Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."


Metamorphosis- A model for our way forward

Metamorphosis

August 2019

The monarch butterfly has become an iconic emblem of the need to preserve the environment.  As insect populations decline from loss of habitat due to climate change and from broad use of pesticides and herbicides that are acutely toxic to pollinators, people have become more concerned. Pleas for help now fall on deaf ears at the EPA where industry influence has constrained controls on wide use of neonicotinoids, glyphosate, and dicamba.  Pollinator populations are crashing, with terrible consequences for food production. A world without insects would be dreary and uninhabitable as these creatures are essential parts to many food chains and essential ecosystems.

Barb Martin at the Sunny Plot

It is encouraging that individual efforts can make a significant difference in the outcome of this sad story.  In my home town of Forest Hills PA, Barbara Martin and the Late Bloomers Garden Club made a deliberate effort to increase the habitat for pollinators in the public gardens the club maintains.  Individual members also began planting specifically for pollinator-friendly gardens. Milkweed cultivation became very popular.  We all send pictures around celebrating the latest development- Monarch egg- laying, caterpillar sightings, chrysalis formation! We await the first emergence to be documented as a new generation of adult butterflies joins the hopefully growing throng. We share the small tragedies of caterpillars killed by stinkbugs or cadis fly attacks. The gardens are now scenes of high drama, not just places of colorful attraction.

Second instar Monarch caterpillar eating milkweed in Patty DeMarco's garden
Third instar Monarch caterpillar on milkweed in Linda Hyde’s garden
Monarch chrysalis photographed by Barb Martin in her garden
Monarch adult emergent in Barbara Martin’s garden

Metamorphosis thus tracked and observed is revealed as one of the wonders of nature. Metamorphosis is the process through which insects, such as butterflies, develop from the egg to caterpillars, which molt two or three times as they grow, to pupate in a chrysalis, and then emerge in a totally different form as a butterfly. All of the fuel and resources necessary for the final adult butterfly form are contained in the caterpillar.  You can think of the caterpillar as an eating machine devoted to storing fat, and a butterfly as a flying machine devoted to reproduction. The special cells that become the organs and parts of the butterfly are clustered behind the head in the caterpillar- small “imaginal discs” of specialized cells that grow slightly, but wait until the chrysalis forms to become active. During pupation, the stored resources the caterpillar made become the fuel for growth and development of the organs that will be evident in the butterfly. It is an elegant manifestation of nature!

Metamorphosis is also a good descriptor for the changes our civilization is facing with the existential challenges of climate change and global pollution. We have grown our industrial age on the resources extracted from the Earth – coal, oil, and natural gas – and consumed them with explosive effect on the capacity of the economy to support growth…at least for a while.  Now, after roughly 100 years since the beginning of the industrial revolution, we are hitting the limits of growth.  Not growth as usually defined in economic terms, but growth in terms of keeping the balance of the life forces of the Earth.  Unlike the caterpillar, human society has no signal to trigger the transformation to the next stage. We must listen to the voice of the Earth warning of the limits to growth in its current mode. The way forward cannot pursue the same path as the past.  Just as the munching caterpillar is transformed into a flying creature, we need to transform our civilization from a rapacious converter of raw material into trash into a civilization devoted to preserving and sustaining the life support system the living Earth has provided to us.

The tools and resources necessary for the transformation to a sustainable civilization are at hand. This is not a technology issue. It is an issue of values and ethics, of recognizing that we have reached, perhaps even exceeded the limits of growth in this mode.  I share here the wisdom of Donella Meadows, one of the authors of The Limits to Growth.

People don’t need enormous cars; they need respect. They don’t need a closetful of clothes; they need to feel attractive and they need excitement, variety and beauty. People need identity, community, challenge, acknowledgment, love, joy. To try to fulfill these needs with material things is to set up an unquenchable appetite for false solutions to real and never-satisfied problems.[1]

If we really look at the way nature manages healthy systems, we see the balances among growth and decomposition and reconstitution.  In the great cycles of life, nothing is wasted and every part is interconnected with other parts to make a complex system that changes and evolves in succession. Human civilizations in past times have sustained a harmonious existence in nature for thousands of years, as the indigenous populations in many diverse parts of the world have illustrated. Modernizing such cultures has rarely achieved a similar balance.

The elegance of natural systems and the absolute economy of resource cycles in nature can inspire our future ways. As the monarch flutters through the milkweed in the garden, I am thankful for the efforts of my friends and of so many people from Mexico to Canada who are stepping forward to provide sanctuary for these amazing wanderers. Because their life cycle spans a continent, the healthy presence of monarch butterflies gives hope that we can restore the health of our own life support system for our children and the children yet to be born in the 21stcentury.


