Working to Advance Racial Equity
Why UCS works for racial equity
The short answer is: because we are human beings who believe in justice, and we want our work to reflect that belief.
Here's a longer answer:
Racism is an inescapable reality in the United States. The legacy of white supremacy continues to harm those of us who are African American, Native American, Latinx, or members of other racially marginalized groups. These communities face unjust burdens that include violence, disenfranchisement, economic oppression and exploitation, unequal access to resources such as health care and education, and disproportionate exposure to environmental risks. Many of these burdens intersect directly with the work UCS does.
So, as an organization that works for “a healthy planet and a safer world,” we must address the reality that health and safety are enjoyed unequally across racial lines in our country. Ending these inequities must be an integral part of our mission and our daily work. And a commitment to facing facts means we must be willing to talk about racism explicitly, listen to those who've been hurt by it, and confront it both in the world we seek to change and in our own assumptions and actions.
Racism and science
Science is a powerful tool for solving problems and making people’s lives better. But it has been used to do harm and obstruct progress as well. The story of science’s role in supporting racist oppression is long and shameful, including medical and surgical experiments performed without consent on enslaved African Americans and their descendants, and eugenics theories that inspired Nazi racial ideology and led to tens of thousands of forced sterilizations of African Americans, Native Americans and Latinx people in the US.
Today, racism continues to distort science in important ways, such as the persistence of racist theories of intelligence and the significant gaps in medical knowledge and healthcare outcomes for communities of color driven in large part by decades of research focused primarily on white men. Thus it should come as no surprise that many members of racially marginalized communities regard science and scientists with a well-grounded mistrust.
However, when science is engaged on the side of justice, it can be a crucial, game-changing resource for burdened communities. So it’s vitally important for scientists and their allies to use their expertise to address equity issues and build trustful, equal partnerships with people fighting for justice.
Addressing racial equity in our work
UCS has made it an organizational priority to bring our commitment to racial equity to our advocacy campaigns and projects. We still have a long way to go, but we are learning and improving. Below are some examples of our work and commentary over the past few years where racial equity has been an important focus.
Fenceline communities located near chemical plants, refineries, and other hazardous sites face elevated risks of serious illness and death. And they are likely to be communities of color.
Research & analysis
- Weathering the Storm: Building Community Resilience in Environmental Justice Communities (2018 blog post)
- New EPA Guidance Stands to Increase Hazardous Air Pollutants in Environmental Justice Communities (2018 blog post)
- The EPA’s Proposed Chemical Disaster Rule is a Disaster in the Making (2018 blog post)
- Science and Justice are Indivisible: A Conversation with Robert Bullard (2017 podcast)
- This Is What It’s Like to Live Near a Coal Plant in North Carolina (2017 blog post)
- Hurricane Harvey Magnifies Climate and Petrochemical Toxic Risks for Environmental Justice Communities in Houston (2017 blog post)
- Oil and Gaslighting: The American Petroleum Institute Misses the Mark on Environmental Justice (2017 blog post)
- Dialogue About Risks of Environmental Exposure Begins with Taking Environmental Justice Concerns Seriously (2017 blog post)
- New Bill Puts Environmental Justice Right Where It Belongs: Front and Center (2017 blog post)
- Houston, We Have a Problem: Still Fighting Against Environmental Injustice (2016 blog post)
Climate change is ultimately everybody's problem. But communities of color are often on the front lines, hit "first and worst" by climate impacts such as hurricanes, sea level rise, and extreme heat.
Research & analysis
- Underwater: Rising Seas, Chronic Floods, and the Implications for US Coastal Real Estate (2018 report)
- When Rising Seas Hit Home: Hard Choices Ahead for Hundreds of US Coastal Communities (2017 report)
- Surviving and Thriving in the Face of Rising Seas (2015 report)
- Battered, Betrayed, but Not Beaten: Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria (2018 podcast)
- Why Climate Change and Equity Matter for Infrastructure: An Interview with Chione Flegal of PolicyLink (2018 blog post)
- The Difference Between 4,645 and 64 Deceased in the Aftermath of Hurricane María Is… Science (2018 blog post)
- The Hidden Dangers of Hurricane Florence: Catastrophic Storm Surge and Inland Flooding Threatens Rural and Low-Income Communities (2018 blog post) (en español)
- Living with Rising Seas: Stories from Chronically Flooded Communities (2017 podcast)
- Recovery After Hurricane Harvey: Will There Be Justice for All? (2017 blog post)
- Climate Justice: Why Vulnerable Communities Need Resilience Investments (2015 blog post)
Our food system's failures hit people of color hardest, whether it's lack of access to healthy food, exploitation of food and farm workers, or the erasure of Native American foodways.
