David Suzuki: Ozone agreement shows that progress is possible

International leadership based on sound science can lead to great results. For proof, we need only “look up, look way up”, as one of my colleagues at CBC used to say. The ozone layer is no longer shrinking.

Starting in the 1970s, scientists observed a connection between our use of chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, and a weakening of the ozone layer in the stratosphere. High above Earth, ultraviolet light breaks chlorine off the CFC molecule, and chlorine is a potent scavenger of ozone. Stratospheric ozone absorbs ultraviolet radiation, protecting us from the sun’s rays like a giant pair of sunglasses.

CFCs were once used in products ranging from aerosol spray cans to refrigerators. As more of the chemicals were dumped into the air, they began to destroy the ozone layer, creating the potential for dramatic increases in skin cancers and damage to the phytoplankton that form the base of life.

In September 1987, world leaders signed the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. Now, a report written and reviewed by 300 scientists from around the world concludes that phasing out production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances under the Montreal Protocol “has protected the stratospheric ozone layer from much higher levels of depletion.”

It’s not a complete turn-around, but it is good news. The scientists found that global ozone and ozone in the Arctic and Antarctic regions are no longer decreasing but they are not yet increasing either. They also write that “the ozone layer outside the Polar regions is projected to recover to its pre-1980 levels some time before the middle of this century.”

UN Environment Programme executive director Achim Steiner noted that, without the agreement, atmospheric levels of ozone-depleting substances could have increased tenfold, leading to “up to 20 million more cases of skin cancer and 130 million more cases of eye cataracts, not to speak of damage to human immune systems, wildlife and agriculture.”

Interestingly, the scientists and world leaders who worked to protect us from ozone depletion faced many of the same pressures that those working to protect us from climate change now encounter. CFC manufacturers claimed that the science on the dangers of CFCs was “rubbish” and that phasing out CFCs would cost trillions of dollars and would destroy the industry.

As Naomi Oreskes writes in her excellent book Merchants of Doubt, many of the same “experts” show up in the campaigns industry has waged against the science regarding the impacts of tobacco, CFCs, acid rain, and climate change.

If we can succeed in tackling the ozone problem, despite attacks from industry, why is it so difficult to resolve an even greater threat to life on the planet, climate change? One of the scientists who won a Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1995 for his work on the ozone layer has an explanation. Sherwood Rowland says that “arguing which propellant to use was rather trivial to society. One could replace CFCs and still use existing technology. This is quite different from having fossil fuels as our primary energy source for the whole world.”

In other words, the stakes are higher—for industry and society. In many cases, CFCs could be replaced by something as simple and non-polluting as compressed air. And despite the claims of chemical manufacturers, phasing out CFCs did not bankrupt the industry, because these chemicals were only one product among many that the companies produced.

Although some energy companies are working on clean-energy technology, their massive profits come mainly from exploiting ever-dwindling supplies of fossil fuels. And pretty much everyone in the world relies on fossil fuels to some extent. The good news is that in the past two years total worldwide investments in renewable electricity generation were greater than total investments in fossil fuel–based electrical capacity.

The solutions exist, but it will take a lot of effort and political will to make the shift. If we do it right, it will have enormous benefits for human health and economies. But don’t expect the most profitable industry in the history of the universe to get on-board any time soon.

It’s up to all of us to demand change. The Montreal Protocol shows that progress is possible, but we must listen to reason rather than the claims of those who put profits before people.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.



Full Greed Ahead

Oct 26, 2010 at 5:23pm

Got a problem then you got the solution. The biggest problem we are faced with is Capatalisium as an enemy of the earth. Does it have to be? If so is there a way of slowing it down? What about the carbon tax start from the top and work its way to the former middle class? Instead of using the money to give big business tax breaks, the biggest polluters get all the breaks? How about using the money to help find the solutions with R&D, aiding small business in going green, transportation, etc. How about prizes? What about permaculture? Canadians are out of the green loop. I was just having a conversation with a specialist in the area of substanability and permaculture and how Canadians are on full greed ahead as lead around by the media and propably will not figure it out until it is to late. Its not to late is it because that old saying it is never to late does not apply. I hope not.
I wonder what to late would be like? Canada is on full greed ahead and its going to take something major to wake Canadians up. Green specialist talks about other countries and what the countries people are doing to save the planet and then he talks about Canada and gives his head a shake and little children a chance to suceed in future generations. What is success?
A mercedes? A big screen tv? A jet plane? A friend of nature?

