollution Prevention and A Circular Economy for materials designed for re-use from benign materials.[xxiv]

Steps in the transformation require a comprehensive approach, recognizing that as sustainable systems become more prevalent, the process of adopting them will become more sophisticated and streamlined in practice. Take for example the shift from horse-drawn carriages to motorized vehicles and consider the many adjustments that took place. Rules of the road had to be established to keep drivers from running into each other. Roads had to be paved so vehicles would not become bogged down in mud, and vehicles were licensed to certify drivers. An entire fuel delivery and supply infrastructure had to be established. Horseshoe operations, blacksmiths, tack shops and buggy makers all saw the decline and extinction of their business. Now, as we look at a transformation of the energy system to renewable resources, we have similar adjustments facing us. The utility interface changes when the customers also produce energy some or all of the time. Zoning issues and building codes become a consideration if net zero energy buildings are to become standard practice. Converting the energy system from a fossil-based operation to a renewable energy system will require attention to micro-grid integration using artificial intelligence to balance load and supply and offers the new utility service function of storage and load leveling. Technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells and anaerobic digestion of waste to make non-fossil methane or hydrogen become more economic options. Similar changes will need to occur in food systems, transportation and materials management.[xxv]

The transformation to a society living in harmony with nature will place priority on protecting biodiversity in all areas of the world, as an excellent indicator for the health of the complex ecosystems that comprise Earth’s life support system. We are facing a critical time in which we will choose the fate of our living Earth for hundreds of years into the future. In making the critical choices about energy and all resource management, we must place greater value on the living things, rather than on the short-term profits to corporations as the dominant driver. The plan. For a just transition must address the needs of people caught in the transition- the oil, gas, and coal workers especially, who will need to transition to new ways of working in new fields. Just and equitable solutions will need to include protecting pensions, health benefits and re-training for existing workers. A companion to a policy of re-investing in communities can empower people to re-structure our society with a more diverse and locally responsible economy.

We need a new system of governance that relies on a doctrine of public trust for natural resource management. In such a system, common resources are managed for the long-term benefit of the whole of society collectively, rather than to be owned and divided to profit individuals or corporate owners. A particular major change in this approach would place the ecosystem services, mostly on the surface of the earth, as priority for protection above the rights for extracting mineral deposits from deep underground. Such an approach recognizes the priceless value of the services the living earth delivers to all living things for free, as conditions of mutual support.  We can transform our society to align with the natural cycles of resource use, recovery and re-use, rather than changing raw material to trash as rapidly as possible.

The Moral Imperative

Humanity now faces global crisis conditions: Carbon Dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have reached at 412 parts per million, the highest level in 650,000 years; 2019 is the hottest year on record since 2001; Arctic ice sheets are decreasing at 12.8% per decade; and coastal flooding worldwide is common as sea levels rise and oceans warm.[xxvi] Storms, wildfires, and prolonged drought conditions affect broad areas of the world. In the face of these dire facts, children all over the world have stood up to plead for action on climate to protect their future.  How can we ignore the pleas of our children as they protest, file lawsuits, demonstrate and march for the right to live on a viable planet?[xxvii]

There are no technological barriers to making rapid and meaningful changes toward sustainable climate solutions. All of the technologies necessary to address the major sources of global warming and global pollution are in hand and will only improve in effectiveness as they become more widely adopted. Only the political will to act stands in the way of transforming our economy. Over 73% of Americans want action on climate change but are deeply divided on partisan lines (67% of Democrats and 21% of Republicans)[xxviii] The U. S. Constitution vests the power of government in The People. We have the power to act to save our world.

The best way to move forward is to remember that we are more alike in our common humanity than different in political stance, race, gender, religion or culture. If we protect the rights of the living Earth and connect our own fate to the fate of the natural world, we will find the courage to make the necessary changes. The result will be a better future and the legacy of a renewed sense of wonder in the miracle of creation. Each person can act. Each person matters in the great interconnected web of life. Here is Rachel Carson’s conservation pledge:

I pledge myself to preserve and protect America’s fertile soils, her mighty forests and rivers, her wildlife and minerals, for on these her greatness was established, and her strength depends.[xxix]

Decide to leave our children a living Earth. Thank you.

Photograph courtesy of Kirsi Jansa

[i]  Associated Press. “Armstrong’s “one small step” quote explained.” Navy Times. July13, 2019. https://www.navytimes.com/news/your-navy/2019/07/13/armstrongs-famous-one-small-step-quote-explained/  Accessed September 23, 2019.

[ii]  Robert Costanza, Ralph d’Arge, Rudolf de Groot, Stephen Farber, Monica Grasso, Bruce Hannon, Karin Limburg, Shahid Naeem, Robert V. O’Neill, Jose Paruelo, Robert G. Raskin, Paul Sutton, Marjan van den Belt. “The Value of the World’s Ecosystem Services and Natural capital.” Nature387: 253-260 (1997) https://www.nature.com/articles/387253a0#auth-2  Accessed September 19, 2019. 

[iii] United Nations Environment Programme (2019). Emissions Gap Report 2019. UNEP, Nairobi. https://www.unenvironment.org/resources/emissions-gap-report-2019   Accessed September 19, 2019.

[iv] IPCC. “Global Warming of 1.5°C, an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.” October 8, 2018. https://www.ipcc.ch/2018/10/08/summary-for-policymakers-of-ipcc-special-report-on-global-warming-of-1-5c-approved-by-governments/   Accessed September 18, 2019.

