Failure of a lobby

Sherwood Rowland, one of the scientists responsible for discovering that CFCs were destroying the ozone layer and fixing the problem, has died. Realclimate has a good write-up, as does Eli Rabett, who makes the excellent point that we needed to invent quite a bit of the chemistry involved before we could discover there was a problem. Perhaps more telling is this NASA web page, which describes the output from the Goddard Space Flight Centre’s Chemistry-Climate Model given inputs corresponding to a world that kept using the stuff. It’s either utterly terrifying, or enormously inspiring, depending on how you look at it. Rowland, Paul Crutzen, the British Antarctic Survey people who did the fieldwork…they essentially saved the world.

But what really interests me was how they got the Vienna and Montreal protocols passed. I had the vague impression that something had changed since 1989, that the ex-tobacco industry unscience industry was only cranked up later to bash the climatologists. In fact, I’m wrong. A comment at Realclimate points out that they were indeed targeted by the usual suspects. Rowland was accused of being a KGB agent trying to destroy capitalism.

Jeff Masters of Wunderground has a really handy rundown of the pushback campaign against the ozone scientists, who were subjected to direct smears as above, plus a barrage of general-purposes PR, psuedo-scientific doubt-mongering, all with the assistance of Hill & Knowlton, Tom DeLay (for it is he) and (interestingly) some of the same characters who turn up both in Big Baccy and later on in the climate wars.

But here’s the interesting question, though. In the case of CFCs, it didn’t work. Thatcher’s late swing towards environmental issues is fairly well known, and prime ministers are certain of ratifying treaties they sign. Something must have induced Reagan to sign and Congress to ratify, though. Did the CFC makers just not give it one more heave, a few more millions?


  1. Barry Freed

    Here’s a thought, maybe someone should do a bang-up documentary film detailing everything you’ve laid out in this post. Show the real drama involved, how humanity came almost to the very brink of extinction – just as if a Tunguska x 1,000 had hit us, and there are the heroes who discovered our plight, who fought to gain the knowledge and then fought the good fight against such and such villains and such and such propaganda assault to enact the policies that saved humanity’s collective ass. And maybe not mention a thing about global warming throughtout the entire film. Just put it out there: this is how we almost finally snuffed it and this is how they saved the world. Maybe gives a sense of “This has all happened before…” Be nice to see something like that on PBS’s Frontline at least, an Academy award nominated or winning movie better yet. Just a thought.




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