Finally, some good news about the environment: The giant hole in Earth’s ozone layer is shrinking.
It was in the 1970s that scientists first realized chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) had worn the ozone layer thin above Antarctica. Studies have shown that, left unchecked, ozone destruction could cause higher rates of skin cancer, disrupt plant growth and destabilize the aquatic food chain thanks to an increase in harmful ultraviolet rays.
Fortunately, the world’s policymakers were proactive about environmental problems back then. Leaders agreed in 1987 to the Montreal Protocol, which phased out CFCs.
- Washington-Post, 11th Sep 2014
This is something for you to think about.
Scientists during the 1970s did some studies and worked out that the ozone layer, which protects the earth from a lot of ultraviolet rays, was being destroyed due to the release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) acting as a catalyst which converted O3 (ozone) into O2 (oxygen).
The way that the ozone layer works is that ultraviolet light which is of a higher energy level than other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, strikes ozone and converts it into oxygen. This is useful because instead of UV light hitting the earth and causing damage to plants' and animals' cells, it doesn't usually get any further than the upper atmosphere. CFCs in acting as a catalyst, sped up that process and made it more efficient, with means that more UV light will strike the earth to do said damage.
In this case, the science was perfectly understood and so we sent up some satellites monitor the problem. By about 1985, we'd released that it was really really serious and so legislation was passed all over the world in response to the Montreal Protocol of 1987, to ban CFC production.
The Washington-Post's article basically tells us that the decisions taken almost thirty years ago have had some effect. Mind you, it's taken thirty years for that to happen. Let me re-state that - THIRTY years.
In the mid 1960s the pesticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) was found to be a cancer causing agent and a threat to bird life and livestock and so in the 1970s, legislation was passed all over the world to ban the production of DDT.
In response to London's Great Smog of 1952, which probably directly caused the deaths of about 8000 people and which brought the transport network to a halt, the UK Government passed the Clean Air Act 1956 which introduced 'smoke control areas' and caused the closure of some coal fired power stations in the centre of metropolitan areas.
CFCs, DDT; smog. These are obvious examples of where environmental damage has either been reversed or repaired as a direct result of legislation being passed. Governments through punitive measures, change the behaviour of people and firms, to produce better environmental outcomes.
Now consider this:
In the fourth paragraph of Wilson's article, he quoted Abbott as saying, "The argument is absolute crap. However, the politics of this are tough for us. Eighty per cent of people believe climate change is a real and present danger."
- The Australian, 12th Dec 2009
The President of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim has issued a warning on the impact of climate change, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that the course we are headed on is close to being irreversible; yet the current Liberal/National Government, made its first priority upon being elected to abolish the carbon tax.
Mr Abbott once said that it was pointless that Australia do anything about climate change unless China did something. In the meantime, China has set up world’s second-largest carbon trading network and now trades emissions permits equivalent to 1.1 billion tonnes of carbon per year. Even if it proves difficult to change Chinese business attitudes when it comes to carbon emissions, the fact that Xi Jinping's government has been pushing a national emissions trading scheme as hard as it can, means that if and when change does come, it will come like a silent wind.
Curiously the reason why anyone even cares about CO2 emissions is largely because of the Soviet Union's unmanned Venera probes which were launched in the 1960s and 1970s, were sent to measure things like temperatures and pressures on Venus. It wasn't until we sent probes to another world that we realised that CO2 and other greenhouse gases might be a problem on our own world but again, here we are thirty years later without very much being done to fix the problem.
The "greenhouse effect" had been postulated as early as 1824 by French scientist Joseph Fourier and in 1896, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius calculated the effect of a doubling atmospheric carbon dioxide would have the effect of increasing surface temperatures on Earth by about 5° or 6°C.
I can't verify this but as early as 1917, Alexander Graham Bell¹ (the inventor of the telephone) wrote that the "unchecked burning of fossil fuels would lead to a 'sort of greenhouse effect' and global warming".
If climate change and global warming (which has been looked at scientifically not for more than a century) is in fact the "the great moral challenge of our generation" then the only real way to make amoral organisations address the issue is through legislation.
If we passed legislation concerning issues like ozone, CFCs, DDT and smog, then why is it beyond us to address climate change and global warming?
Maybe it is because the time frame required to see real change is thirty years and legislatures are only thinking in lots of three.