[v] United Nations. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. New York. September 2015. https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/?menu=1300 Accessed September 19, 2019.

[vi] World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. “Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth.” Cochabamba, Bolivia, April 22, 2010 https://therightsofnature.org/wp-content/uploads/FINAL-UNIVERSAL-DECLARATION-OF-THE-RIGHTS-OF-MOTHER-EARTH-APRIL-22-2010.pdf  Accessed September 19, 2019. 

[vii] Kenneth V. Rosenberg, Adriaan M. Doktor, Peter J. Blancher, John R. Sauer, Adam C. Smith, Paul A. Smith. “Decline of the North American Avifauna.” Science. 4 Oct 2019. Vol 366, Issue 6461, pp 120-124. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2019/09/18/science.aaw1313

[viii] Terry P. Hughes, James T. Kerry, Andrew H. Baird, Sean R. Connolly, Tory J. Chase, Andreas Dietzel, Tessa Hill, Andrew s. Hoey, Mia O. Hoogenboom, Mizue Jacobson, Ailsa Kerswell, Joshua S. Madin, Abbie Mieog, Allison S. Paley, Morgan S. Pratchett, Gergley Torda, & Rachel M. Woods. “Global warming impairs stock-recruitment dynamics of corals.” Nature. 18 April 2019. Nature Vol. 568. Pages 387-401. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1081-y.epdf  Accessed September 19, 2019.

[ix] Rigaud, Kanta Kumari; de Sherbinin, Alex; Jones, Bryan; Bergmann, Jonas; Clement, Viviane; Ober, Kayly; Schewe, Jacob; Adamo, Susana; McCusker, Brent; Heuser, Silke; Midgley, Amelia. 2018. Groundswell : Preparing for Internal Climate Migration. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/29461  License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.  Accessed September 19, 2019. 

[x] World Health Organization. World Health Statistics 2018: Monitoring Health for the SDGs. https://www.who.int/gho/publications/world_health_statistics/2018/en/  Accessed September 19, 2019.

[xi] Center for Biological Diversity. “Ocean Plastics Pollution: A Global Tragedy for Our Oceans and Sea Life.”  https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/ocean_plastics/   Accessed September 20, 2019.

[xii] Mnif, Wissem & Ibn hadj hassine, Aziza & Bouaziz, Aicha & Bartegi, Aghleb & Thomas, Olivier & Roig, Benoit. (2011). Effect of Endocrine Disruptor Pesticides: A Review. International journal of environmental research and public health. 8. 2265-303.  https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51508758_Effect_of_Endocrine_Disruptor_Pesticides_A_Review  Accessed September 18, 2019. 

[xiii] Appalachian Voices. “Mountaintop Removal 101.” http://appvoices.org/end-mountaintop-removal/mtr101/

Accessed September 19, 2019. 

[xiv] Rachel Carson.  “The Pollution of Our Environment.” In Linda J. Lear (Ed.) Lost Woods – The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson. Beacon Press. Boston. 1998. Pages 228-245.

[xv] Businesses for Bristol Bay. Economic Impact.   https://www.b4bb.org/economic-impact   Accessed September 20, 2019. 

[xvi] Earthjustice. “Bristol Bay Salmon threatened by Pebble Creek Mine.” October 9, 2019.  https://earthjustice.org/features/alaska-s-bristol-bay-the-pebble-mine  Accessed December 7, 2019.

[xvii] Patricia M. DeMarco. “Moving Targets- A Reflection on a Century Passing. March 13, 2015. https://patriciademarco.com/2015/03/13/moving-targets-a-reflection-from-a-century-passing/

[xviii] Mark Dixon, Heather Haar, Andre Goes, Joanne Martin, Connor Mulvaney, Sophie Riedel. Re-Imagine! Beaver County. Spring 2019.  https://breatheproject.org/app/uploads/1970/01/920114-LWVP-Re-Imagine-Beaver-County-Book.pdf   Accessed September 19, 2019.

[xix] Timothy gore. Extreme Carbon Inequality. 2 December 2015. Oxfam International.  https://oi-files-d8-prod.s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/file_attachments/mb-extreme-carbon-inequality-021215-en.pdf  Accessed September 20, 2019. 

[xx] Rainforest Rescue. “Palm oil- deforestation for everyday products.”  https://www.rainforest-rescue.org/topics/palm-oil  Accessed December 7, 2019.

[xxi] Rigaud, Kanta Kumari; de Sherbinin, Alex; Jones, Bryan; Bergmann, Jonas; Clement, Viviane; Ober, Kayly; Schewe, Jacob; Adamo, Susana; McCusker, Brent; Heuser, Silke; Midgley, Amelia. 2018. Groundswell : Preparing for Internal Climate Migration. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/29461

 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.  Accessed December 7, 2019.

[xxii]  Matt Egan. ‘Nervous and scared” – Coal Workers Fear for Pensions after Murray Coal Bankruptcy. CNN Business. New York.  November 1, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/01/business/murray-energy-coal-bankruptcy-pension/index.html  Accessed December 7, 2019. 

[xxiii] International Trade Union Confederation. Resolution on Climate Change action. July 12, 2018.  https://www.ituc-csi.org/the-4th-ituc-world-congress-20807    Accessed September 19, 2019. 

[xxiv] Patricia M. DeMarco. Pathways to Our Sustainable Future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh Press. Pittsburgh PA. 2018.

[xxv] Patricia DeMarco. Pathways to Our Sustainable Future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, 2018. Pages 193-210.

