Catalyst Summer 2017

A Crescendo of Activism for Science, Climate, and Justice

Climate march and legislative action week

Left: UCS staff members pushing the “big climate science blackboard” at the People’s Climate March in Washington, DC; right: UCS staff and members of our Science Network meet with Maine Senator Susan Collins (second from left) during our legislative action week in April.
Photos: Audrey Eyring/UCS (left); Yogin Kothari/UCS (right)

This spring, the Union of Concerned Scientists took to the streets, and to Congress. Staff members worked closely with coalition partners to rally attendees for the March for Science and the People’s Climate March, bringing UCS members together with us in an unprecedented amount of activism and legislative action. The results were inspiring.

The March for Science on April 22 was the largest set of demonstrations for science ever held, involving 1 million people in some 600 satellite marches worldwide. UCS turned out a strong presence for the main event in Washington, DC, as well as Albuquerque, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Santa Fe, and many other locations, and recruited more than 800 new Science Network members that day alone.

Equally notable, in the week following the March for Science, UCS organized our largest legislative action initiative ever. Some 35 members of the UCS National Advisory Board and 50 Science Network members participated in more than 75 meetings with members of Congress and their staffs on Capitol Hill, stressing the urgent need for climate action and the importance of basing our governmental decisions on solid science and evidence. We held an equal number of meetings with Republican and Democratic offices; two dozen of which were attended by the members of Congress themselves. As UCS National Advisory Board member Anthony Tindall put it, “UCS really walked the walk in April, showing how important it is to reach out directly to our elected officials on issues that matter. Our initiative on Capitol Hill made me proud to be part of UCS.”

Following the week of legislative action, UCS worked closely with labor and faith groups and communities on the front lines of climate change to help plan the April 29 People’s March for Climate, Jobs, and Justice. UCS organized phone banks to personally contact thousands of our members and supporters, and helped coordinate and underwrite buses that transported some 200 students from historically black colleges and universities to the march in Washington, DC. The event drew an estimated 200,000 marchers on a sweltering day—more than twice the number organizers had hoped for—with many tens of thousands more participating in satellite marches around the country.

UCS Climate Campaign Manager Kate Cell, who led much of the UCS legislative and organizing activity, marvels at the level of commitment and intensity of UCS staff, members, and supporters. Now, she says, “we must keep up the momentum: keep raising our voices, contacting our representatives, growing our movement, and demanding climate action and social justice.”

Ensuring Science Helps Protect Endangered Species


Photo: Alamy Stock Photo

Since 1973, the federal and state agencies responsible for enforcing the Endangered Species Act (ESA) have helped bring dozens of threatened species back from the brink of extinction, including the American bald eagle. The act stipulates that decisions to protect species must be based on the best available science. But this scientific foundation faces a mounting threat as special interests such as oil companies and large landowners push for legislation and administrative changes that would turn endangered species determinations into largely political decisions.

The good news: UCS is fighting back, helping scientists play a key role in safeguarding against abuses. A new UCS toolkit offers advice for scientists and others interested in plant and animal conservation, outlining the processes and agencies involved in listing a species under the ESA. We identify the points in the process where scientists can provide input, and explain how they can identify and speak out against attempts to undermine science. Download it and get started.

Victory at ExxonMobil Shareholder Meeting


Photo: LM Otero/Associated Press

On May 31, in a decisive rebuke to ExxonMobil’s leadership, shareholders at the company’s annual meeting voted by a two-to-one margin to support a proposal calling on the company to report annually on the impact global measures designed to keep climate change below 2°C are having on its business. The vote marked the first time ExxonMobil shareholders have passed a climate-related resolution.

Over the past several years, UCS has been increasing the pressure on ExxonMobil to take climate action, with our climate accountability campaign helping generate visibility and investor support for this vote. In our inaugural Climate Accountability Scorecard released last October, ExxonMobil received an “egregious” score for failing to renounce disinformation about climate science and policy.

“Five years ago, climate wasn’t even on the map for fossil fuel companies or their investors,” Kathy Mulvey, UCS climate accountability campaign manager, explains. Now, she says, disclosure of climate-related financial risks has become a mainstream expectation, and fossil fuel companies are on the defensive. “The ExxonMobil shareholders’ vote is a testament to the tireless work by advocates, scientists, and community leaders to shift the public conversation around climate change and to assert that yes, climate change is happening; yes, it’s getting worse; and yes, companies will get left behind if they don’t pull their heads out of the sand.”