[1]L. Hunter Lovins et.al. A Finer Future – Creating an Economy in Service to Life. New Society Publishers. B.C. Canada. 2018. Page 27


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AESS Wlliam Freudenburg Lifetime Achievement Award Acceptance- Moving from Awareness to Action

 

Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences Meeting, Tuscon, AZ, June 23, 2017

Patricia M. DeMarco, Ph.D. Visiting Researcher and Writer, Carnegie Mellon University, Senior Scholar at Chatham University and Council Member of Forest Hills Borough Council, 2016-2020 was given the 2017  William Freudenburg Lifetime Achievement Award.

Moving from Awareness to Action

It is with great humility and gratitude that I accept this award made in honor of AESS founder William Freudenburg. I did not have the pleasure of knowing him, but in looking at his work, I recognize a kindred spirit in the battle to connect the systems thinking of ecology and the problems of society.

 

Receiving this award has surprised me because mine has not been a traditional academic career. Indeed, a promising beginning in the early days of molecular genetics was derailed when I stepped off the tenure track for four years to have two children in close succession. Then I found out that there was no way to go back. Receiving a doctorate in biology prepared a person to expect a career in research and teaching where merit is determined by the number of peer-reviewed publications, the size of research grants received and the number and prestige of graduate students mentored. All of that was suddenly closed to me. I was supposed to become a nice doctor’s wife doing good works and keeping a place in society. Right! I was looking through the newspaper for jobs and came across a small advertisement in the Hartford Courant: ”Vacuuming- $3,000 per hour” from Northeast Utilities. It turned out to be a call for people to be trained to vacuum up radioactive spills at Millstone power plant, and I was deemed unqualified. So I sent a neighbor’s 20 year-old son to collect all the paperwork and SIGN NOTHING, and I took the whole thing up to the Connecticut Legislature Energy and Commerce Committee and asked for an investigation. As a newly minted Ph.D. in genetics, I held my own with the Northeast Utilities lawyers, and legislation was passed for nuclear power plant workers protection.

William Freudenburg Lifetime Achievement Award

I finally found my place in society: as a translator between lawyers, engineers and economists; as a citizens voice for policy to protect workers and communities; as a policy analyst bringing science to weigh on energy, environmental, and social justice actions. The skills acquired through a thorough liberal arts education and the discipline of achieving a doctorate, post-doctoral research position and fellowship in biology turned out to be transferable to a wide array of non-academic pursuits. I struggled throughout my career to maintain connections to the academic world I love.

If I have been successful in these endeavors at all, it is because of the roots of my training. First, I inherited my Father’s poet heart and understanding of the power of well-chosen words; from my Mother, the spirit of rebellion to stand for those without voice and the value of organizing. Most critically, I was raised in an environment that encouraged curiosity and discovery under the tutelage of my wise Nona whose lessons in patience, generosity and compassion crossed generations. Hers was the lesson that sustained my course when roadblocks loomed: “The men may rule, but women govern,” she told me. I watched how all the major decisions of the family took place over the dinner table on Sundays, my Pop decreed, but my Nona guided the discussion that shaped his pronouncement.

I want to comment for a moment on the importance of role models and the inspiration for young women to enter sciences as a lifelong pursuit. The role models of my life were first Rachel Carson whose book Silent Spring I received as a high school graduation present. I had read The Sea Around Us years before when traveling by ship from Brazil to New York. Her words resonated so deeply because we had often lived by the sea as my Father’s job in the diplomatic service took him around the world. As I graduated from high school, Rachel Carson’s success flickered in my mind as a beacon. Second, I was inspired by Eleanore Roosevelt. I had met her briefly as a seventh grade student when my Father took me to hear her speak at the University of Pittsburgh. Later in my time of despair after losing my academic path, I took heart from her courage in speaking out to the world. Her biography moved me to develop my own voice as a speaker and as a public figure. Finally, Connecticut Governor Ella Tambussi Grasso showed me the tough, hard edge of public policy. As one of her technical staff in the Office of Policy and Management, I learned the importance of listening to the voices of the people. She liked to hold “public hearings” on the call-in radio talk shows, to the great consternation of the lawyers: “but Your Honor, this will not be on the record!” to which she replied “How do I know what matters “on the record” if I don’t know what the people think?” She sent me to the National Governors Association deliberations on the low level nuclear waste compact with her staff attorney and in sending me off she said, “Being female is a fact of life. What you do with it is up to you. Cut your hair, get out of those high heels, buy a red suit, and get a briefcase. And be sure you ask the toughest questions in a loud strong voice.”