[xxvi] United States Environmental Protection Agency. Climate Change Indicators in the United States 2016. Fourth Edition.  https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/climate-change-indicators-us-and-global-temperature  Accessed September 19, 2019.

[xxvii] Juliana VS. United States https://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/juliana-v-us Over 400 such lawsuits are pending at various stages in the United States courts. 

[xxviii] Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., Rosenthal, S., Kotcher, J., Bergquist, P., Ballew, M., Goldberg, M., & Gustafson, A. (2019). Climate change in the American mind: April 2019. Yale University and George Mason University. New Haven, CT: Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. https://www.climatechangecommunication.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Climate_Change_American_Mind_April_2019b.pdf  Accessed September 19, 2019. 

[xxix] Linda J. Lear. Rachel Carson – Witness for Nature. Henry Holt & Company. New York. 1997. Page 137.


Green Jobs and A Living Planet: Make It Happen

Patricia M. DeMarco

May 20, 2019

The fragrant, lush explosion of growth in the deciduous Pittsburgh landscape reminds me that Nature is resilient and has evolved through millions of years to thrive and flourish. Though the reality that human actions have precipitated existential crises from global warming and global pollution is undeniable, the burgeoning life of Spring brings hope. What humans have caused, humans can change. The laws of Nature are not negotiable, but the laws and policies of nations can be changed to preserve natural systems. The time is ripe and the tools for a sustainable transformation of our economy and our culture are at hand.

The Situation

The natural systems of the earth have evolved to provide everything we need to survive and thrive – the essential conditions for life as we know it: solar energy (both incident and stored), oxygen-rich air, fresh water, fertile ground, and the vast biodiversity of species that constitute the living earth. This essential life support system is under stress from human driven actions: fossil fuel combustion, resource extraction, uncontrolled population expansion, and hyper-consumption, especially in America. Americans comprise about 5% of the world’s population but use 25% of the worlds energy resources.[1]It would take five and a half planets to provide our lifestyle for everyone on earth, but we have only one Earth. The Mauna Loa Observatory has measured carbon dioxide levels at 415 parts per million, an atmospheric concentration not seen on planet Earth for over three million years. [2],[3]We are entering planetary conditions never experienced by current living systems, including human civilizations.

The situation is more urgent than ever. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) issued itsreport on Global Biodiversity compiled by 145 expert scientists from 50 countries. Sir Robert Watson, Chair of the IPBES said: “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide. … it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” he said. “Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably – this is also key to meeting most other global goals. By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”[4]

How can we accomplish this critical task? The Green New Deal framework presents a catalyst to stimulate creative discourse on bringing a positive transformation to our system.[5]Town Hall meetings on the Green New Deal are taking place across the country as people begin to work out the specifics of a green economy. These conversations offer an opportunity to bring many more people to awareness of the severity of the situation we are facing, and to move to action in every aspect of our lives. This problem is too important to leave to “other people” or “whoever is in charge.” Everyone has a stake in preserving a habitable planet for now, and especially for the future. Sustainability must become the new normal.

The Concept of Sustainability

We are not facing a technology problem- we are facing an ethics and a moral problem. There is ample evidence in recent history of America leading transformative changes in a short time when united in purpose and guided by a specific objective, as illustrated by the rapid industrialization of our economy in World War II to defeat Hitler. [6]Sustainability requires that we place a higher priority on taking responsibility to preserve a living earth for future generations. The Brundtland Commission definition of sustainability states simply: “Meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.[7]If we care at all about our children and grandchildren, it is critical to recognize that this an existential challenge for all of life on Earth, and an intergenerational imperative. We already experience the effects of a one degree increase in the average temperature of the earth.[8]To achieve sustainability within the next twenty years, we must pursue system solutions to systemic problems.  

Plan for a Sustainable Economy

A true transformation of our economy and lifestyle requires moving in a new direction on multiple levels. The energy system must shift from a fossil fuel basis, – oil, natural gas and coal – to energy use and production around modular, renewable resources. The food production system must shift from a chemical-dependent process to regenerative agriculture processes that restore the fertility of the land, sequester carbon, and provide food more locally.  The processes that create materials and goods must shift to using resources that do not create toxic products and by-products, such as plastics from fossil feed-stocks, but rather use components that can be broken down in natural systems. Moving these major systems to a different platform does not require new technology, but a commitment to shifting to a life-sustaining system instead.[9]The transformation is in process all over the world and in many places in America as well. When people visualize the changes in a positive light, they will no longer fear moving to the unknown. Workers in the oil, gas and coal industries, in the traditional petrochemical production industries, and commercial scale agriculture industry feel fear and uncertainty about changes proposed to achieve sustainability. The immediate threat of job loss and meeting needs of family overwhelm philosophical attention to the fate of future generations, even the rapidly approaching fate of today’s children. We must replace that fear with concrete plans for a sustainable economy. 

A just transition must include a plan for taking care of the workers in industries that need to change. That means protecting workers and their unions, including their wages, pensions and health benefits, providing meaningful training and re-training, and making investments in communities for new infrastructure, new systems and effective social infrastructure of laws and regulations. Simply mandating fuel substitutions is inadequate to this task. We need to re-frame the problem and reach to the root causes of social justice and environmental justice issues to make a meaningful and effective transition.

