Union of Concerned Scientists

Joining with citizens across the country, UCS combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

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About Union of Concerned Scientists

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) was formed by students and scientists in 1969 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They believed the U.S. government was misusing and ignoring science in regard to military technologies and environmental problems at home. Their goal was to set the record straight by sharing information, seeking the truth, and to use the scientific method to come to important conclusions. They connect scientists with advocates, educators, and leaders in the business world in order to further science as the voice of reason. Their methods have proved successful: they’ve helped pass countless laws regarding emissions, clean energy, and deforestation. They’ve created powerful networks such as the UCS Science Network, which brings together scientists, economists, and engineers to fight against legislative attacks on science. They’ve produced groundbreaking research on coal and rising sea levels and published an award-winning book which teaches Americans how to cut their emissions by 20% within one year.


Why We Chose to Feature This Organization

Climate change effects are already happening, with stronger heat waves, flooding, and storms taking place across the United States. Too often we see the effects of climate change as a distant problem – one that our children or our children’s children will have to deal with. Indeed, it is crucial that we implement legislation that will curb emissions to stay below 2 degrees warming by 2050-2100. However, work must be done now to address the effects which we are already experiencing.

While most of our featured charities focus mitigating climate change (preventing further damage, reducing emissions, keeping warming below 2 degrees), USC focuses on adaptation (addressing current and expected effects of climate change). As made abundantly clear in 2017, our cities aren’t prepared for the new climate reality. Much of the damage in Houston from Hurricane Harvey could have been prevented. Rapid urban expansion led to developers building in floodplains, and roads and homes were built atop wetlands and prairies. FEMA maps, which give homebuyers an idea of the risks to their home and communities, are rarely updated, thanks to an insufficient budget. In order to avoid another similar scenario, cities susceptible to flooding and hurricanes must be aware of their risk exposure and be fully prepared for future damage. The Union of Concerned Scientists understands the need for action now, making their work critical to our survival.

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Toward Climate Resilience

Climate change adaptation and climate mitigation are closely related. We must adapt by preparing for the effects of climate change that are inevitable and mitigate further damage by reducing emissions and removing carbon from the air. Most of climate research and policymaking focus on mitigation. What is less frequently studied is what investments need to be implemented for adaptation. In this report, UCS provides 15 rules for adaptation policy to be used by decision makers from the local level to the federal level. There are three general themes: science, equity, and common sense ambition.

Science

  1. Consider Projected Climate Conditions: Historical, present, and projected conditions must be considered when updating existing policies and drafting new ones.

  2. Use Systems Thinking: “Systems Thinking” is the ability to see our world as interconnected, and that changing one component can lead to changes further down the line. This must be considered, and the benefits to one component need to be measured against any potential risks to another component.

  3. Match the Scope of Planning to the Magnitude of Projected Change: Severe and swift changes to various landscapes require rapid adaptation. On the flipside, gradual changes to landscapes require a slower adaptation process. By matching the severity with the speed of change, unnecessary high costs can be avoided.

  4. Aim for Robust Decisions and Policies: Policies should have the ability to perform under a variety of possible future conditions.

  5. Create Opportunities to Revise and Change Course: As scientific discoveries and advances are made, policies should be updated.

Equity

  1. Ensure that the Costs of Responding to Climate Change and the Benefits of Resilience-Building are Equitably Shared: Poor and working-class people are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and are less able to cope with the costs associated with recovering from these impacts. Therefore, policies need to work to ensure that these communities are able to cope with damage to their home and receive sufficient support from those in power.

  2. Decide With, Not For: Those that are most at risk should be directly engaged with decision making.

  3. Minimize Harm and Maximize Options: Policymakers need to consider budget trade-offs that do not harm the most vulnerable communities and insure that investments in adaptation can increase their resilience to future risks.

  4. Equip and Empower Local Experts: Local leaders and experts should be trained to interpret and use the vast amount of information, data, and tools available through the government and other online sources. They should learn about to apply the information from these sources to their communities.

  5. Maximize Transparency, Accountability, and Follow-Through: Decision makers should build trust with their constituents by being transparent and accountable, and following through on any plans created.

  6. Weed out Maladaptation, Both Existing and Proposed: Policies that create, sustain, or inflame climate risk must be avoided.

