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 Summer 2011

Newsroom

UCS Illustrates the Power of Wind
Jobs and tax revenue are just two of the benefits

To help counter misleading statements made by the fossil fuel industry and its supporters about renewable energy, UCS has launched “Renewables: Energy You Can Count On,” a series of short reports that explore the benefits and challenges associated with bringing more clean, homegrown electricity to the grid.

The first installment, Tapping Into Wind Power, shows that wind is one of the most cost-effective sources of electricity available, competitive with power from new natural gas plants and cheaper than power from new coal and nuclear plants. Growing interest in wind helped the industry weather the recent recession, creating 50,000 full-time jobs between 2007 and 2009. Wind projects also benefit local communities financially, as governments and land owners can earn revenue from property and income taxes and other payments made by project owners.

Future installments in the series will explore the economic benefits of clean energy policies, land-use comparisons between renewable and conventional power facilities, and electrical grid reliability.

 

 

Building a Chorus for Change
UCS helps young scientists find their voice

In late March, science policy groups at both Harvard and MIT invited UCS to conduct workshops that would help graduate students become strong advocates for science-based policies. About 30 students from the Harvard Science Policy Group attended our “Speaking Out and Speaking Up” workshop led by Dr. James McCarthy, chair of the UCS board of directors and the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography at Harvard, who, along with other UCS staff, discussed how scientists can communicate effectively with elected officials.

Our second workshop prepared students in the MIT Science Policy Initiative for their upcoming trip to Washington, DC, to lobby Congress to fully fund scientific research initiatives. UCS staff discussed the culture of Capitol Hill, provided tips and tools on how to communicate science effectively, and led breakout sessions in which the students practiced talking about their research. These events demonstrated the energy, passion, and determination many of today’s graduates have to improve their world. UCS is eager to help ensure their expertise informs the challenges we face.

 

 

The Power Sector’s Water Addiction
UCS shows how it hurts consumers and the industry

Because power plants account for more than 40 percent of freshwater withdrawals in the United States, rising demand for electricity will put water resources, the electricity sector, and other water users at growing risk.  Power and Water at Risk, the latest in our series of fact sheets about the “energy-water collision,” shows examples where these problems are already occurring and how we can address them, especially in the face of global warming.

Drought and high water temperatures caused by heat waves force fossil fuel and nuclear power plants that rely on water for cooling to cut production or even shut down. Conversely, supplying water to such plants in times of water stress or scarcity can come at a cost to others who rely on that water.

Fortunately, some power companies are making improvements to lower their water use, such as “dry-cooled” plant designs (see “How It Works”). Elsewhere, energy efficiency and renewable energy resources such as wind and solar are addressing water and climate challenges simultaneously.

 

 

A Grassroots Campaign—Literally
Gardeners help UCS reform agriculture policy

This spring, UCS traveled to Michigan to help home gardeners learn how they can support climate-friendly growing practices at home and on our nation’s farms. At the Michigan Home and Garden Show in Pontiac, we handed out our report The Climate-Friendly Gardener and talked with hundreds of attendees about practical steps they can take—such as minimizing pesticide use, composting, and planting winter cover crops—to build healthy soil and reduce their contribution to global warming. Our recommendations are well-suited to the Detroit area’s burgeoning urban farming movement, which is transforming vacant lots into gardens that provide fresh produce to inner-city neighborhoods.

We also asked attendees to create postcards calling on Senator Debbie Stabenow to support climate-friendly farming. As chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, her leadership is needed to ensure the next federal farm bill promotes the type of diverse, productive, climate-friendly agriculture that will benefit farmers like those of rural Michigan, whose agricultural bounty includes pickling cucumbers, blueberries, and tart cherries, as well as corn and other commodity crops. 

 

 

Clean Air by the Numbers
UCS tool records lives saved, net benefits

You may already know the Clean Air Act (CAA) has a 40-year track record of protecting human health and the environment. But did you also know it has provided nearly $50 trillion in net benefits as a result? To strengthen support for the CAA, which has been under attack by members of Congress who oppose government regulation, UCS created an animated “ticker” that illustrates the tremendous benefits of the CAA both since it took effect in 1970 and into the future. Most of these benefits are attributable to reductions in premature death associated with particulate matter; looking ahead, cleaner air will prevent an estimated 230,000 premature deaths in 2020 alone.

Since its release in March, the tool has been shared by more than a dozen websites, from blogs (Climate Progress, Treehugger) to advocacy organizations (U.S. Climate Action Network) and government agencies (California Air Resources Board). The EPA also plans to use the ticker at a CAA-related event in June. See the Clean Air Act ticker for yourself, and add it to your own website or social media page.


 

In Memoriam
Thomas Eisner (1929–2011)
  

We mourn the passing of Thomas Eisner, a seminal figure in the field of chemical ecology and a UCS board member since 1993. The Jacob Gould Schurman professor emeritus of Chemical Ecology at Cornell University and director of the Cornell Institute for Research in Chemical Ecology died on March 25 at the age of 81.

After fleeing from Germany to Uruguay at the start of World War II, Tom became fascinated with bugs and their behavior—particularly how insects use chemistry to protect themselves, procreate, and defend their kin. He turned this interest into a lifelong career, earning both a bachelor’s and doctoral degree in biology at Harvard, then serving on the faculty at Cornell for more than 50 years.

Tom’s research revolutionized the understanding of the role of basic chemistry in the life of higher organisms and gave birth to the field of chemical ecology. Among his research subjects were bombardier beetles, which spray a jet of boiling hot, caustic liquid at predators; ornatrix moths, which carry a noxious chemical that persuades spiders to set the moths free when they become trapped in a web; and palmetto beetles, which produce an oily liquid that helps them cling to leaves.

Tom recognized the potential for plants and insects to contain chemicals important to human medicine, and worked to preserve wildlife habitats so species could thrive. His guidance led UCS to establish biodiversity conservation and defense of the Endangered Species Act as organizational priorities, and he was one of the first scientists to sign a 2004 UCS letter calling on the government to restore scientific integrity to federal decision making. This letter galvanized the scientific community’s opposition to political interference in science, and planted the seed for our Scientific Integrity Program.

On top of his academic achievements—which earned him the National Medal of Science in 1994, the highest scientific honor in the United States—Tom was a renowned nature photographer, talented classical pianist, and prize-winning author and filmmaker. His 2003 book, For Love of Insects, was named Best Science Book in 2004 by the Independent Publisher Book Awards.

UCS President Kevin Knobloch stated, “Tom’s keen intellect, passion for science, and strong leadership helped shape UCS. His contributions to our organization, not to mention the scientific community writ large, will not be forgotten.”