Re-Framing the Problem

We measure the well-being of our country on the basis of how well the economy is doing. Consumer confidence, the Gross Domestic Product, the performance of Wall Street, the size of the trade deficit all mark the measure of success. The most widely quoted indicator, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the sum of Consumption (Consumer spending) plus Investment by private companies plus Government Spending plus the net of Exports minus Imports. Our economy basically depends on turning raw material to trash as rapidly as possible with consumer spending at the heart of the system. This approach does not account for the priceless contributions of the living ecosystems that provide fresh water, clean air, fertile ground and support of the entire biodiversity of species. These essential functions are not explicitly reflected in what is measured, and in fact, the destruction of such essential services often counts as a positive value in the GDP, such as filling wetlands for building sites.[10]The priceless services the living Earth provides, like pollination, oxygen creation, water purification and so many others, do not count in the GDP. In a sustainable system, the economic value would be balanced with social and cultural values, and environmental values for a holistic approach to measuring the well-being of society.[11]By placing overwhelming emphasis on the economic value as indicated by the GDP, the balance of society is skewed. 

This one-dimensional way of measuringvalue obscures the full environmental and social consequences of consumer’s decisions. Prices of goods and services to not reflect the cost in environmental damage to land and ecosystems, the cost of air pollution on health, the contamination of water supplies, or the loss of farmland to prolonged drought. In fact, many policies actually supportenvironmental destruction. 

In the energy system, for example, moving toward sustainability requires that fossil fuel combustion must be quickly curtailed. Yet, government policies, some dating back to the early nineteenth century, heavily subsidize fossil fuel extraction.[12]In the U. S. direct production subsidies for oil, gas and coal extraction amount to $20.5 billion per year hard-wired into the tax and budget process.[13]PermanentInvestment Tax Credits for oil, gas, coal development amount to an additional $7.4 Billion/year.[14]This is compared to $1.3 billion/year for all renewables tax credits, which decline on a sliding scale and end in five years unless Congress explicitly extends them. There are additional federal tax credits and loopholes for oil, gas and coal amounting to $10 billion/year:

  • Intangible drilling oil & gas deduction ($2.3 billion)
  • 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)[15][16]

Changing this wide array of subsidies would require explicit changes in the law by an act of Congress. 

Why do all of these subsidies matter? First, 98% of all operating coal plants are unprofitable if environmental controls are updated and enforced, and 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. [17]The fossil industries spend an enormous amount of money to keep these preferential treatments in place.[18]For example, in the 2015-2016 election cycle, oil, gas, and coal companies spent $354 million on campaigns and lobbying, and received $29.4 billion in subsidies.[19]The laws will not be changed as long as the people in Congress are beholden to the fossil interests. The status quo will not achieve sustainability within a reasonable window of time. It is too late for small incremental changes. Major changes through a comprehensive and bold initiative are necessary. The Green New Deal approaches a solution in a multidimensional way.

The Cost of NOT Acting on Climate

As initiatives ranging from the “cap and Trade” proposals of 2009 to the Green New Deal of 2018 come forward, the prevailing reaction has been that green options are too expensive and therefore impractical. However, failingto address climate change is already very expensive. The Global Change Research Act of 1990 mandated a climate assessment be filed to Congress every four years. The Fourth Climate Assessment was filedin November 2018, by 17 current federal agencies appointed under President Trump. The findings of this report are unequivocal:

  • $160 billion in lost wages a year from heat-induced productivity reduction;
  • $87 billion a year by 2100 in higher energy costs due to mounting demand on a power system made less reliable by extreme weather.
  • $507 billion worth of infrastructure damage from real estate at risk of being inundated by rising sea levels by 2100; and
  • $1.2 to $1.4 Billion/year from Inland flooding destruction of thousands of bridges by 2050
  • $230 million/ year—loss on shellfish harvests. 
  • $140 Billion/year recreation industry losses from disappearing coral reefs alone 
  • cold-water fishing and skiing would also be affected. [20]

These costs are considered to be minimum estimates of the potential damages and resulting costs as the result of climate change. The economic damages on industries, communities, individuals and institutions are already accumulating across the country, and around the world.[21]

Better Choices: The Green Jobs Economy

What is a “Green Job”? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Green Jobs are “Jobs in businesses that produce goods and services that benefit the environment and conserve natural resources.” These are in diverse fields and enterprises ranging from biological materials processing to regenerative agriculture.  For simplicity, I will focus here on the energy sector. 

Green jobs in the energy sector are expanding rapidly as technology costs in renewables are dropping sharply. In 2013, based on unsubsidized life cycle cost analysis by Lazard investment bank, both wind and solar utility scale systems fell below the cost of coal, and the costs have continued to decline against coal, oil and gas.[22]Demand is also increasing for energy efficiency and clean energy solutions as businesses seek to save operating costs. Businesses especially recognize that energy efficiency has rapid returns and is an under-used tool for productivity improvement. Investment in energy management software alone is expected to increase by 10% in the next four years. [23]In many states, more supportive policies encouraging renewable energy use and removing barriers such as restrictive zoning are advancing renewable energy systems.[24]

The green energy field has a diversity of job opportunities in sectors ranging from clean energy production to environmental management. All have shown robust job growth over the last decade, with trends increasingly positive.[25]Renewable energy systemsinclude hydroelectric, wind and solar energy, both passive solar incorporated into building design and active photovoltaic power generation. Solar energy alone employs more people than oil, gas and coal combined with 777,000 jobs posted in 2016. Solar jobs are growing at 25% per year and wind at 16% per year, though the trend has slowed a bit due to federal policy uncertainty and the tariffs imposed on imports of solar panels and components from China.[26]The renewable energy production field employs skilled workers such as Electricians, Electrician helpers, Solar Installers, repairers, and Electric power plant operators. When these renewable energy systems are built in America, they also employ machinists, construction workers, and building trades workers.

