Catalyst Spring 2017

In Challenging Times, UCS Supporters Take Action


By Pamela Worth

This winter, in the run-up to the appointment of Scott Pruitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Dr. Genie Moore, a research professor at Vanderbilt University, joined other active Union of Concerned Scientists members working to block Pruitt’s Senate confirmation.  

Pruitt was—and continues to be—an exceptionally poor choice to lead an agency whose mission is to protect America’s air and water. As attorney general in Oklahoma, Pruitt consistently fought EPA measures to reduce global warming emissions and famously sued the EPA more than a dozen times to try to block the agency from enforcing environmental protections. He also accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from fossil fuel companies.

Moore, like a growing number of UCS members—scientists and nonscientists alike—felt strongly enough about the fight over Pruitt’s nomination to step up her involvement.

“Over the years, I’ve sent out a number of emails and made phone calls to my state and US lawmakers. But in the current environment, I’m making many more legislative contacts than I’ve ever made before–usually several every week,” she explains. “This is because environmental issues that I believe should be settled are now under attack.”

As a vote on Pruitt’s nomination neared in January, UCS staff identified key Republican legislators who might be persuaded to break ranks and vote against Pruitt. Then the organization put out the call to UCS supporters and members of the UCS Science Network in these legislators’ districts. The result: nearly 4,000 UCS members called legislative offices; hundreds of scientists in Maine, Ohio, and Tennessee signed letters registering their opposition to Pruitt’s confirmation;  and hundreds more called legislative offices. Some members, including Moore, accompanied UCS staff to deliver their letters to legislators’ offices.

For her part, Moore joined a group of Science Network members and others to hand-deliver petitions opposing Pruitt’s nomination to Tennessee Senator Bob Corker’s office in Nashville. “I had never been,” she says. “I didn't even know where the office was.” She and her UCS group managed to get an audience with the senator’s staff. They were not able to dissuade Corker from supporting Pruitt’s nomination, but Moore is undeterred and even felt emboldened by the visit. As clean air and water continue to be threatened, she says, she’ll go again.

“I live in a very red district and state and environmental issues are not high on the list of most politicians here,” Moore explains. “But I am not going to stop. They are going to continue to hear from me several times a week on issues that touch on the environment or other causes I am concerned with.”

Energized Membership


Today, with climate science deniers occupying powerful positions among our political leadership, proposing cuts to the EPA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other agencies, stoking fear among federal scientists, and rolling back science-based protections to our health and safety, UCS members are taking action as never before. “We’re seeing a definite uptick in actions by our members,” says Danielle Fox, campaign and Science Network manager for UCS. “Pruitt may have won his confirmation battle, but momentum is on our side. It’s important for legislators to know when their constituents aren’t happy, and we’ve got a growing number of members determined to do all they can to hold our elected officials accountable.”

Indeed, with federal protections for the environment, public health, and safety in danger, UCS is stepping up its political strategy to include more in-person visits to elected officials.

“Our supporters are increasingly meeting legislators where they live,” says Fox. “Constituents who care about an issue can really make a difference when they meet directly with their representatives and explain the local impacts of legislation around that issue.”

Signs of an increasingly energized UCS membership abound: as Catalyst went to press, we had already mobilized record numbers of UCS members to participate in the People’s Climate March and arranged for Science Network members from target states to meet with their elected officials on Capitol Hill while they were in Washington, DC. And we’ve seen increased engagement not just on federal issues but on state and local ones too. For example, after abnormal winter weather in the Golden State dumped much-needed rain and filled in Northern California’s dangerously depleted snowpack, UCS recognized that media coverage of water conditions in the state would likely focus on the short-term effect of storms but neglect to explain the longer-term effects of climate change. Staff in our West Coast office reached out to California members, asking them to write to their local papers and request better coverage of water supply and climate change. Nearly 100 members rose to the challenge, writing letters to the editor and submitting them to 47 separate newspapers in the state; several of the letters were published.

