Alex Binkley: We've shown we can succeed

Good news for a change? No! Great news
There is hope for humanity
By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective
Image from NASA.

1 October 2010 — Back in the 1980s before climate change became the dominant environmental issue, the depletion of the ozone layer that protects Earth from being burned to a crisp was the greatest threat to humanity outside of nuclear weapons.

In mid September, the World Meteorological Organization announced that the thinning of the layer has stopped, thanks to a 1987 ban on chlorofluorocarbons, and should be fully restored by mid century.

A few media outlets carried stories about the announcement, usually on an inside page. A pity because the story deserved a lot more attention. For years, depletion of the ozone layer and the dire future we faced if it wasn’t halted made front page news and attracted a lot of attention on radio and television. Back then, the campaign to save the ozone layer sounded like a warm-up act for the debate on the challenge the globe now faces from climate change.

For those good readers whose memory is a bit fuzzy, the ozone layer acts as a protective filter blocking harmful ultra-violet rays from the sun, which can cause sunburn, cataracts and skin cancer as well as damage vegetation. CFCs were used in refrigerators, aerosol sprays and some packing foams. We learned to live without them.

Curing the ozone problem was a lot simpler than reversing the tide of greenhouse gases that are causing the planet to warm up because they come from so many sources and are linked to our way of life and economic prosperity. But without the hysteria that has become the hallmark of the climate change debate, the world came to understand the threat posed by CFCs and agreed to do something about it. It took time and moral suasion but it happened.

Much of the past decade has been a waste of time in terms of making progress on dealing with climate change, for which the alarmists are as much to blame as the deniers. But for the moderate and sensible champions of a rational approach to tackling climate change, the ozone layer story has to be encouraging. It takes times and probably some disasters but humanity can realize when it’s in danger and take action. We found alternatives to CFCs, although they aren’t the final answer because they contribute to the greenhouse gas problems.

The use of petroleum and coal to propel vehicles and generate electricity are obvious areas where we have to improve in a hurry. We also face the challenge of responding to a growing global demand for petroleum as supplies dwindle. Countries need to work on readily accessible technology that will replace them.

But we’ve shown we can succeed.