Energy Storage and Advanced Electric Gridopportunities showed a 235% surge in growth in 2016-2017with 98,800 jobs in storage and 55,000 jobs in advanced electric grid operations. These fields are critical for building the infrastructure to integrate renewable resources into a smoothly functioning electric system. Adding storage both as utility scale functions and as modular additions to individual buildings creates flexibility, reliability and resilience in the operations of electric service. Using artificial intelligence for grid management and load adjustments also expands the capability of the system. This is an exciting and rapidly growing field.

The Energy Efficiency fieldincludes diagnostics, engineering modifications, retrofitting, adapting and installing energy efficiency improvements to commercial and residential buildings. This sector employs 2.2 million workers, mostly in construction trades such as Roofers, Roofer- Helpers, Pipe-layers, Plumbers, Pipefitters, Steamfitters, HVAC Mechanics, and HVAC Installers. The opportunities in energy efficiency grow as communities and businesses invest in infrastructure improvements and modernization. Because these jobs are tied to local initiatives, they are an excellent bridge to a more resilient economy.

The transportation sector is undergoing a massive transformation in Advanced Vehicles and Transportation. Developing and manufacturing electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles provided 174,000 jobs in 2016-2017. It is a growing field, for example, Ford announced $11 Billion in investment for 40 EV and Hybrid vehicles targeted to be on the market by 2022.[27]In addition to traditional automotive workers, this sector adds skills in artificial intelligence, engineering and electronics. 

Environmental Managementin the green economy has a role of increasing importance.  This field defines the intersection of change where traditional systems are adapting to incorporate renewable energy, efficiency and operations. [28]Because of the strong financial benefit of sustainability, 43% of corporate executives have placed sustainability on the agenda for their operations. Though the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track “sustainability” jobs at this time, there are strong indicators of rapid growth in this field.[29]Jobs in the energy management field include Hazardous waste management, Refuse Recycling management, Septic system engineers, Plant and system operators, Conservation scientists.[30]This field is evolving and is shaping the direction for future enterprises both from within corporations and as new business areas of opportunity.

Wages and Skills in the Green Economy

An often – repeated allegation about the green economy holds that green jobs don’t pay well.  This is not true. Wages in the clean energy economy are above the national average of $23.86 per hour. For Clean Energy Production (renewables) wages average $28.41 per hour; for Energy efficiency, $25.90 per hour; and for Environmental Management, wages average $27.45 per hour. [31]

The scope and range of job opportunities offer a wide array of skill requirements and opportunities.  This is an area of high diversity and high prospects for growth. Jobs that improve the environment and conserve resources offer a foundation for moving to a sustainable future. The barriers and impediments to this path can be overcome. The problem is much like that of the Suffragettes who had to overcome the objections of the men in power to obtain rights for women to vote. The fossil industry interests hold the power in Congress, and they must be overcome to accelerate the transformation necessary to address climate change and global pollution. Workers in current fossil industries such as coal mining look at green job opportunities through the lens of wages won by long and hard union negotiations, years of organizing for rights and benefits, and a generation of struggle. The jobs of the Industrial Revolution are not the jobs of the future. But the wages, benefits and conditions of work are negotiable, and can be improved. These new jobs have the benefit of being inherently healthier both for the workers and for the environment of the communities. Organizing, negotiating and demanding more equitable wages, fair distribution of resources between workers and corporate owners, and a basic respect for the dignity of work lie at the heart of this initiative for green jobs. The days of man-killing work are over, and we should rejoice that the future holds better choices.

A call to action

There is no reason to delay the rapid transformation to a sustainable green economy. We need only to listen to our children.  From young Greta Thornburg pleading for her future to the United Nations to our own children in lawsuits against inaction by the U.S. Government, children around the world are begging for their future. Our Constitution offers Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness as an inalienable right. If we leave our children a planet so compromised that the life support functions we take for granted do not operate, haven’t we failed in our Constitutional obligation to them? As stated in the International AFL-CIO Confederation climate statement in Copenhagen this year, “Economic transformation cannot be left to the “invisible hand” of the market.”[32]This is a time for workers to unite and organize for the sake of our children and grandchildren, to learn the lessons of the union labor movement and demand a more equitable solution.

The laws of Nature are NOT negotiable. Climate change will continue its inevitable course with ever increasing disastrous consequences for all of life on Earth. OUR Laws must change to enable and promote “Green Jobs” instead of protecting fossil industries. The majority of Americans want action on climate change.  We must find the determination and organize broadly to change the direction of our government policies. The current policies of the United States are moving backward – rejecting the Paris Accord on Climate Action, refusing to sign the Plastics Reduction amendment to the Basel Accord on international trade in hazardous materials, and rescinding 87 environmental and health protections by Executive Order, for example. None of these actions serve the public interest, rather they seek to re-establish a world that no longer exists.

Momentum is building for action on climate change: 22 states, 550 cities, and 900 companies with operations in the US have made climate commitments.[33]All 50 states have some type of policy that could bring about emissions reductions. When people demand action, we can make change happen. The key elements for action on climate change include:[34]

1. Government-driven investments in the Green Economy

2. Innovation and skills development 

3. Social protection- especially pensions and benefits 

4. Consultation with social partners (unions and employers) 

5. Healthy environment for healthy people and planet

6. Equitable redistribution of resources and power.

These are essential to the necessary transformation to a better, sustainable future.

We can DECIDE to leave a Living Earth as a legacy for our children! 