In receiving this award I have puzzled over my connection to the academic world. While Will Freudenburg made great efforts from within academe to reach into society, my problem has been the reverse. I have been immersed in society, bringing academic training to the problems encountered, and have had to reach into the academic world to remain connected. Of the many colleagues I have worked with over the years, Dave Hassenzahl while Dean at Chatham University and Terry Collins, the Theresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University have helped me in bridging this divide. Mark Collins at the University of Pittsburgh gave me an adjunct teaching position for a course on directed study in science, ethics and public policy, which became the basis for my book.

The situation of the world today has never needed more advocates and systems thinkers to address the confluence of problems humanity has wrought upon itself and upon the whole living Earth. I believe that we who study ecosystems and sustainability have a unique capacity to shape a new direction toward solutions.

In a world wildly out of balance from the ideal of sustainability where environment, economics and culture are mutually supportive, the economic parameters dominate all else. The problems of our time derived from human enterprise – global warming and global pollution with synthetic materials – are not technology problems, for many of the solutions are well known and within reach. We are facing an ethics problem.

I would like to share a paragraph from the opening chapter of my book, Pathways to Our Sustainable Future -A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh:

“The complex interconnections among living things form Earth’s life support system, necessary for all of today’s creatures and for future generations – fresh air, clean water, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species that comprise the interconnected web of life. The challenges of climate change and chemical contamination present a call to preserve the living Earth. It is a call to temper the prowess of technology with wisdom and precaution to protect Earth’s living systems. It is a plea for justice for those who will be most acutely affected, the non-humans and the unborn whose voices are not included in the debate, and those who are disproportionately vulnerable. It is a plea for accountability in the way people have used the natural resources of the earth for short-term benefits. It is a plea for life to exist.”

It is time for us in the sustainability profession to move from awareness to action. Our path cannot remain within the academy, safe in the halls of universities and colleges. Communicating important findings about the state of the living systems of the Earth must reach beyond the peer-reviewed journals that are the currency of the academic realm. In a political atmosphere charged with “fake news” the line between reality and fiction has blurred. But the laws of Nature are not negotiable. Chemistry, physics and biology will prevail regardless of political declarations or legislated stupidity.

We as scientists have a tremendous task to bring facts to the front of the discussion, to engage the conversation not only in the classroom but also in the living rooms where families gather, in the churches and social gatherings, in the union halls, in the neighborhoods where people talk to each other. Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time, but it is not discussed. We need to break it down so it is less intimidating. We can begin to understand how to preserve the gifts of this living Earth for another generation.

There are four ways to move from awareness to action effectively.

