Catalyst Spring 2017
Advances

Marching for Science and Climate Action

Stand up for science march

Supporters of science rally in front of the White House in March 2017, to protest the administration's attempts to weaken or eliminate important science-based policies. Alden Meyer, UCS director of strategy and policy, was one of several speakers at this event.
Photo: Allison Cain/UCS

As we go to press on this issue of Catalyst, the Union of Concerned Scientists is preparing for a week of science activism bookended by the March for Science on April 22 and the People’s Climate March on April 29—with many activities in between. We anticipate that both marches will help register the widespread public outrage at many Trump administration policies and showcase broad support for science and climate action. Among the scientific community, we have rarely seen the level of motivation and engagement as high as we have heading into this week of protest.

UCS is playing a role as a cosponsor of both events. The April 22 March for Science, which grew organically (snowballing from a discussion involving a few enthusiastic people on Reddit.com), is expected to be one of the largest demonstrations for science ever held, with a rally and teach-in on the National Mall in Washington, DC, as well as hundreds of satellite events across the country and around the world. Among other things, the organizers are planning to shine a spotlight on the role science plays in all our lives and in shaping decisions and policies that affect us all.

The April 29 People’s Climate March, similarly expected to draw huge diverse crowds calling for action on global warming, is being organized by the People’s Climate Movement, the same group that organized the September 2014 march on the eve of that year’s UN climate summit. That event drew some 400,000 people from every walk of life to the streets of New York City, demanding action to address the global climate crisis and helping to reboot the climate movement in this country.

Especially given the unprecedented efforts by the Trump administration to roll back key measures protecting our health and environment, UCS believes that visible public action—from marches and rallies to teach-ins and protests—can play an essential role in drawing public attention to urgent issues, energizing participants, and helping to shape public opinion. That’s why many UCS staff and members are planning to participate.

But we also know that, to be truly successful, these types of events must be followed by sustained action, including speaking out in all forms: communicating with elected officials by calling, writing, and visiting their offices; penning letters to the editor of your local newspaper; and engaging your friends, family, and neighbors. You can find a variety of tips and tools for doing just that at the UCS Action Center.

Whether or not you participated in these powerful demonstrations, we are grateful for your support and hope you will continue to make your voice heard. We need you standing with us as we keep up the pressure for climate action and in defending the role science plays in crafting policies that protect our health and safety.


UCS Builds a Secure Portal for Reporting Attacks on Science

secure website


Photo: lifestylepics/Alamy Stock Photo

Since 2003, UCS has actively worked to expose political interference in science and defend the integrity of science in policymaking. To fulfill this watchdog role, we depend on sources who have knowledge of what’s happening within government—including federal government employees and their associates who often play a vital role by speaking out when they see suppression or distortion of science taking place.

Today, as science-based policymaking and public access to scientific information face the most overt threats in recent memory, those aware of abuses need a safe and secure way to report them. Toward this end, UCS has established several ways for whistleblowers to communicate with us.

One makes use of an encrypted email service called ProtonMail, developed by MIT and CERN scientists, that uses servers in Switzerland. Because ProtonMail does not require authentication, message senders can remain anonymous as long as they avoid linking their ProtonMail account to a cell phone or email account when signing up for the service. Federal scientists or others with sensitive knowledge can send documents, datasets, or other information to UCS via ProtonMail.

By sharing information you may have about attempts to diminish or destroy agency scientific libraries or library content, to suppress or distort science in the policymaking process, or to prevent scientists from publishing their research, we can help bring public attention to these issues and fight back together. But we also urge whistleblowers to adequately protect themselves from repercussions or retribution.

Find out more on how to share firsthand knowledge you may have of political interference in science.


Join the Call

At UCS, we’re committed to upholding hard-won protections of Americans’ health and safety, fighting for policies that combat climate change, and defending the vital role science plays in our democracy. In each of these areas, the Trump administration is actively seeking to overturn many important changes we helped achieve over the course of decades. UCS is responding with a powerful combination: the enduring power of science and a highly energized community of scientists and others.

UCS will host a conference call for our members on Wednesday, June 7 at 3:00 p.m. EST to discuss the organization’s efforts to stand up for science in response to actions taken by the Trump administration and Congress. Please join UCS President Ken Kimmell as he leads a conversation with UCS experts (including Gretchen Goldman, research director in the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS and coauthor of the January report Preserving Scientific Integrity in Federal Policymaking) about how the organization is putting science into action and fighting back against the unprecedented attacks on science by our federal government.


