Summer 2013

Newsroom | Catalyst Summer 2013


A missle on parade in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Is North Korea a Threat?
UCS expert provided facts on missile tests

UCS has been following North Korea’s pursuit of ballistic missiles for two decades. So when the country ratcheted up international tensions in March by threatening missile attacks on its neighbors and the United States, we were well-positioned to help reporters, the public, and even U.S. officials understand what capabilities North Korea does—and does not—have.

David Wright speaks about North Korea's missile capabilities on PBS NewsHour.

We played an important and highly visible role as a trusted source for information on North Korea’s recent attempts to place a small satellite in orbit. Beginning in 2009, those launches used a large, multistage rocket and led to speculation about whether North Korea would eventually be able to place one of its nuclear weapons on a long-range ballistic missile. UCS had the expertise to put this launch—which failed—in the proper context, and shortly afterward, David Wright, co-director of the UCS Global Security Program, co-authored a widely cited technical analysis of the launch vehicle and how its components could be used in a missile.

In April 2012, when North Korea announced it would allow foreign reporters into the country for another launch, major news agencies including CNN, ABC, Fox, the Associated Press, and the Los Angeles Times contacted UCS for background on the country’s missile program and what they should look for during this launch. We wrote a series of posts about it on our blog that received more than 30,000 visits, and we were cited in nearly 2,000 press stories. After the launch—which also failed—David was invited to brief members of Congress, officials in the State Department, and members of the broader Washington policy community.

When North Korea successfully launched a satellite last December, David wrote another series of blogs that again received more than 30,000 visits. We also obtained a copy of a South Korean analysis of the launch vehicle (based on pieces recovered from the sea), which we translated and made publicly available online.

So far, North Korea’s missiles do not represent a threat to the United States, but they could reach as far as Japan. UCS is continuing to monitor the situation and will post our analysis of the latest developments at



Sky’s the Limit for Clean Energy
We show how the grid can handle more renewables

Renewable energy is a reliable but still underutilized source of electricity, according to a report UCS released in April. The good news is that wind and solar power generation in the United States nearly quadrupled from 2007 to 2012, and now provide more than 10 percent of the electricity generated in nine states. However, this expanded production amounts to only 3.6 percent of the national electricity mix.

Ramping Up Renewables shows that we can increase this percentage significantly because the U.S. grid can accommodate much more wind and solar power. Despite the fact that these resources’ output varies based on local conditions, grid operators are already used to making adjustments for constantly changing levels of demand, and for planned and unplanned power plant outages.

A number of strategies are available for incorporating more clean energy into the grid, including: drawing electricity from a broad geographic area to help smooth out supply, improving weather forecasting to better predict wind and solar power output, building new transmission lines, and increasing the use of more flexible hydroelectric and natural gas plants. These strategies, along with strong policies, could make it possible for renewable energy to generate 80 percent of U.S. electricity by 2050, while reducing power plants’ global warming emissions and water use by the same amount.



A Victory in the Amazon
Effective policies slow deforestation

Because tropical deforestation is a major contributor to global warming, UCS has been working for years to build support for a set of policies that will reduce heat-trapping emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (known as REDD+). So we were very encouraged to learn earlier this year that the policies we’ve championed are paying off in the Amazon—the world’s largest expanse of tropical forest.

Three recent datasets all confirm that, compared with the early 2000s, Amazon deforestation has dropped between 20 and 40 percent; most of the credit goes to Brazil, where deforestation is down about 75 percent. That country, supported and incentivized by REDD+ funding from Norway, has achieved this success through strong law enforcement, the creation of protected areas including reserves for the exclusive use of indigenous peoples, and moratoria on the purchase of soybeans and beef produced on deforested land. Brazil has done this while reducing poverty and hunger and sustaining economic growth—even in the soy and beef industries that had previously cleared forest to expand their operations.

UCS will continue to promote REDD+ and show how businesses and consumers can become deforestation-free. Learn more.



UCS Finds Needless Pain at the Pump
Car buyers should consider long-term gas costs

Our report Where Your Gas Money Goes, released in February, found that if you bought a car in 2010 with a fuel economy rating of 22.8 miles per gallon and drove it for 15 years (the lifetime of a typical vehicle), you would spend more than $22,000 on gasoline—just $2,000 less than the average cost of a new 2010 vehicle. Not surprisingly, the majority of this expenditure—66 percent, or nearly $15,000—goes directly to oil companies.

Even if you own shares in these companies, your gasoline purchases do virtually nothing to benefit your stock portfolio: an average driver with $20,000 in ExxonMobil stock would see far less than a penny of growth after spending $1,700 on ExxonMobil gas over the course of a year. Driving a more fuel-efficient vehicle, on the other hand, could save you as much as $11,000 in gas costs over the vehicle’s lifetime, even after paying for fuel-saving technology.

Where Your Gas Money Goes was released on the same day as U.S. Department of Energy data showing Americans are spending the highest percentage of their pre-tax income in 30 years on gasoline, and just a week after ExxonMobil and Chevron posted near-record profits for 2012. Our findings garnered widespread news coverage, including stories in the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and Washington Post, and on NBC’s Today.



UCS staff members met with California scientists, assembly members, and
their staffs at the state capitol for "Climate Science Day" in April.

Starting a Bicoastal Conversation on Climate
We bring experts, decision makers together

This spring, UCS reached out to decision makers on both coasts to discuss the latest science on global warming and best practices for dealing with the impacts of a hotter climate. In California we brought eight climate experts from around the state (most of whom are members of the UCS Science Network) together in Sacramento on April 3 for a “Climate Science Day.” In their meetings with 26 state legislators or their staffs, the scientists emphasized both the seriousness of the climate impacts we face—including water supply disruptions, extreme heat, and wildfires—and the fact that delaying action to reduce heat-trapping emissions increases risk.

Two weeks later, UCS convened 35 city and county planners, emergency managers, sustainability officers, and elected officials from Florida, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Virginia for a day-long roundtable in New York City to share their experiences and lessons learned in recovering from Hurricane Sandy or coping with recurrent coastal flooding—both made worse by rising sea levels. The event included a presentation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ coastal and storm risk management team and a press conference covered by multiple media outlets.

Both events garnered positive feedback from participants, and we look forward to building on these relationships in the months ahead to gain additional support for strong policy solutions. Learn more about how communities can adapt to, and protect against, our changing climate.