Catalyst Fall 2017

Extreme Weather Hits Home

Millions of people in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and Puerto Rico—as well as in dozens of other now-decimated Caribbean islands—are still reeling from the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. As of this writing, millions are still without power, and US cost estimates for the three storms run well into the hundreds of billions of dollars. Our thoughts are with all those affected as Catalyst goes to press.

One of the more painful aspects of the recent spate of extreme weather is how blatantly our federal officials—and many state leaders—disregarded warnings and evidence-based analysis about how climate change and rising sea levels increase the threats posed by these kinds of storms. In one well-reported example, just 10 days before Harvey struck, the Trump administration rescinded an Obama-era executive order that discouraged building in flood-prone areas.

As Irma worked its way toward the Florida coastline, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt even told CNN it was “insensitive” to discuss the role climate change may have played in strengthening these hurricanes. Needless to say, we strongly disagree with Scott Pruitt. Only by accepting the scientific evidence about human-caused climate impacts can we fully prepare for and mitigate what is to come.

For years, the Union of Concerned Scientists has been working hard to help communities become aware of—and prepare for—the threat posed by human-made climate change. To name just one example, the 2015 UCS report Lights Out? showed that storm surge from a Category 3 hurricane could expose nearly 40 electric substations in Miami and southeastern Florida to flooding. We urged action to harden these substations and avoid long power outages after such a storm.

Thankfully, despite the many climate change deniers now leading federal agencies, recent UCS work seems to be drawing widespread public attention to the growing threat. Our recent report When Rising Seas Hit Home, featured on the cover of the summer issue of Catalyst, received extensive coverage in the media: more than 500 stories, including some 200 on radio and television news. The analysis made two appearances on the CNN homepage, Bloomberg used the downloadable data to design maps to complement its coverage, and the analysis was prominently featured in many outlets including Scientific American, Univision, and the Washington Post—drawing more than 121,500 views on the UCS website in July alone.

The main lesson from the report is that hundreds of coastal communities are at risk from rising seas—even without storm surge—and the time to prepare is now. Communities rebuilding in the aftermath of this season’s hurricanes must bear these new risks prominently in mind.

Analysis Reveals Who Benefits Most from Fuel Economy Standards

Fuel economy

Photo: monkeybusinessimages/iStock

Under President Trump, the EPA and the US Department of Transportation have chosen to reopen a review of fuel economy standards that require automakers to produce more fuel-efficient cars. Since the implementation of these standards, all Americans have saved money at the pump. UCS is helping showcase a study by the University of Tennessee that found vehicle efficiency standards benefit low- and middle-income Americans the most, as they save a greater percentage of their income on transportation compared with higher earners.

Improvements in fuel efficiency saved low- to middle-income households an average of 2 percent of their income from 1980 to 2014—a significant amount for millions of Americans. The standards especially help drivers in rural areas who often face longer commutes and higher fuel costs. “When rural Americans can save money on fuel, that matters even more because they may not have access to other forms of transportation besides driving,” says Senior Policy Analyst Josh Goldman.

The current vehicle efficiency standards, if maintained, are forecast to continue saving all American drivers money. Learn how you can help protect the standards.

Announcing: A New Way for All to Stand Up for Science

At UCS, we’ve started a new “Science Champions” initiative to help our members and supporters fight back against attacks on science, public health, and the environment.

Science Champions volunteer to get the word out by engaging with reporters in their communities or calling or meeting with their members of Congress. UCS offers Science Champions all the tools they need to make a difference, including exclusive invitations to join calls with our top scientists and experts at critical moments and learn about the most effective tactics for fighting back.

In the months to come, our Science Champions will be helping to protect vital science programs from crippling budget cuts, and preventing the rollback of progress on vehicle standards, among many other efforts.

So far, the response has exceeded expectations. Our call-in event to kick off the program this summer drew more than 6,000 attendees, demonstrating the pent-up demand among our supporters for ways to take action. More than 2,200 people have now signed up from all 50 states and the number continues to grow.

