The Indicator from Planet Money - The Other Climate Crisis

In the 1980s, a massive hole was discovered in the ozone layer. Since then, economic incentives, innovation, and a historic United Nations conference in Montreal set it on a path to close completely.

  • Play Speed:
Content Keywords: hole kind story Guy

Darren Woods welcome back to the indicator. If you have come to us with a story that you've Co reported with your colleague Kenny Malone also from Planet Money and I got to say it's kind of a hopeful story. It's about the economics of fixing the climate of we have actually solved a climate crisis before so Kenny and I talked to a guy who had sold that crisis. So can you point to the sky and tell us where the hole in the ozone layer was that way south? Is there so like we're about as close as we can possibly get to where the hole in the ozone layer was it supposed to be the whole law says you could get in a munchkin country people yelling at others about not using Aqua Net hairspray or something like that cuz the chemicals might grow the hole in the ozone layer.

Remember that and we don't really talk about it anymore kind of pickups. We solve the problem and one of the big reasons we solve the problem was thanks to economics Global problems and we should be clear. This was not a global warming problem. But from what you just told me, they're actually might be some lessons from this episode in history for had to deal with climate change. So after a quick break, I'm going to let you and Kenny take the story from here.

This message comes from NPR sponsor the Capital One Venture Card right now. You can earn 100,000 bonus miles. You can actually use when you spend $20,000 in your first year in your wallet limited-time offer terms apply see for details Sunrise makes it easy for anyone to invest in high-quality real estate by building you a portfolio with there more than 1 billion dollars in assets get started at indicator to have your first 90 days of advisory fees waived think of the ozone layer as the Earth's beach umbrella. It's this layer of naturally occurring O3 molecule high high up in the stratosphere these ozone molecules protect us from the Sun and without them. We have much higher rates of skin cancer at the start of the show. We were in New Zealand by looking up at the Earth's invisible beach umbrella with the guy.

Guy who helped fix the hole and to get to how he did that. We need to start with a completely different person a scientist all the way over in the UK named Jonathan Shanklin. He is the one who first sounded the alarm from the first Henson all day. So disappearing and just 10 years short on Amazon. Jonathan helped discover this hole in the early 1980s and the primary culprit. It turned out was a group of chemicals. Mostly Under the Umbrella of the name that I never pronounced correctly. I'm going to make you do it take fresh chlorofluorocarbons CFCs of the stuff was made every year to use as an aerosol propellant for bug spray and fire extinguisher is there were also refrigerants in air conditioners and fridges CFCs were seen as this kind of Wonder chemical at the time because they were cheap.

They were non-toxic. They were non-reactive at least get down here on the human plane because when they floated up into the stratosphere, they were reactive and toxic for the ozone molecules as Johnathon shankland discovered. It's really sending a very big message to the world that it is ever. So easy to change our environment in ways that when you don't anticipate using so when Jonathan publish his findings in the mid-1980s, it was like a giant red flag for people to do something about this problem, you know, he was a scientist and he needed politicians to do their thing politicians like Philip Williston. Philip was an environment minister in New Zealand when all of this came to light and because his country was right next door to Antarctica and to that growing hole in the ozone layer. He felt a different kind of agency when he read about this new discovery of coverage because we would have an absolute.

Plague of melanoma and other skin cancer we were right there in the site. It's true. The stakes are high for him. But for the whole world really because if this ozone hole wasn't fixed, but the world was possibly looking at over a hundred thousand additional deaths from melanoma every year by the year 2020 and that's not even taking into account the kinds of damage that the extra strength from the Sun could do to animals and an entire ecosystems really the United Nations took notice and in 1987 convened a huge meeting in Montreal with representatives from all of the world including filling the goal is to get an agreement to phase out those groups of chemicals destroy the ozone which is not an easy task because for one thing they were 200,000 American jobs tied to making CFCs. So that's one problem. But also Philip says

Other reasons they couldn't just declare, you know, like no more CFCs a total ban will bet everything tomorrow. That would have cost lives. You just think if if suddenly all of you Hospital refrigeration system had to put it down in every country that they were trying to work out some kind of phases where in the first year you might cut production by it. I don't know 20% say and then another 20% the next year and so on and so on until the band finally arrived. These are gradual implementations of a regulation and they were going to affect the chemical companies producing this stuff and notably in Montreal at this, you know, un conference the chemical companies were there including American chemical companies like Dupont until it remembers thinking that that Dupont in other American Chemical

What kind of weirdly prochemical phase out on this my suspicion is it would be further down the track to find a substitute that anyone else was that was the case us chemical produces realize that phasing out the old chemicals was good business. If you're also the one making the new chemicals first-mover Advantage classic first-mover Advantage, which means that the other major chemical producers in the world in Europe did not have that Advantage which is one of the reasons why you're up at this conference was sort of dragging its heels with regards to these regulations. In fact, it was holding up the negotiations filled remembers being in a room and the US negotiator with are pushing for more regulations while the European negotiator was stalling and stalling and Philip remembers thinking this whole tree.

Can a fall apart if someone doesn't do something I had no training and diplomacy a tool and die just got pissed off at the end late into the night. They argue about this treaty that could save the world if it's going to be agreed and then finally at 1:30 a.m. The European negotiators like okay fine and agreement is reached and so Philip Williston gets to leave that room as the man who saved the Treaty of bleary-eyed 1:30 in the morning. Activate spend a lot of sleep for the previous 48 Hour of the Montreal protocol as it's now cold is known as this pioneering extraordinarily successful environmental treaty. The ozone hole is closing and is projected to be completely gone by about the year 2060 regulation puts costs on businesses and on consumers for the old way of doing things and it can

Have unintended consequences what the protocol hear the Montreal protocol illustrates this one big thing that could be useful to think about in the fight against climate change. If you make companies see the writing on the wall that real big regulation is coming then something magical starts to happen those companies suddenly get very creative at finding Solutions and becoming a first-mover for a new market and if they don't then a new company will come along and do that clear constraints can spur innovation in New Zealand. We wondered how he felt about his legacy literally helping to save the world three decades ago. You ever come out to your backyard and look South and think

That's that's part of my lights work the fact that there isn't a whole there. It was list of a hole with a little beach bag that tree needs trimming the wick to do beautiful help from Colima. It was fact-checked by Sean. Saldania Paddy Hirsch is our editor and indicator is a production of NPR. What a weird way to say NPR keep it though. Keep it.
Translate the current page