The good news is that ozone depletion can be fixed, and greenhouse gas emissions can be decreased to avoid the effects of global warming. Take the Montreal Protocol, for instance. Though it sounds like the title of a spy thriller, the Montreal Protocol is actually an international agreement to ban worldwide production of CFCs. The total ban on CFCs in developed nations, including the United States, just went into effect in January, while undeveloped countries have a few years’ grace period to catch up. “If the Montreal Protocol is consistently adhered to, CFC levels (and, consequently, UV exposure) will peak at the turn of the century, then gradually subside,” reports Teramura. “By 2050, the ozone layer will be completely restored. In the meantime, people can do a lot to protect themselves from UV radiation, with sunscreen, hats and sunglasses.”
How about that? Just 50 years without CFCs and the ozone layer bounces back, like nothing ever happened!
Unfortunately, consistent adherence the Montreal Protocal is unlikely. Russia has diplomatically annoused that it will have a hard time meeting the Progocol’s timetable. And American industry still has an appetite for CFCs, resulting in a brisk black-market trade. Federal agencies estimate that as much as 30 percent of U.S. demand for CFCs is being met by illegal imports from Russia, India and China. This doesn’t mean the ozone layer won’t ever be restored. As the demand for CFCs dwindles, so will the chemical. But it does mean that ozone depletion won’t peak as early as the turn of the century, and that the ozone layer won’t recover as early as 2050.
Policy decisions about ozone depletion and global warming, after all, are based on the attitudes of policymakers. In America, for example, the environment is just one of many footballs being punted back and forth over the fence across party lines. Both Clinton Democrats and Gingrich Republicans seem more interested in scoring points on each other than winning the game. Environmentalists, however, do worry that the Republican-dominated Congress will be too quick to dismiss the problems of ozone depletion and global warming. Even on an issue as seemingly clear-cut as ozone depletion, conservative attitudes range from skeptical to complete denial, and Republicans briefly reconsidered America’s own adherence to the Montreal Protocol. At its most extreme, the conservative viewpoint can be distressingly at odds with science.
“Perhaps the biggest environmental frauds perpetuated [sic] on us in recent years are the notions that Earth is heating up and that the ozone layer is disappearing because of man’s abuse of the environment,” writes Rush Limbaugh in his 1993 book, See, I Told You So. “It’s a hoax. Listen to the scientists—the experts in their field—not the crackpots who preach doom and gloom.”
Among those Limbaugh would consider crackpots are Dr. Paul Crutzen and his two associates, who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1995 for their work on stratospheric ozone depletion. Fortunately, not all conservatives are as rabid in their skepticism. California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, for example, believes that CFCs do pose a threat to the ozone layer and that we should abide by the Montreal Protocol. This is a good thing, since Rohrabacher is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, under the House Committee on Science. On the other hand Rohrabacher things global warming is “scientific nonsense… unproven… liberal claptrap.”
Such reactions are an almost instinctive reflex in Republicans, says Democratic Rep. Neil Abercrombie: “They are fixated on the free market. Whenever someone talks about ozone depletion or global warming, Republicans reject the science because solving the problem means, to them, placing restrictions on the free market.”
Admittedly, it’s harder to come up with tidy cost-benefit comparisons for global warming remedies than it is for, say, banning CFCs to rebuild the ozone layer. Consequently, it’s harder to say whether government will act to aver the effects of global warming. Right now, 90 percent of the 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide produced every year comes from energy production, and one-fourth of that comes from transportation—two things no one is eager to do without.