Citations and Resources:


[1]http://www.worldwatch.org/node/810

[2]Scripps Institution of Oceanography. CO2 Reading for May 11,2019. Mauna Loa Data Center. https://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/

[3] https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/carbon-dioxide-hits-level-not-seen-3-million-years-here-ncna1005231 

[4]https://www.ipbes.net/document-library-catalogue/summary-policymakers-global-assessment-report-biodiversity-ecosystem)

[5]H. Res. 109. Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal. 116thCongress, 1stSession. February 7, 2019. https://www.congress.gov/116/bills/hres109/BILLS-116hres109ih.pdf

[6]https://prospect.org/article/way-we-won-americas-economic-breakthrough-during-world-war-ii Accessed May 15, 2019

[7]  World Commission on Environment and Development Report “Our Common Future.” 1987. https://www.sustainabledevelopment2015.org/AdvocacyToolkit/index.php/earth-summit-history/historical-documents/92-our-common-future

[8]See discussion of effects of elevated carbon dioxide levelshttps://www.cnn.com/2019/05/13/health/carbon-dioxide-world-intl/index.html)

[9]For more examples see P. DeMarco. Pathways to Our Sustainable Future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. 2017 University of Pittsburgh Press.

[10]R. Costanza, R. deGroot, P.Sutton, S.vander Ploeg, S. Anderson, I. Kubeszewski, S. Farber, R.K.Turner. “Changes in the global value of ecosystem services.” Global Environmental Change. 2014. 26:152-158.   https://community-wealth.org/sites/clone.community-wealth.org/files/downloads/article-costanza-et-al.pdfAccessed May 17, 2019.

[11]Pennsylvania Land Trust Association. “Economic and Environmental Benefits of Biodiversity”   https://conservationtools.org/guides/95-economic-benefits-of-biodiversity Accessed May 19, 2019.

[12]The National Energy Act of 2005 explicitly granted exemptions from seven federal environmental and worker safety protections to allow natural gas extraction from deep shale formations by hydraulic fracturing. 

[13]http://priceofoil.org/fossil-fuel-subsidies/

[14]https://www.treasury.gov/open/Documents/USA%20FFSR%20progress%20report%20to%20G20%202014%20Final.pdf

[15]https://www.eia.gov/analysis/requests/subsidy/  also   https://www.nature.com/articles/s41560-017-0009-8

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

[17]http://priceofoil.org/2018/02/07/new-study-shows-axing-fossil-fuel-subsidies-could-deliver-major-climate-benefits-but-press-release-says-the-opposite/

[18]https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/mar/03/oil-and-gas-industry-has-pumped-millions-into-republican-campaigns

[19]https://www.opensecrets.org/industries/indus.php?Ind=E01

[20]https://nca2018.globalchange.gov

[21]https://www.ipbes.net/news/Media-Release-Global-Assessment

[22]Lazard. Levelized Cost of Energy Report. 2018. https://www.lazard.com/perspective/levelized-cost-of-energy-and-levelized-cost-of-storage-2018/

[23]https://www.energymanagertoday.com/11-experts-predict-the-future-of-energy-management-in-2019-0180643/

[24] Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy  http://www.dsireusa.org

[25]https://www.labor4sustainability.org/post/green-jobs-in-a-global-green-new-deal/

[26]https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2017/01/25/u-s-solar-energy-employs-more-people-than-oil-coal-and-gas-combined-infographic/#7cc2b7228000  

[27]Ford announces $11 Billion investment in 40  hybrid and electric vehicles by 2022. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autoshow-detroit-ford-motor/ford-plans-11-billion-investment-40-electrified-vehicles-by-2022-idUSKBN1F30YZ

[28]https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability/our-insights/sustainabilitys-strategic-worth-mckinsey-global-survey-results

[29]https://www.bls.gov/green/sustainability/sustainability.htm

[30]https://www.bls.gov/green/

[31]https://www.brookings.edu/research/advancing-inclusion-through-clean-energy-jobs/

[32]AFL-CIO Climate statement at Copenhagen  https://www.scribd.com/document/96838350/Final-Report-from-the-AFL-CIO-and-International-Trade-Union-Confederation-on-the-Copenhagen-Accord-on-Climate-Change

[33]Bloomberg Philanthropies. Fulfilling America’s Pledge: How States, Cities, and Businesses are Leading the United States to a Low-carbon Future. 2018. https://www.bbhub.io/dotorg/sites/28/2018/09/Fulfilling-Americas-Pledge-2018.pdf  Accessed May 22, 2019.

[34](for more ideas on a just transition see https://climatejusticealliance.org/just-transition/


Leave a comment

Fatal Fracking Frenzy

Fatal Fracking Frenzy

By Patricia M. DeMarco

January 4, 2018

 

“The road we have long been traveling on is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress at great speed, but at its end lies disaster.”  Rachel Carson.[1]

 

Conceived of greed, promoted with pride, and nourished with worker’s blood, sweat and tears, the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for fossil gas reserves has whipped the energy industry into a frenzy. Its backers point with great satisfaction at the results accomplished by eliminating “burdensome regulations.”  This industry could only proceed when the National Energy Act of 2005 opened the “Haliburton Loophole,” granting exemptions for hydraulic fracturing natural gas extraction from seven federal environmental and worker protection laws.(https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R41760.pdf)  Without these exemptions, fracking would be illegal! Now 39 states have some degree of fracking operations producing natural gas at the pace of 80 billion cubic feet per day, 67% from fracking from 300,000 wells.[2]

 

Relatively cheap natural gas is piped across the country mostly for domestic use in homes and displacing coal for utility electricity production.  But the industry targets massive exports in the near future as the infrastructure for transport and shipment to China and other growing markets is complete.[3] When that happens, the domestic prices will go up, and the communities that currently justify the fracking side effects with the need for local use and local jobs will be left with the environmental degradation in water use, land devaluation, and air emissions[4] but the larger profits will accrue to the multinational companies that sell the gas internationally.