How to Get Scientists Fired Up

A key UCS mechanism for political engagement in the scientific community is our Science Network, comprising more than 20,000 experts in fields ranging from public health to physics. UCS mobilizes Science Network members to use their expertise in ways that make a difference: delivering testimony to their representatives, signing on to expert letters to elected officials, conducting research and environmental impact assessments for community groups, serving on federal advisory committees, and more.

Over the winter, many new—and newly energized—Science Network members reached out to UCS to ask if there was more they could do to help defend science. It turns out there was.

“In response to the current political environment,” says Fox, “we’re committed to monitoring, exposing, and pushing back on attempts to stifle scientific integrity and dismantle scientific protections. We realize that we’re just one organization. And we know the job will require the help of scientists across the country.”

Get Involved

UCS has developed a variety of tools to help both scientists and non-scientists fight back against abuses of science.

Enter the Science Network watchdogging campaign. As of this writing, more than 500 scientists and other experts across the country have volunteered to be watchdogs for science, monitoring the current administration and its efforts to suppress, distort, or deny facts and evidence. These Science Network watchdogs participate in monthly conference calls briefing them on the latest news from Washington, DC, and their own communities. They receive customized information on events, legislation, and other opportunities for them to take local action.

So far, the Science Network watchdogs are gearing up to push back against rollbacks on regulations, write letters to the editors in their towns and cities, and meet with legislators to share their expertise. SEe our resources for watchdogs and all Science Network members, including a watchdog toolkit for download.

“The goal is to keep our science watchdogs—and all our activists—informed but not overwhelmed,” says Fox. “It can be hard to sort through what’s real, what’s actually harmful, what’s immediate, and where you can make a difference. We try to do that for you.”

A Role for All UCS Members

UCS has developed a variety of tools to help both scientists and non-scientists fight back against abuses of science.

Over the course of the nearly 50 years since UCS was founded, the organization has recognized that our success rests on combining science and technical analysis with advocacy, and strength in numbers to develop and implement solutions that improve the world we live in. This strategy has allowed UCS to operate successfully in all kinds of political climates. Throughout, we’ve always encouraged our supporters to speak up about issues that matter.

UCS Donors Go the Distance

Herr sisters

Alex Herr (right), is hiking the White Mountains with her sister, Sage, to raise funds for UCS.
Photo: Patricia Herr

UCS has welcomed thousands of new supporters since the election and we’re grateful to our members, new and old. We’re also honored and delighted to learn about some original approaches our supporters have used recently to take action and to raise funds for the fights at hand.

The surge in new and often-unconventional ways people have found to support UCS is unprecedented. UCS supporters have created their own matching-gift drives, for example, working with their employers and Facebook pages in some cases to triple the size of their donations. Some have tweeted out their support of UCS and encouraged others to join them. Other UCS enthusiasts have brought friends, family, and colleagues together for bake sales and other events, sold handcrafted jewelry, dedicated a portion of their book proceeds to UCS—and even climbed mountains for us.

Patricia Herr and her two daughters, Alexandra, 13, and Sage, 11, are ardent all-season hikers who live in New Hampshire. Alex and Sage are well known among mountaineering and hiking communities for tackling difficult peaks with the tenacity of adults; each began hiking at four or five years old. Winters in the Granite State are cold and snowy, but this hasn’t stopped the three from pursuing their goal of completing the White Mountains Grid: hiking to the summits of each of the 48 White Mountain peaks in every month of the year (that’s 576 summit hikes). They’ve used their hikes to raise funds for causes they care about. After the last election, the Herrs decided to use their White Mountains Grid goal to fundraise for UCS.

On Alex’s blog, where she chronicles the family’s hikes and encourages readers to support UCS, she wrote this:

I am in love with Earth's mountains and wildlife, so the thought of pollution and extinction, caused by climate change, is frightening. I often wonder if my children will see the same kinds of immaculate sights I see now. I also wonder if the precious White Mountains will still be protected when I am older, or if people will have disrupted the tranquility and beauty of the trails, mountains, and animals.

We strive to do our part to support science-based research and education concerning climate change. . . . As a young person, I am concerned about the future of my generation heading into this new era.

Thanks to Alex and to all the UCS donors who are going above and beyond to help us face the challenges of the current political environment. Learn more about the Herr family’s adventures.