  1. Set an example, and talk about it. We are facing global challenges of climate change and pollution, so people think their own efforts are too insignificant to matter. It all matters. Every plastic bottle dropped on the street can end up in the great plastic gyres of the oceans. Use your own non-plastic bags, and give the little homily to the vendor. Decline the BPA laced receipt, and ask the vendor to wear gloves to protect their own exposure. You can imagine millions of ways to do this. Street theater works! Make it OK for successful white guys in business suits to bring a recyclable bag to the store. When building new campus or municipal facilities, use a net zero energy design and include citizen information in the lobby. Inspired by the Phipps Conservatory Living Building and the Chatham University Eden Hall Campus, my town of Forest Hills Borough is building a net zero energy municipal building. So far, four other communities have come to us asking for ideas.
  2. Build common ground. The Yale Climate project described six Americas response to climate change and environmental issues. But in spite of differences in attitude and perception of risks, all people share a need for fresh water, oxygen rich air, and access to safe and nourishing food. All have a care for their children’s future at some level. Find ways to reach across the dividing gulf of political ideology and reach common concerns. My colleague Kirsi Jansa, a film maker and journalist from Finland, has developed 12 Sustainability Pioneers episodes as 10 to 12 minute videos. We combined our efforts into a five-session course called “Sustainability Pioneers-Climate Conversations” given as an adult education class in the OSHER Life Long Learning Institute at Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University. Each session has a short discussion of facts, followed by a video then a class exercise where the participants did role modeling. And we sent them off to practice and report back how the conversations went. By the end of five sessions, nearly every student had some success in having a climate conversation as part of a daily routine. You can find the Sustainability Pioneers videos and the class for free on my web site https://patriciademarco.com/sustainability-pioneers-community-conversations-class/ or on Kirsi’s web site sustainabilitypioneers.com
  3. Reach out to those who are not at the table. The environmental NGOs are mostly headed by white men, and the environment movement in general has been characterized as the domain of left-leaning, spoiled, white, rich people, mired in 1970s thinking. But all around us, the environmental justice issues and the social justice issues involve much broader communities. The people affected by a shift from fossil based energy and commodity production hold a disdain for “tree huggers” and “snail lovers.” The “Shoot, shovel and shut up” approach to endangered species is alive and thriving. This divide was never clearer to me than at the demonstrations around the EPA hearing on the Clean Power Plan in Pittsburgh. 3,500 United Mine Workers sent off by Governor Corbett flooded the street in waves with uniform T-shirts and pre-printed signs chanting in cadence with a sound truck. Clustered on one corner of Grant and Sixth, were a motley gathering of about 300 environmental activists, mothers with toddlers in strollers, Buddhists giving out free ice cream, and Mayor Peduto urging a view to the future. I stood on the coal miner’s corner with my friend, labor historian Charlie McCollester who held a sign that said, “When Blue collar workers fight clean earth health we are all doomed.” Following that dramatic day, I sat down with Charlie, and we discerned together that what the miners are protesting is not against the environment, because they are indeed the most viciously affected victims of the effects of mountaintop removal mining. They are protesting out of fear for their future. What becomes of their pensions when no more coal miners pay into the system? How will they support their families? What will become of them when they get sick, as they inevitably will from being in the mines? We hatched a plan to help working people visualize what a transition can look like to a more sustainable future with a radio program called “Just Transitions- Labor, Environment and Health.” On the Union Edge- Labor’s Talk Radio Station twice a month I bring guests to talk about how communities are making transitions, about environmental and health issues, like reducing exposure of workers to BPA in the workplace, or fracking fluid contamination. After a year of this, we kept running out of time in the 30 minute format, and I wanted to take on more complex issues that would help people visualize what a sustainable future would look like. So, we launched The New American Economy program, which airs every Wednesday from 1:00 to 2:00 Pm EST. Here we talk about emerging issues in energy, food and water, manufacturing and supply chain and transportation. You can find both programs attheunionedge.com We reach 300,000 people a week in 33 cities and have 15,000 to 20,000 podcast downloads a month. If you want to carry the program on your campus radio, or if you have something exciting you would like to share with a working families audience, let me know. Union working people, coal miners, farmers, beauty shop operators, store keepers are highly unlikely to come to a class, presentation or lecture about climate change, environmental health or endangered species. But, they listen to the radio, they send questions, and they talk about it later.
  4. Engage with the community you are in. Ultimately, all of politics is local. Whether large cities like Pittsburgh or small boroughs like Forest Hills, communities need the expertise and engagement of the sustainability academic community. There are many ways to be involved and make a difference. Go to your local governing council meeting and find out what issues they are coping with. It is mostly mundane stuff- police contracts, fire service, swimming pool management, garbage. But some issues are really important- storm water management and meeting health and safety standards, establishing an environmental review for new developments, how pest control is managed, how transportation access and recreational open space are managed, strategic plans for land use, education of children. Democracy is not a spectator sport. Get involved yourself and empower your students with the tools to participate in the public policy process. Take them to a public hearing; teach them about stakeholders and power brokers. Consider running for office yourself.

Know that public policy management is not the same as business management. The public interest goes beyond economic profit. Governing in the public interest must reach the wellness of the community, the collective well-being of people living together in a community of care. Governing in the public interest preserves and maintains the robust functions of the ecosystem that hosts the community. It attends to the needs of the youngest, the oldest and the most needy of the community and preserves fairness and justice but with compassion and kindness to neighbors we see every day and know. It must look to the future and anticipate the needs of those yet unborn whose lives are affected by decisions made today.

We as Americans still think of ourselves as the defenders of “Freedom,” but freedom is not free. Freedom without responsibility yields chaos. And Freedom without accountability yields tyranny. I will close with Rachel Carson’s admonishment to the Garden Club of America: “We must be very clear about what our cause is. What do we oppose? What do we stand for?” Those of us who know have the obligation to speak. Those of us who know have the obligation to lead. Thank you.

 


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Building an Economy for a Living Earth

Building an Economy for a Living Earth

By Patricia M. DeMarco

April 5, 2017

            The distinguishing feature of man’s activities is that they have almost always          been undertaken with a viewpoint of short-range gain, without considering either       their impact on the earth or their long range effect upon ourselves.

            Rachel Carson[i]

My generation heard President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to put a man on the moon. Seeing the blue, green and white swirled marble of the earth from the perspective of space marked a paradigm shift in our time. For some, this represented the first step on the conquest of yet another frontier, and early speculation about colonizing the moon abounded. Others saw the earth from the distance of space and recognized the fragility of our position. Astronaut Frank Borman of Apollo 8 said, “I think the one overwhelming emotion that we had was when we saw the earth rising in the distance over the lunar landscape . . . . It makes us realize that we all do exist on one small globe. For from 230,000 miles away it really is a small planet.”[1]

Everywhere we look around us we see evidence of our civilization pressing against the limits of the critical resources of the planet. Our time marks a critical turning point for preserving the living system of our earth as a regenerative, bountiful and productive ecosystem. As a species, humans have reached the level of dominating and overtaking the natural world through exploitation, extraction and consumption, burning through natural resources and leaving massive amounts of trash and destruction in our wake. The earth now bears the scars of hundreds of years of such abuse. It is time to recognize the limits to such profligate behavior, and take a different direction. The age of using technology for the conquest of nature must yield to the age of biology, using technology to live in harmony with nature to preserve and regenerate the life support system of the living earth.

