We can fix global warming.
An absurd claim, you say? Not so! The world has been faced with a similar environmental problem in the past, identified its source, found a solution, and with the cooperation of national governments, the United Nations, corporations and the public, solved it.
Or I should say we’re in the process of solving it. The damage we caused to our planet’s ozone layer between about 1950 and 1990 with the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Like climate change, it can only be repaired over a long period of time.
However, the latest reports indicate that the ozone hole, formerly the size of the continental United States, is no longer growing, but has stabilized and is actually shrinking. It’s expected to close entirely by 2050 or so if we stay on course.
Some would say that climate change/global warming is a much bigger problem, and that, unlike fossil fuels, CFCs – primarily used in refrigeration and aerosol cans – weren’t crucial to our survival.
The stories of ozone and climate change have so many of the same elements, though, that the main difference seems to be one of scale. We could rightly consider the handling of the ozone crisis as practice for solving climate disruption.
In 1974, two independent scientific studies found that a chemical used in refrigerants and cleaning solvents was likely destroying the protective layer of ozone around the earth. Because of the projected damage to human health from increased UV radiation, more research was soon undertaken.
In May 1985, a paper published in Nature announced an “ozone hole” in the Southern Hemisphere, which shook the scientific world.
It wasn’t until 1988 that CFCs were definitively linked to destruction of the ozone layer, but in the meantime scientists alerted Congress and well-organized environmental groups educated the public about the issue. Consumers pushed for banning CFCs in aerosol cans.
The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) played an active role in the international political process, even without definitive proof of causation, and in 1987 representatives of 47 nations signed the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer.
The negotiating process was challenging, and major CFC-producing nations predictably tried to block cutbacks in CFC use.
In 1991, new satellite measurements found the ozone layer was depleting twice as fast as expected over the Northern Hemisphere, and countries were spurred again into action.
UNEP led several more negotiating sessions, strengthening and tightening the original protocol. Some developing countries refused to sign unless an international fund was established to help them with the technological shift to CFC alternatives, and although the U.S. balked, the fund was ultimately created.
By 1996, 157 nations had signed on to the strengthened agreement.
By 2000, world production of CFC gases had fallen from over a million tons to less than 100,000 tons/year, and industry had developed alternatives to CFCs – at much less expense than they had feared.
The global warming story follows a similar trajectory. In the 1960s, scientists were discussing the greenhouse effect caused by excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and in the ‘80s, Dr. James Hansen created and used one of the world’s first climate models to predict most of what has happened in the climate since.
By the 1990s, partially as a result of improved computer models, scientists reached a consensus: greenhouse gases were significantly implicated in most climate changes. And human-caused emissions were causing measurable global warming.
Fossil fuel companies mounted campaigns to cast doubt on the science, confusing the public and delaying action, but as multiple studies have warned that warming is happening even faster than predicted, environmental activists, governments and the United Nations have stepped up efforts to address the issue.
The Paris COP 21 climate conference made great strides in getting international agreement and eliciting promises of action, but much more needs to be done to bring emissions down enough to slow the warming.
Today, we have 97 percent agreement among scientists that global warming is real and human caused, and we have a solution that 98 percent of economists dealing with climate change agree on: putting a price on carbon.
That is, charging fossil fuel companies a fee for the greenhouse gas emissions they’re responsible for. We have all the information we need to act now.
Climate disruption won’t stop overnight. After all, it’s taken more than 100 years for carbon emissions to overheat the Earth.
But we’ve fixed big problems before, and we can fix this one, too. Get cracking, Congress! We can do this. We must do this.
Cher Gilmore lives in Newhall and is a member of the Santa Clarita Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby (www.citizensclimatelobby.org).