Remember that massive hole we made in the earth’s ozone layer?
If climate change keeps you awake at night, there’s hope. Remember how we almost destroyed the earth’s ozone layer back in the 1970s and 1980s? Thankfully, we took action and now CNN reports the gaping hole has begun to heal.
Scientists credit the healing to an international policy set nearly three decades ago that cut the production of ozone-destroying chemicals. That agreement — the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer — called for the phase-out of substances including chlorofluorocarbons [CFCs] and halons, once present in refrigerators, aerosol cans and dry cleaning chemicals.
A June 30 article from Science, a scholarly journal, explains:
Scientists found that the hole in the ozone layer had shrunk by 1.5 million square miles, based on their measurements every September since 2000 to 2015. This area is equivalent to 4 million square kilometers, which is bigger than India.
Those of us who’ve gotten used to climate change deniers running the show may also be surprised to learn that back then, the US played a leading role in addressing the ozone layer crisis.
Watch: Now This reports the gaping hole in our ozone layer has shrunk by 1.5 million square miles.
The ozone layer is actually improving https://t.co/2cdnpwtFrz
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) July 1, 2016
In 1973 UC Irvine scientists Frank Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina warned that we were causing damage. The ozone layer surrounds the earth high up in our atmosphere and protects us from harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Then, in 1985, scientists discovered the hole in the ozone layer, and the calls for action reached a fevered pitch.
So what caused this massive ozone depletion? The main culprit was the Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in those cans of hairspray we used to keep those massive 1970s and 1980s do’s aloft.
Luckily for us, even members of the Republican party seemed to accept reality-based facts back then. Plus, our major news outlets did not present daft arguments denying that damage to the ozone layer exists in order to appear “fair and balanced.”
In 1978 a law banning fluorocarbon gasses in aerosol products took effect. Yet consumers and companies were way ahead of Congress. Some of us had already stopped buying and using aerosol sprays. And while some companies fought the ban, others swapped in other types of propellants for their products to reverse the damage. In the five years since scientists first started warning about CFCs in the atmosphere, the volume had dropped from 511 million pounds to 300 million pounds.
Then we signed the Montreal Protocol in 1987, during Ronald Reagan’s Republican administration no less.
Why are we healing the ozone layer while ignoring climate change?
The shrinking hole in the ozone layer is good news for those of us who want to fight climate change because it serves to remind us that our activism does make a difference. Alas, the contrast in our nation’s responses to these crises also reveals the challenges we’re up against.
Scientists first introduced the idea that doubling carbon emissions would raise global temperatures two degrees back in 1967. That’s when Syukuro Manabe and Richard T. Wetherald designed a ground-breaking atmospheric model for the Global Atmospheric Research Program (GARP). In 1971, the Study of Man’s Impact on Climate (SMIC) led by Carroll Wilson and 29 other scientists from 14 countries warned of the danger of climate change caused by human activity.
So why did we respond to warnings about the ozone layer within a decade of the first reports while doing little to nothing about climate change in over four decades? Like a lot of other things that are sick and wrong about America, this likely has a lot to do with big corporations and their profits.
Finding substitutes for CFCs and halons was relatively easy for businesses to do. Reducing — and eventually ending — the use of fossil fuels poses an existential threat to the gas, oil and coal industries. Although they’re investing in clean energy, it’s much harder to charge people for the wind and the sun.