  7. Consider the Costs of Inaction: The costs associated with ignoring adaptation policies must be considered.

  8. Work to Protect What People Cherish: Local plants and wildlife, historical sites, and natural resources have an immeasurable value to communities. They must be protected at all cost.

  9. Reflect a Long-Term Vision: A long-term plan that weighs adaptation options for many decades to come is crucial to helping people accept necessary changes and guide responsible investments in policies and infrastructure.

  10. Appreciate Limits to Adaptation and Push Mitigation: Adaptation is important but mitigating climate change is mission critical.

Surviving and Thriving in the Face of Rising Seas

Many communities on the Eastern and Gulf coasts of the United States are already struggling from the effects of a warming world. Globally, sea levels have risen an average of eight inches since the Industrial Revolution, with most of that rise occurring in the past couple of decades. The East and Gulf coasts have seen it rise even faster. Rising sea levels cause increased tidal flooding, causing the shutdowns of roads and bridges and damaging homes and businesses. Storm surges are also stronger, further increasing the risk of damage to these communities. Adding complexity to the problem is the fact that a number of these communities are already underserved and impoverished. UCS published their report “Surviving and Thriving in the Face of Rising Seas” as framework for discovering which communities were most at risk for damage from climate change both now and in the future. Once these communities were determined, a guideline for how to better prepare for flooding is outlined.

In the report, UCS outlines their tool for identifying what they call “climate equity hotspots”, meaning areas where both socioeconomic risk factors and climate risk factors converge. For their sample, they studied 35 coastal communities along the East and Gulf coasts who are at risk for rising sea levels and increased flooding. To assess climate risk, they used data on seal level rise and tidal flooding projections through 2045. For assessing socioeconomic risk, they used data regarding per-capita income, poverty rates, race/ethnicity, and education level.

What they found in their assessment was that counties on the Gulf coast were most at risk from climate risk, with counties in the mid-Atlantic coast (Virginia to New Jersey) having the second highest risk. The reason their risk is the highest is due to the fact that projections for average sea level rise by 2030 is five inches, while the projections for some of these countries are projected to be between six and twenty inches. In terms of socioeconomic risk, nearly 2/3 of the communities studied had a higher poverty rate than the national average. The most socioeconomically at-risk cities in their study included Miami, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. Overall, they concluded that Orleans Parish, Louisiana is the most vulnerable to climate change. Other Louisiana Parishes such as St. Bernard, Jefferson, and Plaquemines are included in the top list, followed by large urban centers such as Miami-Dade, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Atlantic County, NJ.

Once cities at risk are identified, steps need to be taken to improve their preparedness, infrastructure, and future recovery efforts. As it stands, many disaster relief programs are aimed at aiding homeowners, largely ignoring those who rent or live in social housing. Inadequate evacuation infrastructure often leaves those with mobility issues or ailing health behind. Bureaucratic structures can keep aid money tied up for years – hurting those who don’t have the savings to start over on their own. UCS recommends the following steps be taken to improve preparedness of at risk cities:

  1. Communities most at risk should be the target of funding for preparedness and disaster recovery

  2. Direct investments should be made in transportation, health, energy, and shelter for those most at risk

  3. Federal and state agencies should ensure that affordable housing safety standards are upgraded with climate risks considered

  4. The federal government should make use of the best available mapping, data, and scientific tools available

  5. Funding for climate resilience should be increased by Congress

  6. Existing regulations and policies must be equally implemented for all

  7. Carbon emissions must be cut

While their assessment tool isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, it is a solid starting point to understanding real risks to coastal cities. It allows for citizens and county governments to make informed decisions regarding what steps need to be taken to be resilient to climate change both now and in 10-20 years.

Management

Union of Concerned Scientists

Kenneth Kimmel

President

Experience and Education
  • Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection
  • Law degree from University of California, Los Angeles
  • Bachelor degree from Wesleyan University
Compensation
$284,000

Union of Concerned Scientists

Kathleen Rest

Executive Director

Experience and Education
  • Founding member of the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics
  • Law degree from University of California, Los Angeles
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Health Policy from Boston University
  • Master of Public Administration from University of Arizona
Compensation
$255,000

Union of Concerned Scientists

Cheryl Schaffer

Chief Administrative and Financial Officer

Experience and Education
  • Deputy Director at the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts
  • Master of Labor Relations/Women’s Studies from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Bachelor degree from Hampshire College
Compensation
$221,000

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