Four human behaviors since the industrial revolution have driven our way of living out of balance with natural systems. We consume resources beyond what can be generated by the land we live on. We drive our economy on continuously expanding growth in consumption. We fail to control population growth while using technology to extend life. We generate waste that poisons our life support system. The consequences of these actions in our energy system, food system and materials system, are not compatible with sustaining a living planet.

We have reached this condition by allowing human inventiveness in conquering nature to proceed without restraint. From the earliest of times, human’s ability to manipulate and control the conditions presented in nature contributed to our survival. But once industrialization began, the ability to manipulate natural systems unbalanced the natural flow of energy and materials. It is time, now that we have begun to understand the elegant complexity of natural ecosystems, to take lessons from the natural world to craft our way forward. We must restructure our economy and our civilization to preserve and restore the robust resilience of the natural living world.

To begin thinking about structuring our economy along the principles of an ecosystem, it is important to understand how an ecosystem works. Any area of nature that includes living organisms and non-living substances interacting to exchange materials between the living and non-living parts is an ecological system, or ecosystem.[2] There are many kinds of ecosystems around the world, and at least six major distinct ecosystems within the continental United States, recently mapped by the U.S. Geologic Survey.[3] But all ecosystems operate with four basic constituents.

Ecosystems, whether they are aquatic around ponds and streams or oceans and coast, or whether they are of the forests, grasslands and deserts, all have these four essential parts, and all are circular. The producers convert essential materials into forms that can be used by consumers, and the decomposers return them to the system for use again. The entire process is powered by the sun, and connected by the water in its various forms. Temperature, altitude, and the amount of moisture available shape the different expressions of ecosystems, and determine the number and kinds of species of producers, consumers and decomposers present. The inter-relationships among these parts have evolved into complex food webs coterminous with the evolution of conditions over geologic time. Adaptations and adjustments emerged gradually over millions of years as conditions changed.

Albatross killed by eating plastic debris

Modern ecosystems universally bear the mark of human influence, because the effects of human activity are dispersed around the globe, introducing man-made materials and shifting the balance of natural ecosystems by rapidly adding synthetic materials and the combustion products of fossilized organic materials extracted from the crust of the earth to the atmosphere. Faced with rapidly changing elemental conditions, many species are unable to adapt, and mass extinctions are predicted for our time.[4][5]

The focus of human inventiveness and creativity up to now has used science and technology for increasingly intrusive ways to extract resources from the earth to consume for energy and raw materials for production. The quest for access to and control over the distribution of natural resources extracted from the earth drives our civilization. We have given little consideration to replacing natural resources, or to preserving the ecosystems from which the resources have been wrenched. Our economy takes raw materials to make goods for consumers to buy, and the waste and post-use materials are discarded as trash. This is a linear flow of resources exactly contrary to the operation of ecosystems. However, ecological limits to growth apply to the human constructed economy. Our model is not sustainable, because we are changing the conditions of the non-living and living parts of the human ecosystem, the living planet earth.

The economy defined in this process depends on drawing down natural resource reserves and using economic or physical warfare to take over resources. Power, resources and economic control become concentrated among the few with decreasing quality of life for many. We see this result not only between different countries but also within the United States. The concentration of wealth to the top 5% of the population has occurred with increasing disparity between the conditions experienced by the most wealthy and the least wealthy people.[6] This condition seeds instability, increasing unrest, and stress to the fabric of society. The economic model based on extraction- consumption- waste increases the inequity among people, decreases the quality of life of many people, and increases the conditions for revolt. This economic model also decreases the capacity of natural ecosystems to function in providing the conditions necessary for our life support system.

The critical feature of natural ecosystems is the dynamic equilibrium established among the different parts. Rather than a linear raw material to trash model, ecosystems operate in circular patterns, a steady-state where the waste or output from one level becomes the input or supply for others, and the energy source that drives the process is constantly renewable as long as the solar system exists. The earth’s major nutrients – carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen – are all cycled and recycled in living systems.[7]

To shift our entire economic premise from one based on extraction and exploitation of natural resources to one based on regeneration, system preservation and enhancing the ecological infrastructure requires a change in thinking more than a change in technology. We can build our whole economy around principles of resource preservation, recovery and re-use. This approach cultivates the concept of an economy based on a dynamic equilibrium, rather than an economy based on indefinitely expanding growth.