 

Fracking also produces hydrocarbon liquids that can be used as precursors for plastics and other petrochemical products.  This is the payload for the industry.  The collection system and infrastructure of new refineries , “ethane cracker” plants, is shifting the locus of the petrochemical industry toward Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio and West Virginia, the heart of the Marcellus and Utica shale gas deposits.[5] The pace of this industry initiative has hastened following the devastating storm damage that lay siege to the Houston and Louisiana coastal installations.  As the industry knows in its strategies, continued sea level rise and the increased storm severity from global warming compromise the viability of these operations long term.  While continuing to deny and obfuscate the reality of climate change, the petrochemical industry prepares to migrate into areas interior from the coasts.

 

Companies like the Edgar Thomson Works of U. S. Steel see fracking as a way to secure a dedicated gas supply in the face of likely price increases and restrictions.[6] A community such as Braddock, left devastated by the loss of industries, looks hopefully to this new avenue for employment and economic development.  But, the hidden costs loom unrecognized, lurking to bring on lower birth weights in babies, higher incidents of asthma, water contamination, and increased pollution from diesel trucks and spills.[7] Without strict controls and oversight, the short- term promise of jobs, both those preserved in the existing Edgar Thomson operations and those emergent in the new fracking industry, comes at the price of a community locked into a sacrifice zone.[8]

 

Ultimately, the fracking frenzy unleashed by Dick Chaney and his colleagues through the Haliburton Loophole accelerates the fatal outcome of our fossil dependence. Investments in the infrastructure of the fossil gas extraction and enhanced oil recovery and “clean coal” technologies divert resources from implementing renewable energy systems on a large scale nationwide.  Every new data point indicates greater levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, greater acidification of the oceans and greater contamination from petrochemical products- plastics – worldwide.[9]  Rather than curtailing these destructive initiatives, we plunge forward heedless of the signals of danger ahead, danger already upon us, and catastrophe for humanity as a certain end.

 

The proposed fracking operation at the Edgar Thomson Steel Works is the exact cutting edge of the transition. The 600 workers in the Edgar Thomson mill one of the last steel mills operating from the heyday of Pittsburgh Industry, see cheap gas as a lifeline to preserving their jobs. The company argues that gas is cleaner than coal and provides revenue from potential sale of produced liquids that can become feedstock for the plastics petrochemical industry. Mayor Fetterman is looking at the immediate tax revenues and retention of jobs for 600 working families, and minimizes the risks that he bets will play out long range, if at all.[10]

 

There is a three-layered ethical conundrum surrounding fracking.

  1. The hydraulic fracturing industry only exists because the Halliburton Loophole in the National Energy Act of 2005 gave exemptions from seven federal environmental protection and worker safety standards. It may be legal, but it is wrong to suspend environmental and worker protections to promote the profitable extraction of a fossil resource for the economic benefit of corporations. Using petrochemical liquids from fracking to add to the single-use plastic burden of the Earth is another highly unethical consequence of this industry.

 

  1. Environmental justice issues arise from exposures to people who live in proximity to pollution sources such as steel mills fracking operations, coal fired power plants and petrochemical facilities. The areas around such sources are considered “sacrifice zones” where people cannot afford to leave and are subject to pollution for generations. (See the lengthy literature on Baton Rouge cancer alley, for example)

 

  1. Inter -generational justice issues arise as the fracking process extends the use of fossil fuels and infrastructure for its extraction, processing and use for another thirty years. Global warming from increasing greenhouse gas emissions is an existential threat to all life on Earth as we know it. This is a step in the wrong direction.

 

Finally, policies for a just transition for heavy industry need to be developed. As the whole industrial supply chain moves to a more circular system based on sustainable practices for resource management, the fate of existing workers and the human and social needs in the transition must receive focused attention. Economics alone in a market heavily skewed by embedded fossil industry subsidies will not drive a just and equitable transition to a sustainable future. People demanding accountability for policies that suspend the rules to the advantage of certain industries at the expense of public health and worker well-being can make a difference in the outcome.  Communities demanding full disclosure and hearings before permits are issued can make a difference in seeing that environmental and health standards are preserved. Community meetings to placate “unduly concerned” citizens after deals are struck in the back room have no place in a true representative democracy.

 

