NASA recently confirmed that the healing of the Earth’s stratospheric ozone layer is a direct result of the Montreal Protocol. The Montreal Protocol was the ban on chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other ozone depleting compounds (ODCs) in 1987.
First, a mini primer on what we are talking about here. Ozone is O3 , or three atoms of oxygen bonded together as a molecule and nothing else. It is highly corrosive and reactive and at nose level it is the main component of smog and is generally a bad thing. But up in the stratosphere, seven to thirty miles up, it is naturally occurring and is a good thing that shields humans and all life on Earth from ultraviolet solar radiation. It is an entirely different issue from global warming, which is all about the layer of gases including water vapor and carbon dioxide that trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere.
In the 1970s three scientists discovered the theoretical potential for ODCs used in things like refrigerants and aerosols were eroding the ozone layer. By the early 1980s, newly launched satellites were confirming their theories. They were awarded the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry for their work.
The Montreal Protocol was an extraordinary and landmark international agreement to phase out a certain class of compounds that affected a much smaller segment of the economy than the broad sector of the economy responsible for carbon-related emissions and other greenhouse gases. Reining in GHGs is admittedly a much tougher task. But the Montreal Protocol shines a light on how it might be done – come together as an international community and make craft a strong, enforceable, equitable agreement that results in real reductions.
Back in the late 1980s my work at Communities for a Better Environment revolved around community right to know laws, public exposure to toxics, establishing L.A.’s curbside recycling program, and helping produce a report on California leaders and laggards in complying with the Montreal Protocol. In retrospect, it is heartening to recall that for the most part, compliance was happening. There were only a few serious laggards and eventually they got on board.
The Montreal Protocol is a great case study in how we as a global community can solve global scale problems if we all get on board and row in the same direction.
Click HERE for the American Geophysical Union study on which NASA based its confirmation.