Catalyst Fall 2015


Climate Deception Report Helps Spur Action

This summer’s publication of The Climate Deception Dossiers, the first major report in the Union of Concerned Scientists' climate accountability campaign, made headlines by publishing internal memos from the major fossil fuel companies that offer incontrovertible evidence that the companies were fully aware of climate science from as early as 1981 and yet still actively and knowingly worked to deceive the public about it. The report drew responses from five of the six fossil fuel companies targeted and helped spur one company—Shell—to take action

In August, shortly after the report’s publication, Shell announced that it will not renew its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an industry-funded group that influences policy makers to block or weaken important climate policies. UCS had urged the company to leave ALEC for more than a year, had met with Shell employees, and, working with partners, had sent the company more than 130,000 emails from scientists and citizens urging the move. As Angela Anderson, director of the UCS Climate and Energy Program, noted in our press release on Shell’s decision: “If other fossil fuel companies want to be taken seriously when they say they support action on climate change, they should do the same.” Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Peabody Coal still support ALEC while BP, ConocoPhillips, and Occidental Petroleum have all left the organization in recent months.

The Climate Deception Dossiers, and many of its accompanying materials, grabbed public attention. The video related to the report, for example, has been viewed more than 254,000 times on Facebook. The report’s release garnered strong traditional and social media coverage, with more than 70 news articles, including one in The Guardian that was shared more than 134,000 times on Facebook and ranked #1 on Reddit on the day of the report’s release with a potential reach of roughly 1 million readers.

The report and media accounts about it have helped spur an emerging conversation about the issue. Inside Climate News has surfaced revealing new details about ExxonMobil’s role. And some are already calling for prosecuting the major fossil fuel companies on racketeering charges.

Discoverer of Other Worlds Aims to Protect This One

In a gratifying development, William Borucki, the principal investigator of NASA’s Kepler mission, is generously donating $100,000 of the proceeds from his 2015 Shaw Prize in astronomy to the UCS to support the organization’s work addressing climate change. The Shaw Prize, awarded in astronomy, life science, medicine, and mathematics, is considered among the most prestigious honors in those fields. Borucki won the prize for his Kepler work, which has resulted in the discovery of more than 1,000 planets outside the solar system.

“I’ve spent a large portion of my career searching for other worlds,” Borucki says. “What we’ve found has underscored how important it is to protect this one. While we can detect other worlds, we cannot go to them. Our future is here on Earth and we can do much more to ensure that our planet’s climate remains hospitable.”

Borucki spent his scientific career in public service at NASA, starting with the Apollo missions in 1962, and retired in July. He holds degrees in meteorology and physics from California State University–San Jose and the University of Wisconsin, respectively.

Pushing Starbucks, Avon, and Clorox on Deforestation

A UCS-led social media campaign spurred 200,000 supporters to petition Starbucks to go deforestation-free, successfully pressuring the company to open negotiations with UCS. The coffee giant is now in discussions with UCS about deforestation-free sourcing for not just palm oil but also all wood, paper, soy, and cattle (e.g., beef, leather) products. The meetings with Starbucks come on the heels of successful negotiations with cosmetics giant Avon, which strengthened its palm oil policy this summer under pressure from UCS, as well as an agreement from Clorox, owner of Burt’s Bees and Green Works, to develop the company’s first deforestation-free sourcing commitment for palm oil.

Equally important, UCS convinced Singapore-based First Resources, one of the largest palm oil producers in Indonesia, to create a policy that would prevent deforestation and rights abuses in their own operations. Miriam Swaffer, UCS corporate policy advocate on tropical forests, negotiated with First Resources personally at the company’s headquarters.

As Swaffer explains, UCS seeks to end tropical deforestation not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because oil palm forests represent an obvious target for reducing carbon emissions. Deforestation related to palm oil production has, in recent years, accounted for roughly 10 percent of global warming emissions.

Catalyst Expands

As longtime Catalyst readers will notice, this issue is longer than usual. To bring members the fullest and richest account of all the exciting work the UCS is undertaking these days, we’ve decided to retire our newsletter Earthwise in favor of a significantly expanded Catalyst, adding pages and moving to a quarterly schedule from three issues a year. Members will also receive a special year-end mailing highlighting the year’s top accomplishments.