One major initiative that can shape a more sustainable way forward involves re-defining the structure of the economy away from a model driven by corporate profit motive to one based on corporations operating for social benefit. The New Economy Movement has several manifestations, all gaining momentum in different ways. According to Gar Alperovitz, one of the leaders of the New Economy Movement, “Over the past few decades, a deepening sense of the profound ecological challenges facing the planet and growing despair at the inability of traditional politics to address economic failings have fueled an extraordinary amount of experimentation by activists, economists and socially minded business leaders. … As the threat of a global climate crisis grows increasingly dire and the nation sinks deeper into an economic slump for which conventional wisdom offers no adequate remedies, more and more Americans are coming to realize that it is time to begin defining, demanding and organizing to build a new-economy movement.”[8]

The movement seeks an economy that is increasingly green and socially responsible, and one that is based on rethinking the nature of ownership and the growth paradigm that guides conventional policies.[9] As frustration with the wealth concentration in the top 1% of the economy increases, a wave of community wealth building institutions has begun to swell across the country. People are joining together through a variety of forms such as public, community or employee-owned businesses to meet local needs and thus regain a sense of democratic control. Community development corporations, community banks, social enterprises, community land trusts and employee-owned business and cooperatives emerge as the instruments for building community wealth. Worker owned businesses now include manufacturers, retailers and a number of non-profit organizations. Community Development Corporations can now be found in nearly every major city across the United States. Once limited to redeveloping blighted areas following urban riots or rural neglect, these CDCs produced over 1.6 million units of affordable housing nationwide over the last two decades.[10]

All of these institutions pool capital in ways that build wealth, create living-wage jobs, and anchor those jobs in communities.[11] One of the most significant aspects of this growing movement is the challenge it presents to corporate power. Because the driving imperative in the new economy movement is social benefit, not corporate shareholder profit, the possibility of building a balance against the corporate profit-driven politics of the 20th century is growing. Not since the days of unionized labor pressing for social justice and fairness in distribution of wealth between corporations and workers has there been such a strong voice for the public interest.

The success of businesses and communities that purposefully choose sustainability as a course for building the future shows that the spiral of infinite growth and infinite resource extraction can be transformed. Models of viable, even thriving, economic and social communities illustrate the way forward.

A new economy locally centered and locally invested springs up here in Pittsburgh, and in communities across the country and around the world. Corporations operating for social benefit, not stockholder profit, expand the distribution of wealth among worker-owners. Well being of the community is measured in terms of beneficial economic activity, health of the environment, social equity, and cultural diversity.

 

This essay is condensed from a chapter in the forthcoming book by Patricia M. DeMarco: “Pathways to Our Sustainable Future” with The University of Pittsburgh Press. All rights reserved.

This work is funded by the W. Clyde and Ida Mae Thurman Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation.

 

Endnotes

Rachel Carson “Of Man and The Stream Of Time” June 12, 1962. Commencement address. Scripps College. Claremont, CA. (monograph)Rachel Carson “Of Man and The Stream Of Time” June 12, 1962. Commencement address. Scripps College. Claremont, CA. (monograph)

[1] Frank Borman, Apollo 8, press reports, 10 January 1969.

[2] Eugene P. Odum. Fundamentals of Ecology. 2nd Ed. 1959. Philadelphia. W. B. Saunders Co. Page 10.

[3]   Roger Sayre, Patrick Comer, Harumi Warner, and Jill Cress. A New Map of Standardized Terrestrial Ecosystems of the Conterminous United States. Professional Paper 1768. 2009. U S Geological Survey and the U.S. Department of the Interior. 17 Pages.

[4] Elizabeth Kolbert. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. Henry Holt & Company, LLC. New York. 2014.

[5] E. O. Wilson. “The Future of Life.” The John H. Chafee Memorial Lecture on Science and the Environment. 2nd National Conference on Science, Policy and the Environment. December 6, 2001. Washington, D.C.

[6] US Statistics on wealth distribution from 1900 to 2015

[7] William McDonough and Michael Braungart. Cradle to Cradle – Remaking the Way We Make Things. North Point Press. New York. 2002. Page 92.

[8] Gar Alperovitz. “The New Economy Movement.” The Nation. June 13, 2011. http://www.thenation.com/article/160949/new-economy-movement Accessed May 21, 2015.

[9] Gar Alperovitz. “The New Economy Movement.” The Nation. June 13, 2011. http://www.thenation.com/article/160949/new-economy-movement Accessed May 21, 2015.