Research & analysis
- The Devastating Consequences of Unequal Food Access: The Role of Race and Income in Diabetes (2016 report)
- Fixing Food: Fresh Solutions from Five US Cities (2016 report)
- Why We Can’t Separate Justice and Sustainability in the Food System (2019 blog post)
- On Indigenous People’s Day, a Look at the Movement to Revive Native Foodways and How Western Science Might Support—For a Change (2018 blog post)
- Food Justice: Building Community-Academic Partnerships (2015 forum)
- Healthy Food in Your Community: A Toolkit for Policy Change (2014 activist tool)
In a healthy democracy, marginalized communities could use the political system to overcome inequities—but in the United States, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and other forms of disenfranchisement too often block that path.
Research & analysis
- Building a Healthier Democracy: The Link Between Voting Rights and Environmental Justice (2018 report)
- How Science Can Make Voting Fair (2018 podcast)
- Congress Can Finally Secure Our Right to an Equally Weighted Vote: Here's How (2018 blog post)
- Supreme Court Ignores Science, Enables Voter Purging, But Data May Have Final Say (2018 blog post)
- Virginia’s Gerrymander Is Still Alive—and a Deadly Threat to Environmental Justice (2017 blog post)
Access to science
Whether it's life-or-death issues like gun violence research, more subtle but far-reaching topics like search algorithms, or career opportunities in STEM fields, people of color lack access or face barriers to technical information, resources, and participation.
- The Ethical Question of Autonomous Vehicles (2019 podcast)
- It's Just Code. How Can It Be Biased? (2019 podcast)
- A Dreamer's Tale: Soil Microbes, Climate Change, and Being an Undocumented Scientist (2018 podcast)
- Why the Government Doesn't Research Gun Violence (2018 podcast)
- Tell Secretary Alex Azar : We Need to Demand Equitable Gun Violence Research and Reform (2018 blog post)
- NAACP's MLK Day Initiative Makes Solar More Accessible (2018 blog post)
- The Struggle for a Just Transition of the Crawford Coal Plant in Little Village Continues (2017 blog post)
- Illinois is Expanding Solar Access to Low-Income Communities—But It Didn't Happen Without a Fight (2017 blog post)
Addressing racial equity as an organization
As an organization, we are continually building capacity to advance racial equity as we work to achieve our mission. Part of this effort includes creating an organizational culture that encourages communication and learning around implicit bias, institutional and structural racism, and how these issues play out within our workplace, in the problems we work on, and more widely within US society. All UCS staff receive a basic racial equity training to ensure that we share language and concepts.
In addition, we've redesigned our hiring practices to increase the racial diversity of our candidate pools for open positions.
To promote our mission-driven work, the organization has an innovation fund of $250,000 per year, designated to support competitive proposals from programs or groups of staff to fund racial equity projects. This fund has supported projects such as:
- a learning project designed for our scientists and analysts to better understand how to incorporate racial equity considerations at the beginning of research design
- support for increasing communication about UCS policy priorities and analytics with Latinx organizational and elected leaders in California
- advancing agroecology in tribal colleges and universities; exploring policy options to integrate equity considerations into the design of carbon pricing policies
- measuring the impacts of EVs on low income communities and communities of color
UCS is committed to building an inclusive workplace culture where talented people of widely diverse backgrounds can thrive. We believe that welcoming diverse perspectives will improve our work and produce better societal and environmental outcomes for all, including historically disenfranchised communities. Staff participate in this commitment both internally, in building a welcoming workplace culture, and externally, in ensuring inclusive engagement with supporters, media, vendors, allies and others.