In the week leading up to both the ExxonMobil and Chevron shareholder meetings, Mulvey and the UCS climate accountability team cosponsored an expert panel discussion on climate change and fossil fuel company responsibility that drew a packed house at Rice University in Houston. The panel was moderated by Neal Lane, former science advisor to President Bill Clinton, and included Robert Bullard, often described as the “father of environmental justice,” and Susan Pacheco, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical School. They and other panelists made a forceful case that ExxonMobil and Chevron must act now on climate to serve the interests of their own investors, public health, and environmental justice for communities facing the greatest threat from climate change.

André Droxler, professor of earth science and scholar at Rice University’s Baker Institute in Houston

André Droxler, professor of earth science and scholar at Rice University’s Baker Institute in Houston, speaks during a panel discussion on climate change and fossil fuel company responsibility.
Photo: Kathy Mulvey/UCS

As Mulvey notes, “It’s going to take public pressure to hold these companies accountable. ExxonMobil talks the talk about the Paris climate agreement and carbon pricing, but the company is still lobbying for policies that will lead to three to four degrees of warming, and its own reports show the company gave nearly $2 million to think tanks, advocacy groups, and other industry-affiliated associations that dispute climate science, disparage renewable energy, and block climate policy action.”

Fighting Back against Trump’s Two-for-One Rule

The Union of Concerned Scientists does not go to court often but, in June, we felt compelled to file an “amicus”—or friend-of-the-court—brief in a case brought by a number of nonprofit organizations challenging the Trump administration’s so-called two-for-one executive order. This order requires federal agencies to repeal two regulations for every new one they issue, and requires that the cost of any new regulation be fully offset by the cost savings derived from repealing existing ones.

UCS was moved to weigh in on this legal action because the two-for-one order goes against everything we stand for. The order is profoundly irrational, substituting a slogan for the hard work of government, and willfully requires federal agencies to ignore the best available science—even if it would protect Americans from new threats to their health, safety, or environment. Just think about this: if this order had been in place since the 1970s, we probably wouldn’t have been able to take lead out of gasoline, mandate seat belts, or keep toxic chemicals out of children’s toys.

Already, the executive order is having a detrimental effect. Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency was poised to issue a regulation preventing the discharge of mercury into public sewer systems, but backed off from the rule because it would have had to repeal two other rules.

UCS also believes this executive order is flatly illegal. The organization is fortunate that the venerable Boston law firm Foley Hoag, which has a long history of public service, has agreed to represent us pro bono. Our attorneys have written a compelling brief detailing how the order violates the law, including the argument that it compels federal agencies to take “arbitrary and capricious action.”

Stay tuned. A court hearing on President Trump’s two-for-one executive order will likely be held sometime this summer, with a decision possible as early as this fall.

UCS Helps California Keep the Water Flowing

In California, UCS is increasingly working to address water issues related to climate change. Last fall, the organization played a key role in the passage of a state law creating a voluntary registry to track energy consumption and climate pollution from water use. Now, we are helping California advance sustainable water management systems and government transparency by lending our support to a “water wells” bill (SB 252) that would make basic information about new groundwater wells in critically overdrafted groundwater basins publicly available. The bill recently passed out of committee and now moves to the floor of the state legislature. UCS also joined with the California-based Community Water Center to cohost two daylong workshops that trained local water officials about climate science and groundwater management, which will help the state develop smarter water sustainability plans in the months and years ahead.

UCS Reaches a Teen Audience

UCS members are used to seeing our scientists and analysts quoted in the New York Times, Science,and other prestigious publications. This spring, though, Gretchen Goldman, research director for the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS, authored a piece called “Why Scientific Truth Matters” for a media outlet that has offered a surprisingly fierce voice opposing the Trump administration’s harmful policies: the magazine Teen Vogue. Goldman’s article joins a collection of recent pieces in Teen Vogue that are helping to educate and engage young people—especially young women—in politics, including “Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America,” and “Why We ALL Need to Be Activists Right Now.” In her article, Goldman clearly explains the vital role of science in a functioning democracy. “Today, science is under threat,” Goldman writes. “If we can’t make decisions based on science, we all lose.”