Catalyst Fall 2013


Fighting Fire with Facts

Against the backdrop of wildfires raging across the western United States, California State Senator Carol Liu opened a community forum on fire risk she co-sponsored with UCS on June 28 in Pasadena. The 100 attendees first heard State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones describe how the insurance industry is threatened due to its high-value investments in areas prone to wildfire; he then called for planning, zoning, and building decisions that take climate change into account. Three expert-led panels discussed climate science, insurance, and emergency management. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Chief Ken Pimlott concluded the forum by outlining the recent increase in fire season length and intensity, and making a strong plea for preparedness.

The forum was covered by multiple newspapers in Senator Liu’s district (including several Chinese-language papers), and the local National Public Radio affiliate interviewed Commissioner Jones. UCS strengthened and established relationships with key decision makers that we will leverage to secure strong climate action in California.

UCS Food Expert Recognized

On October 21, the James Beard Foundation honored Ricardo Salvador, UCS senior scientist and director of our Food and Environment Program, with one of its 2013 Leadership Awards. The foundation, named after the late chef who championed America’s diverse culinary heritage, presents its Leadership Awards to individuals who, in the words of President Susan Ungaro, “are on the front lines of innovation and education . . . to make our food system a safer one.”

Ricardo has spent his career working to improve agriculture, combining a deep commitment to an equitable food system with creative vision, academic research, and community engagement focused on healthy food and farm policies. Since joining UCS in March 2012, he has strengthened our efforts to raise awareness of the links between food, farms, and public health, and highlight the perverse economic incentives built into our nation’s agricultural policies. For a prime example, read Ricardo’s “Final Analysis.”

Time to Get (Water) Smart about Electricity

U.S. power plants depend on vast volumes of water to cool their turbines. So when heat waves and drought in 2011 and 2012 forced plants around the country to reduce output or shut down due to water limitations, it became clear that the risks to our electricity system will only grow as our climate warms.

With many power plants nearing retirement, we have a tremendous opportunity to build a more resilient power sector. The new UCS report Water-Smart Power explores how different electricity choices can greatly reduce—or exacerbate—the power sector’s water and climate risks. By shifting to renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies, for example, we can cut power plant water consumption in half by 2025 and 85 percent by mid-century. Since the report’s release in July, UCS has shared these findings with decision makers around the country, including the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, and regulators and legislators in Alabama and Georgia.

White House Honors UCS Board Member

On November 20, President Obama will present the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mario Molina, a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California–San Diego and longtime member of the UCS board of directors. Dr. Molina  and 15 other individuals will receive the nation’s highest civilian honor in a ceremony at the White House.

Already a winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his role in discovering that the chlorofluorocarbons used in refrigerants and aerosols were damaging Earth’s ozone layer, Dr. Molina said he was “stunned” by this latest honor. “The Nobel is given for work that you do in your field,” he explained. “But the Presidential Medal of Freedom is given for people who are thought to have had an impact on society. This is really an incentive to keep working on the issues that I have been involved with, including climate change.”

A Summertime Challenge Met

We want to thank the thousands of UCS members who made our Summer Matching Gift Challenge a success.

In June, a group of generous supporters gave other members the opportunity to double the impact of their gifts by offering to match donations dollar for dollar up to a total of $125,000. UCS members exceeded this goal, with donations totaling more than $150,000.

Combined, these contributions provide an infusion of more than $275,000 to devote to our most urgent priorities: mobilizing scientists to stand up for rigorous climate change research, working to finalize stringent new auto pollution standards, transforming the ways we grow food, and securing policies that will help cut our projected oil use in half by 2020. Your generosity helps make a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable future possible.