[10] Gar Alperovitz. “The Political-Economic Foundations of a Sustainable System.” In: Worldwatch Institute. State of the World 2014: Governing for Sustainability. 2014. Island Press. Washington D.C. Page 196.

[11] Gar Alperovitz. “The Political-Economic Foundations of a Sustainable System.” In: Worldwatch Institute. State of the World 2014: Governing for Sustainability. 2014. Island Press. Washington D.C. Page 195.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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New Forest Hills Borough Building- A Net Zero Energy Solution

The New Forest Hills Borough Building- A Net Zero Energy Solution

By Patricia M. DeMarco, Forest Hills Borough Council 2016-2020

February 28, 2017

Forest Hills Borough, a community of about 6,500 people located seven miles east of Pittsburgh approaches its centenary in 2019. The town was once a rural farmed area then became a company town for Westinghouse with settlement intensifying after WWII. Long associated with innovation and Westinghouse engineering feats, the town has been shaped by the legacy of parkland and public property donated when the company moved on in 1985. The Forest Hills Borough Building on Ardmore Boulevard stood as the center for Borough functions since 1922, but now faces the limitations of an inefficient and costly energy system, and other structural problems.

 

Needs Assessment:

In August of 2014, a general annual review of Borough properties revealed significant cost escalations in several Borough buildings: the Magistrate Building and the Borough building on Ardmore Boulevard, and the Library and Senior Center on Avenue F. The Magistrates Offices moved to a larger office space with better parking and access, vacating the building, and Allegheny County consolidated the Senior Services Center to Turtle Creek, closing the Forest Hills location and two other small centers. Removal of Senior Services from this location left a 20-hour per week C. C Mellor Library function in a building that was expensive to operate, and had limitations with accessibility and functional services. The Borough Building on Ardmore Boulevard had significant limitations in storage, space for citizen services, and accessibility to the second floor Council chambers, even with an elevator. The Police functions have significant limitations in space and security arrangements, and parking and pedestrian access to the building are limited. Most concerning was the increasing cost of operations, and the unsuccessful adjustments to the heating and cooling system in the interior space. Even with repairs and adjustments over recent years, inefficiencies and space pressures were unlikely to be resolved in the existing space.

 

A plan emerged to build a New Forest Hills Borough building on property the Borough owns on Greensburg Pike, adjacent to the Westinghouse Lodge and Park. The new building will consolidate the Borough administrative and Council functions, Police offices, and the Library/Community space into one efficient building to serve the needs of the community 50 years into the future. By moving the New Forest Hills Building to an existing Borough property location, the sale of the existing properties would contribute to the financing, and the existing property on Ardmore Boulevard will return to a taxable business use. The goal of Council was to achieve a functional municipal services building for fifty years into the future without increasing the tax mill rate. A target cost of $4.5 million was set as a goal.

 

Public presentations on the concept of a New Forest Hills Borough Building began in February 2015 with concept discussions presented by Town Center Associates. Soon after, the Borough retained Pfaffmann & Associates to work with Council to define a plan for the new building. In addition to monthly public meetings at Council sessions, two Community Planning Meetings were held in September 2015, focusing on the Site Plan for the building, and in April 2016, focusing on the Functionality and Design.

 

Site Planning

The New Forest Hills Borough building site is on a gravel parking area formerly the location of a Westinghouse building on Greensburg Pike. At the site planning meeting, there was considerable interest expressed by several residents in restoring the Westinghouse Atom Smasher structure as a site feature. The Atom Smasher is currently on the ground on a property under consideration for development by a private entity that has no interest in preserving the historic artifact. A designated location for this atom smasher is included in the site plans, however, the cost of moving it from its current location and refurbishing it for safe installation on the new Forest Hills Borough building site has been estimated upwards of $200,000. Private sources of funds are being sought for this project. Many citizens are interested in seeing the new building reflect the history of innovation that has been part of Forest Hills over the years.

 

The site was evaluated for a passive solar building design, and was deemed suitable, if the building could be oriented on the property to allow a south-facing roof. If a geothermal earth heating and cooling system would be included, soils testing and evaluation of the site for coal shafts under the area would be necessary. This site sits at the top of the Turtle Creek watershed, therefore, the area was also evaluated to address storm water management with bio-swales and green management techniques to control storm water runoff. The location already has direct access to Greensburg Pike with ease of traffic movement and is served by a public transit bus line. The site is large enough to accommodate parking, and has sidewalks for safe pedestrian access from multiple directions. Its proximity to the Westinghouse Lodge and park create a campus of Forest Hills Borough public services.