If our elected officials do not stand for the health and well-being of the community, we who care must stand up and be heard.  The Allegheny County Health Department must be petitioned to enforce air emission standards of existing sources, without exception. If the government no longer protects the people, we must protect ourselves.

~~~~

 

 

References and Resources

[1] Rachel L. Carson. Silent Spring. 1962. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston.  p.277

[2]  Energy Information Administration. Energy Today “Hydraulically fractured wells provide two-thirds of U.S. natural gas production” May 5, 2016. https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=26112  Accessed January 3, 2018.

[3] Shelly Goldberg. “Natural gas exports can solve U.S. energy glut.” Bloomberg Business News. May 2017.   https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-05-05/natural-gas-exports-can-solve-u-s-energy-glut Accessed January 3, 2018.  See EIA article on planned pipelines here https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=28872

[4] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas: Impacts from the Hydraulic Fracturing Water Cycle on Drinking Water Resources in the United States (Final Report) December 2016. EPA-600-R-16-236ES. December 2016. https://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/hfstudy/recordisplay.cfm?deid=332990  Accessed January 3, 2018.

[5] Patricia M. DeMarco. “Wrong Way- A Call for A New American Dream.” Blog post January 8, 2017. On subject of plastics pollution and production from fracking.  See citations and references for primary resources. https://patriciademarco.com/2017/01/08/wrong-way-a-call-for-a-new-american-dream/

[6] Don Hopey. “Company planning to drill for gas at Edgar Thomson mill.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. December 27, 2017.     http://www.post-gazette.com/powersource/companies/2017/12/27/Merrion-Oil-Gas-planning-drill-gas-US-Steels-Edgar-Thomson-mill-Braddock-Pittsburgh/stories/201712270142

[7] Patricia DeMarco. “Fracking Health Effects and Worker Safety.” Battle of Homestead Foundation presentation. August 25, 2016. (See citations for primary sources.)  https://patriciademarco.com/fracking-health-effects-worker-safety

[8] Reid Frazier. “U.S.Steel agrees to allow fracking at Edgar Thomson Mill.” NPR State Impact. December 27, 2017.   https://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/2017/12/27/us-steel-agrees-to-allow-fracking-at-steel-mill/ Accessed January 2, 2018.

[9] National Climate Assessment. http://www.noaa.gov/media-release/arctic-saw-2nd-warmest-year-smallest-winter-sea-ice-coverage-on-record-in-2017Nature. http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/highlights/overview/overview#intro-section-2

[10] Don Hopey. “Company planning to drill for gas at Edgar Thomson mill.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. December 27, 2017.     http://www.post-gazette.com/powersource/companies/2017/12/27/Merrion-Oil-Gas-planning-drill-gas-US-Steels-Edgar-Thomson-mill-Braddock-Pittsburgh/stories/201712270142


Leave a comment

United We Stand. Divided We Fall.

The fabric of our society is torn by hatred, frayed by distrust, and tattered by fear. But the basic structure of America is stronger than any in the world. The Constitution and the rights and obligations it details have stood for 240 years guiding a society governed by the consent of the people under the rule of law. The rights entailed in the Constitution have explicit or implied responsibilities which, taken together, represent a social contract that binds all citizens in a common journey. America was meant to be a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” Unfortunately, this high aspiration has been subverted and corrupted by forces of greed and hatred.

The second Amendment of the Constitution “right to bear arms” does not intend the unprovoked slaughter of innocent citizens, nor the shooting of people in the streets over trivial altercations. When did it become acceptable to shoot first and ask questions later? Such evidence of the breakdown of the basic compact of a lawful society grows from frustration, inequity and fear.

The weight of corporate and special interests over the general public interest in political decisions is manifest in both the nature of laws adopted and in the blockage of laws that protect the public. One especially insidious example is the Energy Act of 2005, with its specific exemptions for hydraulic fracturing from the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and certain provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Justified by an “all of the above” energy strategy, this set of exemptions has exposed the citizens of 39 states to the environmental and health effects of fracking. As the “anecdotal” evidence continues to accumulate, people grow increasingly frustrated when the environmental regulatory authorities appear to do nothing. Communities face failure of water supplies; workers develop illnesses from exposure to harmful wastes and by-products; fracking facilities appear next to schools, residences and business districts. The power of a regulatory agency is limited by the authorization in the law, so when the law specifically exempts an industrial activity from regulation, the regulatory agency has no authority to curtail that activity. The influence of corporations such as Halliburton, with the specific influence of Vice President Chaney, pushed through a law that runs explicitly counter to the public interest. Now, corporate interests in developing deep shale fossil gas at the expense of public health and safe drinking water seems entrenched in national energy policy as a “bridge fuel” to an undefined future. A few get rich, many get sick or lose their homes.

Corporations have received increasing rights and power by the action of the court, most especially in the Citizens United decision issued in September 2010. This decision increased the ability of corporate interests to use financial influence in elections, directly and indirectly. As more weight of corporate and special interests prevent actions favored by large majorities of citizens, trust in the ability of lawmakers to respond to the needs of people continues to grow. Failure to adopt any form of gun laws in the face of escalating community violence is one example. Failure to address climate change in the face of growing evidence of current and future harm is another.

America touts its position as the land of the free and home of the brave. But, freedom requires responsibility. Freedom of speech includes the responsibility to listen with respect to other opinions. The right to bear arms for self defense entails the responsibility to ensure safe use, not an entitlement to perpetrate violence. Freedom unrestrained by accountability and responsibility for actions results in chaos. Solidarity and empathy among Americans as people in a shared journey makes us a great country. America’s diversity is our strength. The income inequities, frustration with corporate greed over public well-being, and fear for the future are the seeds of our destruction from within. Standing together to demand justice and equity, with compassion and respect for each other, and with concern for the children of the future will return power to the people. Our children lead in this struggle. I take courage and inspiration from the Woodland Hills Academy

Woodland Hills Academy eighth graders March on April 23, 2016

Woodland Hills Academy eighth graders March on April 23, 2016

eighth grade students who organized a community march and forum “Guns and violence do NOT define US!” They deserve a better future.

This is a time when people need to reach out to restore the trust in each other as fellow citizens. This is a time to work together to restore the priority of the public interest at all levels of government. This is a time to work together for justice and equity. Without a base of mutual respect, beyond tolerance at a distance, there will be no peace. We are strong when we stand together, but vulnerable when we allow hatred and fear to divide us.