Fall 2012

Newsroom | Catalyst Fall 2012


More Long Hot Summers Ahead?
UCS documents decades of warming in the Midwest

UCS Midwest Office Director Steven Frenkel speaks to reporters about Heat in the Heartland at the Crown Fountain at Millenium Park.

“Hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk” may be a cliché, but Keith Schmitz, a cook at Mickey’s Diner in Minneapolis, proved it true in front of his restaurant last Independence Day, when the temperature hit a record-breaking 101°F. But the country’s brutal summer heat was no joking matter: 22 people died from heat-related illness during a June heat wave in the Northeast, and by July 9, heat had claimed 82 lives across the United States.

As temperatures rise, public health officials face a difficult challenge. In Heat in the Heartland: 60 Years of Warming in the Midwest, the latest report in our “Climate Change and Your Health” series, UCS analyzed six decades of summer weather data for five major urban areas (Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Minneapolis, and St. Louis). The findings show that many Midwesterners are living with more hot and humid summer days (and nights), more heat waves, and fewer cool days that bring relief from the heat.

Older Midwesterners; children; people with cardiac, pulmonary, and kidney diseases; and urban residents are particularly vulnerable to the health risks associated with dangerously hot weather. And as previous UCS reports have emphasized, unchecked global warming could greatly increase the incidence of heat-related illness and death.

It was over 90°F when the report’s authors arrived in Chicago on July 25 to release their findings. Over the next three days, they traveled across the Midwest to meet with reporters, Senate staff, city and state public health and planning departments, newspaper editorial boards, and local groups working on climate change and environmental justice. The authors also led a delegation of medical and public health experts to Washington, DC, in August to speak with officials at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Our report received coverage in each of the featured cities’ major newspapers (including the Chicago Sun-Times and the Detroit Free Press), as well as on local television, public radio, and the NBC Nightly News. We are also working with another organization to have the report used in the Chicago public schools. Now that we have people’s attention, we can bring more pressure to bear on the local and state officials who can implement policies that protect residents from extreme heat and other impacts of global warming.



Monsanto Fails at Healthy Farming
We use science to counter corporate spin

One of our ads in a Washington, DC, subway station

The Monsanto Company, the largest seed company in the world, has spent millions of dollars in advertising to portray itself as an innovator in sustainable agriculture, but the truth is decidedly less impressive. This past summer, as Congress debated the farm bill, UCS ran its own set of ads in Washington, DC, to set the record straight. One ad counters Monsanto’s claim that its seeds can feed the world “while protecting the earth’s natural resources” by showing that the company’s Roundup Ready crops (which have been genetically engineered to survive being sprayed with the company’s Roundup herbicide) have increased herbicide use by an estimated 383 million pounds, spawned an epidemic of herbicide-resistant “superweeds,” and decimated monarch butterfly egg-laying habitat. Other ads refute Monsanto’s claims that its genetically engineered crops produce significantly higher yields and save water.

Monsanto’s marketing muscle has crowded out better alternatives, but you can help turn that around. Join the more than 35,000 UCS members and activists who have shared our ads via e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter, and tell policy makers that farmers and consumers deserve truly sustainable agriculture based on science, not spin. See the ads and spread the word.



Independent Scientists Are Out There
UCS proves Congress wrong

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) scientific advisory committees provide advice to the agency on the safety and efficacy of a wide range of products, from drugs and vaccines to tobacco products and medical devices. Yet recently, more than 100 drug and medical device advisory committee positions (out of 620 total) sat vacant. Some in Congress claimed that it was too difficult to find independent experts to fill them. Influenced by $700 million in industry lobbying, Congress relaxed conflict-of-interest rules for these committees last summer, making it easier for experts with financial ties to the manufacturers to wield undue influence over the approval process.

We knew the government was not looking hard enough—there are thousands of qualified experts in the United States. So with some e-mails to our online Scientist Network, we were able to find enough qualified, independent experts to fill more than half the vacant positions. We helped the scientists prepare their applications and formally nominated 61 to serve on 19 separate FDA committees.

UCS continues to encourage scientists with no conflicts of interest to apply for committee vacancies or replace existing advisors as they step down. Contact the Science Network for more information on how to serve.


Are You Cooler Smarter Than Your Friends?
Test your climate knowledge with our new game

If you’re looking for a fun way to engage your friends and neighbors in combatting climate change, try hosting a Cooler Smarter trivia night. We have created a kit (based on our Boston Globe best-selling book about reducing global warming emissions in our daily lives) that provides all the tools you need to host a successful and inspiring event.

The Cooler Smarter Trivia Kit includes a sample agenda for the evening, five rounds of questions and answers that draw from the book’s findings, and event-planning tips. For example: at the end of the evening, have your guests visit www.CoolerSmarter.org and use our “20 days, 20 ways, 20% less carbon” interactive tool to learn even more helpful strategies for shrinking their carbon footprint.

See why we’re excited about this creative approach to low-carbon living by downloading the Trivia Kit or reading more about the book.



Hope for Clean Energy in California
UCS tracks public utilities’ progress

California leads the nation in clean energy policy: its 2011 Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) broke new ground by requiring all utilities to obtain 33 percent of their electricity sales from clean resources by 2020. Since publicly owned utilities (POUs)—which supply about a quarter of the state’s electricity—had been exempt from an earlier RPS, some wondered whether they could meet the new requirement. 

A solar photovoltaic array in Hopland, CA

Our July report The Clean Energy Race: How Do California’s Public Utilities Measure Up? allayed these concerns by showing that the state’s 10 largest POUs have already made significant voluntary investments in renewable energy. Under the state’s original RPS (which called for 20 percent renewable electricity by 2010), the POUs expanded their portfolios from 4 percent to nearly 19 percent by the end of 2010. However, the degree to which these investments promoted the development of new clean energy resources varied significantly among utilities. Some, for example, relied on short-term contracts with existing facilities in lieu of signing long-term contracts that provide the financial security that new projects need and would actually increase clean energy production.

The Clean Energy Race is the first report to present data on POUs’ energy investments in a standardized and accessible way, and has proven a valuable tool for local clean energy advocates and developers looking to compare utilities. We have also used this analysis to influence the development of new rules for POUs under the RPS, ensuring the standard produces the maximum environmental and economic benefits. These rules could be applied to similar standards around the country.



UCS Empowers Scientists to Fight Back
With new tool for responding to public attacks

As scientific research uncovers new facts about global warming and other environmental and health problems, special interests often attempt to avoid regulation by publicly attacking the scientists who produced the research. These attacks can come in the form of harassing emails, denouncements from politicians, invasive open-records requests, and even personal threats. Thrust into the spotlight by this negative attention, scientists can become an even bigger target depending on how they respond.

UCS has developed a booklet titled Science in an Age of Scrutiny to help scientists whose research is at the center of public policy discussions decide how to handle various types of attacks before they occur, while effectively communicating their research results with policy makers and the public. To that end, we suggest how scientists should distinguish legitimate inquiries from harassment. Knowing whether, when, and where to fight back—and to whom they might turn for help—enables scientists to prepare a compelling response while avoiding critical mistakes. Download the guide.