 

Functionality and Design

At the community planning workshop, groups of citizens drew concept plans for the functions to be served in the new building. Imaginative proposals included a coffee shop /internet café, a history walk capturing images of Forest Hills over the last century, and interpretive exhibits explaining the features of the building. The Forest Hills Borough administrative staff, Police Department and Council had an opportunity to add thoughts and have participated in all stages of the building design planning. A rough outline of the building emerged on the wall, and discussion turned to how to meet the needs for the next century. The group quickly agreed that sustainability and cost efficiency take high priority in the design. Citizens familiar with the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens Living Building features and the Chatham University planning for the Eden Hall sustainable design added credibility to the concept. People were concerned that such an ambitious sustainable goal would be too expensive for the community.

 

Focus on the Building Envelope with an emphasis on sustainability took the approach to “Reduce Consumption before Renewables.” Design parameters were set around energy, water, materials and indoor air quality. Considerations included the need for adequate storage and natural daylight in work spaces; areas for serving the public both in Borough Administrative functions and in public service in the Police Department. The spaces for library and community gathering were discussed in terms of how they would relate to the Council chamber under different configurations of uses. The preference for natural materials and locally sourced materials gave guidance in the design for the building envelope and interior treatment.

 

Forest Hills Town Hall Sustainable Features

The Building

The building will be a 12,746 square foot one-floor structure aligned with a south facing roof and a clear story of translucent recycled plastic to filter incoming light into the interior space.

Architectural Drawing for New Forest Hills Borough Town Hall – Under Construction January 2017. Credit: Pfaffmann & Associates

 

Energy Features:

A passive solar designed building has first focus on the building envelope. The building will have an energy use intensity of 36.78 kBtu/ft2 with an estimated annual cost of operation of $10,670. This design will have an operating cost of $0.97/ft2, compared to the current building cost of $2.21/ft2, or the cost of operating a building designed to the conventional 2009 building code standard of $1.42/ft2. Forty 100-foot deep geothermal wells will provide heating and cooling and will require 118,555 kWh annually to operate. The 125 kW photovoltaic array on the roof will provide 151,947 kWh annually which will cover the geothermal HVAC plus the other electrical loads in the building for a Net Zero Energy operation. The building will be connected to the utility grid with a net metering tariff for electric service. A gas line will be connected to an emergency generator to support police operations.

 

Water Features:

The design for storm water management will reduce the peak discharge rate into Turtle Creek watershed by more than 64% over the 100-year storm level. The volume of water from 2-year and 5-year storms will be entirely infiltrated as will nearly all of the 10-year storm volumes. A system of sand and limestone infiltration beds will reduce runoff acidity and temperature, and rain gardens and plantings will provide additional water filtration benefits. The site will be planted with trees and drought tolerant and native plants in bio-swales surrounding the building and as features in the parking area. Enhanced pedestrian walkways and some of the parking lot will be of permeable surfaces to augment storm water infiltration.

 

Indoor Quality:

The first principle is to design the building to conserve energy as much as possible. Therefore, the building will be super-insulated with the roof at R50 (conventional is R 38), R-40 walls (Conventional is R19). Natural daylight and views to the outdoor plantings enhance the ambiance and provide attractive work spaces. The clearstory along the roofline is of translucent plastic formed material that allows light, but prevents glare to the interior. The windows are of insulated glass set in wooden frames, and have sashed sections to open for ventilation in season. The southern roof overhang allows shading in the summer and sunlight to enter in the winter. Sustainable non-toxic materials are used throughout for walls and structural materials. All the wood is from sustainably grown sources. Materials were selected for recycled content, locally sourced and environmentally beneficial performance. Lighting is designed to use natural daylight, with LED lighting and daylight sensing controls. Water management includes water-conserving plumbing fixtures with automatic controls to reduce water use. The lobby and reception area will be equipped with a “dashboard” and interpretive signs to explain how the building functions and allow visitors to understand the special energy and water conserving features.

 

The design plans were approved in November of 2016, and a General Contractor, Volpatt Construction, was hired. Groundbreaking ceremonies on December 3, 2016 marked the beginning of a new era for Forest Hills Borough.

Images of the design appear in this booklet prepared by Pfaffmann & Associates.

fhmb-design-booklet-for-council-12-3-3

The new Forest Hills Borough Building will perform at the level of a LEED Gold building, although certification will not be sought due to the cost. The Council has been in unanimous accord with this project across two administrations. The community is well engaged with the project and as construction proceeds toward an December 2017 completion target, excitement is building for this innovative and fiscally responsible project. This New Forest Hills Borough building will reflect the history of innovation that has shaped this town and show the way forward for resilience in a changing world.

 

This article was published as a Guest Blog for Pittsburgh Green Building Alliance at https://www.go-gba.org/the-new-forest-hills-borough-building-a-net-zero-energy-solution/