Earth Day and Capitalism Like Vinegar and Oil?
Continuously, discussions focusing on degraded ecosystems and tipping points forcing climate change to ramp up to chaos many times center around the “C” word.
Not “c” as in “cancer.”
“Capitalism is destroying the planet,” said Pat DeLaquil, an energy policy expert working with various governments, NGO’s and the private sector to “help achieve economic development and combating climate change.”
He was one speaker in a two-guest gig at the Newport Library. Jan 27 as part of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and 350 Oregon Central Coast.
The other person presenting is director of a plastics to road recycling non-profit headquartered in Toledo.
Twenty people listened to DeLaquil as he zoomed through his data-filled Power Point. His SOP is working with the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and other groups to lobby for passage of a new version of climate change policy during this state’s short legislative session.
No matter how many details behind the framework of HB 2020 are aired, convincing Oregonians of all stripes to get behind this cap on statewide carbon emissions is a technical, legal, intellectual, PR, and emotional challenge.
Two Newport City Council members attended Monday, as gale force winds buffeted the library. Interestingly, kicking off the double header was a video clip from a January 13 Senate National Resources and Environment Committee.
Arnold L. “Arnie” Roblan in a droll voice stated how he’s visited all parts of Oregon listening to youth. He emphasized it’s been 16 years since he was a school principal, but now he’s seeing like never before a huge shift in how PK12 students are viewing the world.
“There’s been a big change,” Roblan stated in the video. “Kids are extremely anxious about the climate.”
Kicking off the 2-hour event was Bill Kucha, Otter Rock artist and head of 350 Oregon Central Coast. He strummed guitar and sang his song, “There’s Music All Around Me.” The message is one of hope in a world with thousands of ecosystems collapsing.
While Sen. Roblan stated the counties along the coast are at the “epicenter of ocean acidification and beach erosion caused by climate change,” one audience member, Michael Gaskill asked Pat DeLaquil if he gets frustrated with each year increasingly watered-down of environmental bills get passed.
Gaskill was in attendance to listen to the speakers and to sign up attendees interested in the Congressional campaign of Hillsboro Democrat Mark Gamba, who’s vying for the 5th district position November.
Another audience member wanted immediate response to her comment that “capitalism is the problem hurting the poor” was exasperated by the lack of social justice apparent in the discussions.
The C word was bandied about much in DeLaquil’s opening remarks:
“What drives capitalism to extremes? Two things: this hyper-individualism of the Ayn Rand economic school which purports everyone is unique and must fight for himself or herself to acquire as much as possible. And, two, patriarchy which indoctrinates young children into believing this hierarchy of male control. This belief that males are not caring about social issues, the environment, and females are not supposed to speak their minds when confronted with this apparent destructive system.”
The dichotomy is common in discussions about male domination in business, industry, militarism, and monetizing seemingly every single human transaction. Women, on the other hand, are seen “only “as mothers, nurturers put on earth to support the family and keep the peace by not speaking out against environmental, cultural and community degradation and destruction.
DeLaquil carried that allusion further saying capitalism and socialism can be reformed to support a clean, safe, market-centered society with social safety nets like education, health care, other entitlement programs that are part and parcel of Social Democratic countries like Norway or Denmark.
Don Quixote Fighting the Plastics Monster
“The window is closing faster on plastics than climate change, I really believe,” Scott Rosin of Plastic Up-Cycling told the gathering.
Knowing Rosin from Surfrider beach clean ups, and for an upcoming Deep Dive column, I don’t see him as Chicken Little “the sky is falling” fellow.
He’s fought forest fires in the 1970s and ‘80s. He’s been high up in the trees as a forester, and he knows the value of hard work – taking down entire stands of forest in for many years as an area logger.
He and his co-lead, Katharine Valentino, are looking for partnerships and financial backing for their project to get most of Lincoln county’s plastic waste stream into our roads in the form of new thoroughfares, repaved ones, potholes, driveways and parking lots.
The stats on the ground and in the water are staggering: “Think about it. Predictions of a billion tons of plastic produced each year by 2025. Compare that to 1.5 million pounds produced in 1950.”
He went on to punctuate this staggering stat: “Predictions about current rates of plastic waste state by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.”
