Union of Concerned Scientists

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The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is a nonprofit alliance of more than 100,000 scientists and citizens that works to promote environmental and global security solutions based on sound science. UCS scientists, engineers, and analysts collaborate with colleagues across the country to conduct technical studies on renewable energy options, cleaner cars and trucks, the impacts of and solutions to global warming, the risks of genetically engineered crops, deforestation, invasive species, nuclear power plant safety, missile defense, the security of nuclear material, and other issues. Research results are shared with policy makers, the news media, and the public in order to shape public policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices.

Founding and Finances

UCS was founded in 1969 out of a movement at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where an ad hoc group of faculty and students joined together to protest the misuse of science and technology. They put forth a Faculty Statement—the genesis of UCS—calling for greater emphasis on the application of scientific research to environmental and social problems, rather than military programs.

UCS derives approximately 50 percent of its operating revenue from foundations, 40 percent from membership, and 10 percent from planned giving and other sources. Member and foundation support has grown steadily over the years, and in the early twenty-first century UCS has an operating budget of nearly $10 million. More than 75 percent of the operating budget is applied directly to program work.

Historical Development

In its early work, the UCS focused on nuclear weapons, weapons-related research, and nuclear power plant safety. In April 1969, it released its first report, ABM ABC, criticizing President Nixon's proposed Safeguard anti-ballistic missile system. UCS's ongoing opposition helped build public support for the ABM Treaty, signed by the United States and the Soviet Union in 1972. In 1979, when Three Mile Island Unit II experienced a near meltdown, UCS provided crucial independent information to the media and the public seeking to understand the accident and the risks to neighboring communities.

In the early 1980s, when the Reagan administration proposed a missile defense program called the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), also known as "Star Wars," UCS mobilized swift and sweeping opposition in the scientific community to the SDI program, and analyzed its technical and strategic drawbacks, providing a crucial counterweight to the claims and promises of its proponents.

In 1987, UCS successfully sued the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to strengthen safety enforcement at nuclear power plants. Four years later, UCS forced the shutdown of the Yankee Rowe nuclear plant in Massachusetts due to safety concerns.

UCS kicked off its new climate change campaign in 1990, when 700 members of the National Academy of Sciences signed UCS's Appeal by American Scientists to Prevent Global Warming. In 1992, some 1,700 scientists worldwide, including a majority of Nobel laureates in the sciences, issued the World Scientists' Warning to Humanity. UCS Chair Henry Kendall, a Nobel laureate in physics, wrote and spearheaded the statement, an unprecedented appeal from the world's leading scientists on the destruction of the earth's natural resources.

In 1993, UCS pioneered new analytical techniques to demonstrate the breadth of renewable energy resources in twelve Midwestern states. The attention and commitment to clean energy that the research generated continues into the twenty-first century. UCS also launched a new program the same year, focusing on sustainable agriculture and biotechnology. The program's first report, Perils Amidst the Promise, analyzes the ecological risks of the commercialization of transgenic (genetically engineered) crops. Two years later, in response to grassroots pressure generated by UCS, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency imposed new transgenic crop standards.

The UCS Clean Vehicles program, which was launched in 1991, had a number of major policy victories in the mid- to late-1990s. UCS led the successful campaign to open the market to clean, nonpolluting cars in California in 1996. The state's low-emission vehicle (LEV) standards, which include zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) production requirements, have been adopted by several states in the northeastern United States. In 1998, UCS helped convince California to require SUVs, light trucks, and diesel cars to meet the same tailpipe emissions standards as gasoline cars. Greener SUVs, a 1999 report demonstrating numerous "off the shelf" technologies available to automakers to cost-effectively increase the gas mileage of their cars and trucks, has provided a technical basis for the environmental community's efforts to raise national fuel economy standards.

Success and Shortcomings

UCS has secured some major policy victories in the early twenty-first century. Its 2000 report Countermeasures, which demonstrated that the proposed national missile defense system could be defeated by missiles equipped with simple countermeasures, convinced President Clinton not to deploy the system. In 2001, UCS issued the first-ever analysis of antibiotic use in livestock feed, demonstrating that widespread overuse threatens the efficacy of drugs used in human medicine. And UCS continues to play a key role in shaping California environmental policy; in 2002, the state passed the first global warming emission rules for cars and light trucks, and the nation's strongest renewable energy standard (20% by 2017). The U.S. Senate also passed a 10 percent renewable energy standard in 2002, the first-ever renewable energy legislation of its kind in Congress.

USC's advocacy of forward-thinking solutions on environmental and arms control issues have prompted some national media label to UCS a "liberal" group and has also made it a target of criticism of various groups invested in the status quo. Despite these challenges, UCS has forged relationships with leaders, on both sides of the aisle, who understand that independent scientific analysis has an important role to play in the decisions about public health, safety and the environment.

Since its inception, however, the Union of Concerned Scientists has played an influential role in environmental and security policy development. It has brought independent scientific analysis to pressing issues facing the global society and effectively communicated these findings to the public and policy makers to demonstrate their meanings at the national, regional, and community level. UCS believes scientists can and should play an important role informing public policy choices. As long-time UCS board chair Henry Kendall put it, "If scientists do not speak out, significant opportunities are lost" (Kendall 2000, p. 1).


SEE ALSO Federation of American Scientitsts;Nongovernmental Organizations;Professional Engineering Organizations.


Kendall, Henry W. (2000). A Distant Light: Scientists and Public Policy. New York: AIP Press/Springer.


Union of Concerned Scientists. "History." Available from http://www.ucsusa.org/ucs/about/page.cfm?pageID=767".

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Union of Concerned Scientists