By Patricia DeMarco
We are in a state of emergency. Global warming, global pollution, especially from plastics, and the COVID-19 pandemic present a trio of crises that require global collaboration and a sense of commitment to the future to solve. Our country is deeply divided and out of balance in response to any single crisis, totally rudderless and struggling to address these overlapping issues. But sometimes, addressing a constellation of crises together brings solutions closer. This moment in time offers an opportunity to re-set our trajectory. We can re-imagine America on a path in harmony with Nature.
The emphasis on economic outcomes above all else as both a metric for progress and a guide for public policy has torn great holes in the social safety net and shredded basic environmental protections for clean air, fresh water, fertile ground and biodiversity. Policies based heavily on economic profits to corporations are destroying these gifts of the living Earth – the ecosystem services, our life support system. We need to change direction and restore the balance among economy, environment and society.
Three important facts illustrate the urgent need to change direction:
The U.S. ranks last in overall health care among developed nations. In a comprehensive study of US health parameters compared to other developed countries, Americans showed inferior health standards in nine categories including adverse birth outcomes, obesity and diabetes, chronic lung diseases, heart disease, and injuries and homicides. Overall, the U.S. has fewer hospitals and hospital beds per capita compared to other similar countries.
The current U.S. emissions trajectory is totally inadequate to keep emissions to no more than a two-degree Celsius rise above 2005 levels. With coal, oil, natural gas, mining, logging and commercial agricultural interests heading federal agencies, there is no advocate in the government to protect the public interest or to safeguard the future.
The income equity gap in the U.S. is wider than ever and has been accelerating. While Americans enjoyed a shared growth in prosperity from the end of World War II into the 1970s, the gap between the most and least wealthy has been growing, with declining numbers of Americans at the high wealth end of the scale. In 2018, 38.1 million American people lived in poverty (11.8% of the population), and 93.6 million live close to poverty (29.9% of the population).
We can be better than this!
The stark reality of the inequities in our economy, our social network and our environment cannot stand if we are to build a more resilient, a more equitable and just, and a more environmentally healthy society.
Re-Imagine America in harmony with Nature!
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 improve in effectiveness as they become more widely adopted. Over 73% of Americans want action on climate change but are deeply divided on partisan lines (67% of Democrats and 21% of Republicans)
We stand at a crossroad now. In one direction, we can continue toward a future based on petrochemical industries– build-out of infrastructure that will bind our economy to natural gas and plastics for another fifty years. Or we can recognize the ultimate futility of this pursuit and turn our investments, our education tools, our might and political will toward building a sustainable future. The tools for doing this are at hand:
• Renewable energy systems;
• Regenerative agriculture that captures carbon and restores the fertility of the land;
• Non-fossil-based materials in a circular supply chain; and
• Preserving the biodiversity of the earth in living ecosystems.
The League of Women Voters Re- Imagine project gathers communities to re-shape future growth. The prompt begins: “Pretend the $1.6 Billion of incentives given to the Shell Appalachia Petrochemical Plant could come to your communities instead.” Responses focus on renewable energy systems to reclaim blown off mountain tops or to enhance the productivity of farmlands with solar arrays and wind systems. People want to replace plastic materials by growing hemp, flax, and bamboo with local manufacturing. Organic farming in both urban and traditional agricultural areas gains popularity. Local investment and equitable, inclusive opportunities are important. Re-Imagine initiatives focus on preserving and enhancing features that contribute unique character to communities and preserve the specialness of place and identity.
If the government infrastructure can be aligned to support and empower community plans, the innovation and resilience that can emerge will become a platform for a new America; an America where communities come together as part of the land – an America that truly empowers people. The Green New Deal framework provides a starting point for this effort.
Patricia DeMarco is an award-winning author, a Rachel Carson scholar and Member of the Forest Hills Borough Council.
NewPeople Newspaper VOL. 50 No. 4. May/June, 2020. All rights reserved.