You don’t have to be a scientist to join the ranks of UCS Science Champions! Sign up now.

A Spate of Successes on the West Coast

This summer, while UCS actively fought rollbacks of safeguards at the federal level, on the West Coast we managed to celebrate victory after victory on clean energy, clean transportation, and emissions reductions. Our work is meaningful even when the goal is defending previous gains, but it’s sweeter when we push hard for new policies and win. Here’s a roundup of the progress we’ve made:

Next Stop: Electric Buses

The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority in July committed to a goal of converting its entire fleet of transit buses to zero-emissions technologies by 2030. Leading up to this decision, UCS conducted an analysis on making public transit greener, coauthored an op-ed on how electric buses contribute to cleaner air and create jobs, testified before the agency, and mobilized our supporters to support the switch.

Cleaner Fuels and Cars for Oregon

After UCS mobilized supporters to attend a summer listening tour conducted by Oregon legislators and prepared them to provide public comments in support of clean transportation, lawmakers passed a transportation package that provides incentives for electric car buyers, and protects the state’s clean fuels program.

Climate Planning Group to Include UCS Science Network Members

In 2016, California adopted AB 2800, a UCS-sponsored bill requiring state agencies to take climate change into account when planning, maintaining, and investing in public infrastructure. The bill also requires the creation of a Climate-Safe Infrastructure Working Group that will make science-based recommendations to the state’s decisionmakers; it was launched over the summer with several UCS-recommended experts on board, including two UCS Science Network members.

New Bills Target Climate, Industrial Emissions

After participating in talks with environmental justice, faith, labor, and business groups, along with Governor Jerry Brown and California legislators, UCS helped pass an extension of the state’s landmark cap-and-trade climate law by a two-thirds vote. The bill (AB 398) went hand in hand with a second bill (AB 617) that strengthens laws and penalties aimed at reducing air pollution from industrial facilities in low-income communities and communities of color.

Breathing Easier on Ozone and Climate Science


Photo: Bill Brooks / Alamy Stock Photo

These days, UCS works overtime to try to avert the worst of the Trump administration’s misguided or ill-considered plans, and we take heart when we succeed in doing so. Two recent developments fit that bill. First, we raised the alarm about EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s plan to delay implementation of a new, stricter 2015 ozone standard (see Gretchen Goldman’s column “Why Is the EPA Delaying the Ozone Rule?” in the summer issue of Catalyst). As the article noted, the new standard was backed by decades of scientific research and the delay would have needlessly and illegally threatened public health.

On August 2, Pruitt reversed his decision to delay the standard. It is unclear whether he heeded our and others’ scientific advice on this subject, or that of his lawyers—his move came after 15 states and the District of Columbia filed lawsuits to stop the delay. Either way, science-based protections from ozone pollution will be allowed to start now for all Americans.

Equally notable, UCS Senior Climate Scientist Brenda Ekwurzel publicized the fact that, in the coming year’s budget, the Trump administration had quietly attempted to eliminate the United States’ $2 million contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—perhaps the single most respected scientific body assessing climate change. UCS encouraged our supporters in Maine and Tennessee to call their Republican senators (Susan Collins and Lamar Alexander, respectively) and urge them to break ranks with their party. They did, and the Senate voted to restore $10 million in funding to both the IPCC and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)—the body responsible for the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

One Fundraising Challenge Met, Another to Come 

The UCS National Advisory Board supports and provides input on our work. Earlier this year, its members—recognizing the increased urgency of protecting science under the Trump administration—pooled their resources and issued a challenge to our members.

For every member who increased their level of giving, the National Advisory Board pledged to match that increase dollar for dollar. We’re pleased to report that this first stage of the challenge was a success: more than 4,500 UCS donors stepped up to take advantage of this offer! 

In the next few months, the National Advisory Board plans to present a new challenge for members, so stay tuned. In the meantime, if you were one of our many generous contributors earlier this year, we thank you.