UCS West Coast Office Marks 25 Years

UCS staff members Adrienne Alvord and Jason Barbose celebrate at the California state house in 2016 after passage of newly strengthened global warming emissions reduction targets—targets UCS helped shape and support.
Photo: Will Gonzalez

Back in 1992, when the only UCS offices were located on the East Coast, a talented UCS transportation analyst asked to continue working for the organization from California after her partner got a job in Berkeley. She argued persuasively that California would be a great place for a UCS outpost: the state was poised to set emissions standards for vehicles that would be stricter than the federal government’s, and she saw the potential for UCS to play a role in helping the state demonstrate environmental leadership in that area and others. Plus, with UC Berkeley, Stanford, and Lawrence Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories anchoring a large science and research community in Northern California, UCS already had a robust membership base in the state.

The organization saw merit in the idea and the UCS West Coast office was born. Twenty-five years later, the prescience of that plan couldn’t be clearer.

From air quality and climate change to renewable energy, the UCS West Coast office has played a key role in an impressive succession of trailblazing victories, helping California promote the adoption of low- and zero-emission vehicles, pass legislation to lower heat-trapping carbon emissions, and create a robust market for renewable energy. In particular, UCS played a key role in passing three successively more stringent renewable energy standards and, in 2006, the landmark state law AB 32—the nation’s first economy-wide carbon reduction law.

Back then, UCS batted back dire predictions that the emissions reduction policies we championed would result in economic ruin for California. Since then, the numbers speak for themselves: California is the world’s sixth largest economy—up from eighth a decade ago. Petroleum consumption is down despite population growth, emissions are down and on track to meet the state’s 2020 goals, employment is up, and the state economy is strong. In other words, we have solid evidence to show that environmental leadership has helped promote economic growth, not inhibit it.

Today, the UCS West Coast office has many more ambitious plans on the docket, including pathbreaking work that shows how a high percentage of renewables can be seamlessly integrated into the electric grid, points the way toward a climate-resilient infrastructure, and encourages the adoption of sensible water policies in California. In addition, our work in Oregon and Washington is building toward a region-wide price on carbon emissions.

We are proud of what our West Coast colleagues have accomplished with your support, and expect their efforts will continue to point the way forward for the rest of the nation and the world in the decades to come.


Introducing the Got Science? Podcast

Got Science? podcast

Hosts: Colleen MacDonald, Seth D. Michaels, Shreya Durvasula, and Luis Castilla
Photo: Audrey Eyring

Have you caught episodes of the new UCS podcast yet? Recent installments find our engaging correspondents tackling a variety of hot topics—from federal science under President Trump, to self-driving cars, to the relationship between science and environmental justice.

With guest spots from all-star UCS staff and scientists around the country, Got Science? explores topical and timely issues, and keeps you up to date on what’s happening at the intersection of science and policy. Here's our latest episode:

New episodes are released every other Tuesday. Browse and listen for free at www.ucsusa.org/podcast, or find us on iTunes—or whichever app you use.


UCS Finds Serious Safety Culture Problems at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

NRC inspectors


Photos: Nuclear Regulatory Commission (inspectors);

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regularly reminds nuclear power plant owners of the importance of a positive safety culture—defined as a “collective commitment . . . to emphasize safety over competing goals to ensure protection of people and the environment.” As the NRC itself notes, safety suffers when plant workers are unwilling to raise concerns because they believe they will be ignored or, worse, retaliated against. Some plants with a poor safety culture have developed problems so severe that their reactors had to be shut down for more than a year.

According to a recent UCS report, however, it is not enough for plant owners to foster a positive safety culture; the NRC itself must do the same. The report, The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Safety Culture: Do As I Say, Not As I Do, draws on internal survey results and other data to show that the NRC’s own safety culture needs attention. For example, while three-quarters of senior and middle-level managers at the NRC report having a positive opinion about the agency’s processes for handling differing viewpoints, less than half of the NRC’s workers share that outlook.

According to Dave Lochbaum, the report’s author and head of the UCS Nuclear Safety Project, for the NRC to effectively do its job, its staff must be confident they can report any problems they observe without reprisal and know the agency will address them. But Lochbaum says the “evidence suggests that conditions within the NRC are as bad as—if not worse than—those existing at the nation’s troubled nuclear plants.” Just as plant owners have downplayed and dismissed clear and present signs of safety culture problems, the data suggest that NRC management is just as dismissive of similar indicators within the agency. As Lochbaum puts it, “When it comes to chilled work environments, the NRC may have the largest refrigerator in town.”

Read the full report.