Let us know what you think. Our members and supporters are a vital part of our efforts at UCS and, as we expand our work on many fronts, we want to keep you informed—and enlist your help—in the best way possible. You can also visit our Action Center to sign up for our monthly email newsletter and action alerts.

Proposed Nutrition Label Follows the Science on Sugar

In a major win for science and public health this summer, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concurred with the position taken by more than 23,000 UCS members and supporters and endorsed a proposed revision to the Nutrition Facts label that appears on roughly 700,000 packaged food items. The new label will give consumers more information about sugar hidden in their food, by specifying the amount of “added sugar” in a product (i.e., the sugar that does not naturally occur in a product’s other ingredients) as well as the percentage of an adult’s recommended daily intake of sugar this added sugar represents.

The FDA’s proposed label is a win for science because, counter to the misinformation put out by the sugar lobby, the scientific evidence is strong that consuming too much sugar contributes to diseases affecting millions of Americans—diseases much worse than tooth decay. The proposal withstood pressure from the powerful packaged-food industry’s lobbyists and adhered to the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, an independent body of experts tasked with reviewing the scientific research and helping the U.S. government develop its 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The committee’s report earlier this year found evidence of an association between high added-sugar consumption—especially in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages—and tooth decay, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

“This is how policy should work—agencies listening to scientists and relying on the best available research to make smart policies,” says Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “By setting a daily limit for added sugar, the FDA is acting in the public interest.”

The proposed label is also a win for public health because Americans remain remarkably uninformed about the health dangers of excessive sugar intake and even about how much sugar they are already consuming: an average of more than 19 teaspoons of sugar each day. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that an estimated 74 percent of all packaged foods contain added sugar, including many “unsweet” products such as soups, salad dressings, and crackers.

As UCS documented in two 2014 reports—Added Sugar, Subtracted Science and Sugar-coating Science—the sugar and packaged-food industries have actively worked to confuse the American public both about the amount of sugar in products and the science linking sugar intake to obesity and disease. With the period for public comments on the FDA’s proposed label ending in October, UCS will be doing everything we can to make the truth known and ensure the label gets finalized swiftly and with its provisions intact.

UCS Helps Secure Support for Iran Deal

Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz (left) speaks at a September 2015 press conference about the Iran nuclear deal, along with Illinois Representative Bill Foster (center) and UCS board member Richard Garwin (right).

The recently finalized nuclear deal with Iran, which lifts international sanctions on the country in exchange for strict limits on its nuclear program for at least the next decade, was overwhelmingly supported by scientists with expertise in nuclear weapons technology and policy. UCS helped get this message out.

Most notably, UCS board member Richard L. Garwin, a physicist who helped design the world’s first hydrogen bomb and has long advised Washington on nuclear issues, wrote an influential public letter in August—praising the deal as innovative and stringent—that was endorsed by 32 of the nation’s top scientists and nuclear experts. Lisbeth Gronlund and David Wright, co-directors of the UCS Global Security Program, signed the letter and UCS helped circulate it to scientists and publicize it.

Later that month, Gronlund and Wright also voiced their support for the deal in a separate letter signed by 70 security experts. “The Iran deal includes many innovative and important provisions,” says Wright, “but it is also detailed and complex, running to more than 150 pages. The endorsement by independent experts really mattered in this case.”

For more on the important role scientists played in the Iran deal, see UCS President Ken Kimmell’s blog post.

UCS Ranks among the Most Influential Climate Groups

For the past three years, the Venice, Italy-based International Center for Climate Governance (ICCG) has issued a science-based ranking of the world’s most influential “think tanks” on climate and energy policy, and UCS has made it into the top 10. Notably, the ICCG bases its rankings on an analysis of various statistical data, including output of articles, books, and reports; Web traffic; and citations in social media, weighted according to the organization’s size. Only organizations unaffiliated with government or academic institutions are considered.

This year, UCS ranked tenth in influence out of 244 organizations studied worldwide.