CAMBRIDGE, MASS.—In 1969, the Union of Concerned Scientists was formed to combat the perceived threat of the United States military’s spread onto campuses, throughout southeast Asia, and into space. Next week, the organization will again rally faculty and students against a potential threat to their well-being. But this time the danger—the possibility of global warming and its impact on the environment—affects the entire planet.

Officials of the Cambridge, Mass.-based UCS say that the shift from armaments to atmospheric science points to what the organization has always tried to be: an independent, nonprofit advocate of the proper use of technology on a range of issues that rank high on the public’s list of concerns. And it’s hard to argue with success. Although other political activists chide it for having a short attention span and for being unduly influenced by what’s hot, they envy UCS’s political clout. “A lot of what UCS...

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