Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

News on the Environment Isn't Always Bad ; Thanks to a Ban on CFCs, the Ozone Layer Will Soon Mend. It Could Offer a Model for Tackling Climate Change

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

News on the Environment Isn't Always Bad ; Thanks to a Ban on CFCs, the Ozone Layer Will Soon Mend. It Could Offer a Model for Tackling Climate Change

Article excerpt

In the world of environmentalism, things can often seem rather bleak. Rare species from Barrow to Borneo are likely going extinct before they are even discovered. Rain forests are shrinking. Greenhouse gases, it sometimes seems, are turning the atmosphere into a giant toaster oven.

Then came the news late last month: According to Australian scientists, the hole in the ozone layer - a symbol of human environmental destruction so universal that it became the punch line in an Austin Powers movie - will begin closing in three years. Thanks to international efforts to ban certain chemicals, the opening would shut by 2050.

In light of the sense of approaching apocalypse on many conservation issues, this is a success story more common than many people might expect. It highlights a history of progress on some of the most serious environmental problems of the past 30 years - from clean air to panda bears.

The progress is far from complete. Environmental threats are perhaps more varied and widespread than they have ever been. Yet the success in the atmosphere above Antarctica, and improvements in several other areas, suggests that when the global community identifies a problem and unifies behind a solution, it can reverse even the most dire environmental disasters.

The success of some international environmental measures often receives little attention. Indeed, the ozone reforms could provide at least a framework for how to move forward on the first great green issue of the 21st century: climate change.

"It's an untold story," says Daniel Esty, a professor of environmental law at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. "It's a good example that well-designed programs can work."

Closing the ozone gap

Strictly speaking, the news that the ozone layer is on the mend is not a surprise. The timeline fits nicely with the one laid out by the Montreal Protocol, which in 1987 required nations to cut their use of chorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the chemicals causing the problem.

In an unrelated but confusing development this week, American scientists say the ozone hole is currently 88 percent smaller than normal. But that's a function of unusual weather, and scientists expect the hole to expand again.

By contrast, the gradual and human- induced shrinking of the hole reported in the Australian study is permanent, and in that respect, more significant. It is further confirmation of a surprisingly positive global track record on the environment - one that is often lost amid the desire to point out how bad things are, rather than chronicle how much better they have gotten in recent decades.

Environmental improvement

As an example of the nationwide improvement in air quality, experts note that Los Angeles this year enjoyed its third consecutive summer without a single smog alert. (In the 1970s, 80 alerts a year were not unusual. …

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