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Working for a Healthy Environment and a Safer World for More Than 40 Years

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Founded in 1969, UCS was born out of a teach-in organized by a group of scientists and students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to protest the militarization of scientific research and promote science in the public interest.

The gathering took place during the height of the Vietnam War—in the same year Cleveland's heavily polluted Cuyahoga River caught fire. Appalled by how the U.S. government was misusing science, our founders drafted a statement calling for scientific research to be directed away from military technologies to solving pressing environmental and social problems. To that end, UCS initially focused the spotlight on defense-related research, nuclear weapons, and nuclear power.

  • The first UCS report critiqued the Nixon administration's plan to build an anti-ballistic missile system. The report helped build public support for the landmark 1972 U.S.-Soviet Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which many view as a key piece in nuclear arms control.
  • Two months before the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident, UCS called for the government to shut down the facility and 15 other plants because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had dramatically understated the probability of an accident. After the partial core meltdown, local, state and federal officials turned to UCS for unbiased information.
  • In the 1980s, our research and public education campaign opposing President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative ("Star Wars") helped force the government to scale back the program.

Over the past four decades UCS has broadened its focus to encompass other critical science-related issues, including climate change, energy, transportation, sustainable agriculture, and scientific integrity in the federal government. Over that time our influence on the public debate has grown.

  • In the early 1990s, when global warming was just beginning to attract public attention, UCS brought together 700 members of the National Academy of Sciences to urge all nations to initiate climate change solutions.
  • Over the last decade, UCS sounded the alarm about the Bush administration's war on science. It organized a petition, which was ultimately signed by more than 17,000 U.S. scientists, decrying the administration's politicization of science.
  • In February 2009, BusinessWeek credited UCS with creating the blueprint for vehicle fuel-efficiency that Ford is now following. "Ford and its U.S. rivals could have acted much sooner," BusinessWeek noted. "In 2003 the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) published a paper explaining how a redesigned Ford Explorer could achieve 28 mpg instead of the measly 15 mpg that Explorers got at the time. In addition to light bodies and direct injection, the UCS list included six-speed transmissions and turbocharging, a century-old technology in which waste energy from the exhaust helps drive the engine turbine. Ford's head of product development at the time quipped that 'the UCS doesn't design vehicles for customers, and we do.' Now the Explorer team might as well be working off the UCS checklist."
  • In his first interview since becoming energy secretary this year, Steven Chu cited UCS projections for unchecked global warming in his home state of California. That same week, the newly minted senator from New Mexico, Tom Udall (D), cited UCS research to promote legislation requiring utilities to ramp up their reliance on renewable energy sources. Even New Mexico Republican Pete Domenici, an opponent of the standard, quoted UCS information and materials.

Traditionally there have been two types of science: basic and applied. UCS has added a third category to the canon: engaged science. Since its beginning, UCS has followed the example set by scientists: We share information, seek the truth, and let our findings guide our conclusions. Our calling card has always been rigorous independent analysis that is relevant to current security and environmental challenges. By mobilizing scientists and combining their voices with those of advocates, educators, business people, and other concerned citizens, UCS has been able to achieve more victories than public interest groups twice its size.

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