As a surfer and lover of the ocean, Scott reminded the audience every time they read about a whale beached and dead, guts filled with plastic, that mammal represents less than 10 percent of the actual death rate of whales since most die offshore and sink to the benthic zone.
Rosin and Valentino see innovators in Scotland and in California, as well as other places, coming to the rescue. TechniSoil out of Redding California is taking recycled plastic, bitumen, asphalt substrate and integrating it into a flexible and long-lasting paving mixture (up to 15 percent of the total volume for paving roads could be plastic).
Then there is MacRebur and Scottish CEO Toby McCartney who was working in Southern India helping people at landfills gather potentially reusable items and sell them. Scott Rosin tells us McCartney observed some of the plastics the pickers culled, putting it into potholes and setting it on fire.
Instant melted plasticized pothole filler.
“Not the most environmentally friendly way to fill potholes,” Scott said. “However, those plastic filled potholes outlasted the actual roads.”
Carbon, Global Heating, Resources Plummeting & Us v Them?
Some of the buzz words coming from the 2-hour talk include “decarbonizing the economy” and “carbon budget.”
Add to those – renewable energy; trade exposed; energy intensive.
Pat DeLaquil, with doctorate in nuclear engineering from MIT and who’s worked with USAID, the Asian Development Bank, and large companies like Bechtel (not a green company), wants people to related to what they are seeing in the news – flooding, wildfires,, degraded ecosystems, increased rain events, droughts – as applicable to their own communities and states.
“The artic is warming two to three times faster than the rest of the planet,” he said showing us maps of that ice world. He’s also warning us about methane clathrates releasing a greenhouse gas more than 30 times as potent as carbon dioxide; and the warming tundra with millions of tons of frozen greenhouse gasses – ancient carbon. “The carbon that’s locked in the permafrost in the Arctic is thousands . . . millions of years old.”
He also brings to light the terms “runaway climate change” and the “albedo effect” – white snow and ice reflect back the sun’s rays. Less white, means more ocean warming.
DeLaquil and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters are pushing hard a Clean Energy Jobs bill. “[This] is one step in a continuing process of increasing climate change ambition in Oregon and by example the rest of the US. Just as the Renewable Portfolio Standard was followed by the Clean Fuel bill, then the Coal to Clean program, the Clean Energy Job (CEJ) bill will need to be followed next year with Agriculture and Forestry measures and elements of the Green New Deal. We are in this fight for the long haul and our strategy is to win one step at a time.”
He mentioned Time magazine’s 2019 person-of-the-year Greta Thurnberg who just attended the most recent Davos, Switzerland, gathering of the World Economic Forum. DeLaquil dovetails Senator Roblan’s comments about youth being panicked about the status of the world tied to global warming with this 17-year-old internationally-known Swede.
Politics play front and center in the climate debate at the state level with all the parsing of SB 1530 (regulating carbon emissions through commercial, industrial, agricultural use of fracked or natural gas) as well as how we tax and regulate transportation fuel.
Pat also discussed the concepts around clean fuels, carbon sequestration in our forests, natural resource protection (like wetlands), assessing the emissions coming from agricultural and the forestry industries, and the heady concept of a law to protect the rights of nature. Lincoln County Community Rights is one group heralding this rights of nature designation.
This is no bed of roses, as the people attending the talk and the two speakers know. There is much pushback on this bill and other decarbonizing legislation, and many in Oregon have contrary opinions on global warming. The lobbying group, Timber Unity, has expressed disagreement with SB 1530.
Ironically, globally the court of last resort – public opinion – is pitting scientists in the climate arena and superstars like Greta against those in the Donald Trump administration and Fox news. At Davos Jan. 21 Trump announced the U.S. would join an existing initiative to plant one trillion trees.
He also pitched the “economic importance of oil and gas” while throwing barbs at those like Greta Thurnberg, calling climate change activists “pessimistic” and the “heirs of yesterday’s foolish fortune tellers.”
Pat DeLaquil, interestingly, is not in this geopolitical arena, yet someone with his energy sector experience would paint a different picture for global warming deniers. He reemphasized the power of the youth movement. Thunberg responded to President Trump’s remarks by referring to them as “empty words and promises” by world leaders.