Cheers from Gordon

Oct 26, 2010 at 5:46pm

"we must listen to reason rather than the claims of those who put profits before people"

Just when I thought the dsf could not be any more hypocritical. Truly setting new standards in double talk.


Oct 27, 2010 at 2:17am

Climate Change and the ozone problem aren't comparable. As was said, Fixing ozone depletion affected the usage of a handful of chemicals whose removal had almost no effect on peoples lives. Actually taking the level of action required to deal with climate change would require massive cuts to the human population in less than two generations, It would mean the end of air travel for all but the richest few, switching to nearly meat free diets, a huge drop in all but the most basic consumer goods. In short it would mean the destruction of the living standards of most people and it still might not be enough with the time left


Oct 27, 2010 at 8:09am

" ..why is it so difficult to resolve an even greater threat to life on the planet, climate change..."

Because people like Suzuki that claim to believe in climate change but reject nuclear power as a solution are actually a far worse danger to humanity than reasoning progressives's and climate deniers who generally accept the need for nukes.

Here's James Cameron recently

" I’m pro-nuclear, yeah, in this particular context, as a bridge to a fully sustainable future. I think the waste problem is a 500 year horizon, I think the warming problem is a 10 to 15 year horizon. "

10 to 15 years people!!! Then add to that less than ten years for Peak Oil.

Suzuki's DSF and his hack journalist pals over at Pembina with their absurd industry funded natural gas, clean coal, wind and solar solutions couldn't make more than a tiny dint in our GHG emissions in that time frame.

With a World War II effort, in ten years 10000 mass produced nukes could easily with a fraction of our industrial capacity, with the costs covered at a 30% return on investment by replacing fossil fuels, head off the the global warming and peak oil crises.

The three million people that die every year from air pollution will then live and the hundreds of millions sickened will live healthy lives.

The cost of mass produced nukes are a tiny fraction of wind/solar coming in at under 2 cents a kwh based on American NRC approved American engineer build reactors under construction in China with onshore unsubsidized new wind starting at 12 cents and offshore 25 cents. Solar is double that. Wind costs and solar PV have bottomed and are increasing. Solar CSP is an unknown but at a minimum higher than offshore wind.

All the worlds nuclear waste would fill 1% of the Great Pyramid at Giza which has lasted 5000 years. Better we let a billion people die than lose a football field forever ? Worst case because stuff is not waste it is fuel waiting for recycle - enough to power the world for hundreds of years. Whats left is such low level it could be stuffed back in an uranium mine shaft.

The worst possible accident with a post fifties nuke happened at three mile island, the reactor vessel was barely scratched. The IAEA standard for new reactors has a core melt release probability on 1 per million reactor years of operation. The AP-1000 improves that to 1 per 200 million reactor years of operation.

10 to 15 years folks!!!!That's what climate scientists are telling us. Suzuki is a defacto global denier since he doesn't seem to believe them loving his absurd clean coal and not so renewables technology more than the survival of civilization.

The free market will not save the environment

Oct 27, 2010 at 7:53pm

Not a word about the environment from Gordo tonight.

It is odd...

Oct 28, 2010 at 3:36pm

It is odd that all over the province today the public is filled with nothing but disdain for Gordon Campbell... except here on this one authors articles in what most BC Liberals would consider a "left wing" news source.

It seems so unlikely...


Oct 28, 2010 at 5:12pm

What the hell does Gordon Campbell have to do with an international ozone agreement? That's the issue. You people really need to find some other interests.

Good question.

Oct 28, 2010 at 8:05pm

"What the hell does Gordon Campbell have to do with an international ozone agreement?"

The DSF is supporting the Campbell government - a right wing Chicago School of Economics type government out of a philosophy/idea that somehow free market ideals will save the environment - this obviously directly contradicts the public interest in positive change such as improving everyone's ozone layer (where is the profit in that?).

The hypocrisy is stunning.


Oct 30, 2010 at 12:33pm

Ever since Suzuki support Campbell in the last election I can't trust anything he says.


Nov 1, 2010 at 4:00pm

The Straight - "left wing"? C'mon, this is the paper that has supported Sam Sullivan and the NPA and helped Lorne Mayencourt win a seat! Not to mention running columns by global warming denying right winger Maureen Bader and giving lots of ink to fish farm promoter Vivian Krause.