“You say children shouldn’t worry… don’t be so pessimistic and then, nothing, silence.”
Elephants, Billiards, Paradigm Shift
“The first man-made plastic was created by Alexander Parkes who publicly demonstrated it at the 1862 Great International Exhibition in London. The material, called Parkesine, was an organic material derived from cellulose that once heated could be molded and retained its shape when cooled.”
“Svante Arrhenius (1859-1927) was a Swedish scientist that was the first to claim in 1896 that fossil fuel combustion may eventually result in enhanced global warming. He proposed a relation between atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and temperature.”
Transitioning from DeLaquil’s 35,000 foot view of the climate change debate, then down to the micro view of the state’s efforts to go carbon free by 2050, to Scott Rosin’s Plastic Up Cycling non-profit spurred the audience into thinking about one “miracle of oil” – plastic – and the consequential negative consequences both locally and globally.
It’s obvious the tall white-haired Rosin has fun talking to groups – he’s a real yarn spinner.
“In 1867 an article came out saying elephants were going to be extinct in ten years. The billiards market used ivory for the balls.”
Necessity and environmental concerns turned into the mother of invention. “It was called cellulose. The invention of plastic billiards balls was the beginning of the consumer revolution. Anybody could have a pool table now since the plastic balls were affordable.”
Four or five quality billiard balls could be made from the average tusk of an Indian, Ceylonese, or Indo-Chinese elephant. This market for raw tusks centered in New York and Chicago where craftsmen would eat up blocks of ivory to create the gleaming spheres.
“Now we are experiencing 154 years of plastic, and it’s not a pretty picture,” Rosin told us.
He reminded the audience his work from Jan. to July 2019 for Surfrider heading up weekly Sunday beach plastic debris clean ups where on average 5 people from Lincoln County showed up was disheartening. Even after he had contacted dozens of volunteer organizations.
This past October Katharine Valentino and Rosin scrambled to set up a non-profit to deal with the plastics coming into our county’s dumpsters which invariably ends up trucked to Salem and dumped into a landfill.
TechniSoil is working with the Mayor of Los Angeles to put in a plastic road that leads to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. MacRebur has a proprietary aggregate that binds the plastic to the bitumen so there is no leaching into the ground.
TechniSoil touts their roads containing 6.6 percent plastic last seven to 14 times longer than conventional roads. Rosin emphasizes how on-site machines repaving roads with plastic aggregate actually tear up the old road, grind up plastic, mix it with bitumen and old asphalt, eliminating a huge carbon footprint of dump trucks hauling off torn-up roadway pavement.
Plastic Up-Cycling is hawking its project to interested people, as well as looking for $100,000 to get the plastic road mixture tested by an OSU lab.
Plastic comes from an energy-intensive and polluting process of turning oil into polymers and then into various types of plastics to serve myriad of purposes for which we in our throwaway society consume it.
The fact is landfills are composed of 12 to 15 percent plastic. The road paving process pencils out this way: for every miles of roadway, 1.1 million plastic bottles or 3.2 million plastic bags churned into a road mix will cut down on the waste-stream big time.
Climate Action Plan 2.0
The event was topped off with Martin Desmond, with Central Coast Citizen’s Climate Lobby, giving us the table of contents to the 74- page Lincoln County Climate Action Plan. The goal for this initiative is to get Lincoln County carbon neutral by 2035.
For Pat DeLaquil, his biggest disappointment, he stated, “after working in this field for years” was the failure to pass the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill.”
This congressional bill — American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 — was passed as major legislation to create a cap-and-trade system for heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, but was not taken up by the full Senate and never became law.
For Bill Kucha – artist, teacher, activist and musician – he puts much hope in young people in this county and throughout the world. He’s also a prolific letter-to-the-editor writer:
“The good news is that there is a growing movement toward a new type of corporation called B-Corporations. In B-Corporations, financial profit counts, but so too does consideration for the environment, neighboring communities, and the workers. Our state must actively encourage the proliferation of progressive alternatives like this, if we ever hope to heal what ails the Earth. You can play a role, too: you can insist that the 2020 Election, at all levels of government, must prominently feature serious conversations about the Climate Crisis.” (Sept. 1, 2019, News Lincoln County)
For me, it’s obvious conversations have to be more dynamic and robust, covering a larger swath of citizens. We have to organize half-day or three-day summits or charrettes to get policy makers, politicians, subject matter experts and citizens coming together to communicate more effectively and think both critically and holistically about issues around ocean rise, acidification, coastal inundation, weather and climate disruptions.
Lincoln County residents need to respect (and question) the work of activists and citizens on all sides of the issue while also coming together to listen to the passionate scientists and experts working on these issues.
For Scott Rosin, getting plastics out of the waste stream means cleaner water, cleaner soil, cleaner food and cleaner human and non-human bodies. “I would have never thought about the effects of plastic on the environment and us thirty or forty years ago,” Rosin said. “It’s unthinkable to have plastic in our drinking water, in all our food, and breathing it in.”
Getting into the Narrative of an Energy Guy
Pat DeLaquil was touted to me by several people at the Newport gathering as “he’s really been around” and “he really knows the deal with China since he’s been there” and “he has a lot of insight into energy.” So, Pat was kind enough to submit to some email questions. Pat lives in Gresham.
Paul: You said you have been doing this for more than 40 years. What got you started in energy analysis, and was it always EEE — energy, economy, environment?
Pat: Following grad school, I joined Sandia National Labs in Livermore, CA to work in their new systems analysis program. My first assignment was working on safeguards for nuclear material used in the country’s nuclear weapons program, but in 1980, I joined their solar energy program and been a leader in the commercialization of clean and renewable energy technologies. In 1984 I left Sandia and joined Bechtel Corporation to lead their Renewable Energy RD group. There, I worked closely with the California utilities and EPRI to lead the development of consortiums to build key R&D projects such as PV-USA and the 10 MW Solar Two Power Tower.
Paul: Your age, where did you grow up and schooling?
Pat: I’m 71 and grew up in western Pennsylvania in strip mining country and saw firsthand the destruction they caused. I knew I wanted to be an engineer by age 13, and I have a B.Sc. in Marine Engineering from the US Merchant Marine and a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I have authored or co-authored over 90 papers, reports, and articles on solar and renewable energy including chapters in two books on renewable energy technology. I have a patent for a high temperature solar receiver.
Paul: I work on the 5 e’s — started off as triple e’s for sustainability: Equity, environment, economy . . . education and energy. There are a lot of intersectionalities here, and of course, the environment overrides and undergirds everything. In capitalism, that is not true. What are your own intellectual challenges when you consider how rapacious, how extractive-oriented, how unjust capitalism is to the people, the 99 Percent, or the 80 percent. Discuss.
Pat: This requires a long answer, and I touched on this in my talk, but only briefly. I am attaching for your information and use, both my presentation from Monday and a longer presentation on this subject I gave to the Multnomah Democratic Party Climate Action Forum back in November. Slides 1 thru 9, including the notes, provide a pretty full answer.
Paul: There is a lot of policy stuff and political maneuvering and lobbying in your work. For the average reader, what are your holistic takeaways for this evening’s talk.
Pat: The most important things that the average reader can do is to get engaged politically by demanding that your legislators be climate champions and if they are not find one who can replace them. While individual actions are important, they will never be enough. We must have systemic change that will only come when progressives have control of our political systems.
Paul: What gives you hope for the world, for Oregon’s future?
Pat: I have been in a very discouraging mood since HB2020 was stonewalled by the Republicans, and even more so given the ho-hum response that too many people have given to the wildfires in Australia, which also has a climate denying government. The voices on youth are what currently gives me the most hope, but even that seems not to be enough. I’m afraid that it’s going to take a major climate-derived calamity, with millions of people dying before the average person decides we must take action.
Paul: What lends you pause?
Pat: The tremendous amounts of money, imbedded organizations and media-led philosophies that the oligarchs and large corporations have used to gain strangle holds on governments around the world. The four key conservative political frames are shown below, and we must replace these with progressive frames I the general public discourse. In addition to people power and grassroots organizing, we must counter and replace the Reagan framing with more progressive framing if we are to win this battle.