How to stop the climate crisis: six lessons from the campaign that saved the ozone

(The Guardian, 20 Jan 2019) Thirty years ago, all 197 countries got together to ban the gases damaging the Earth’s ozone layer. Now we need to unite to combat an even greater threat. What can we learn from 1989?

Amid the anti-globalist chest-thumping of Brexit, Donald Trump, and the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, it may sound like the stuff of folklore. But there was a time in the recent past when all the countries of the world moved quickly to discuss a common threat, agreed an ambitious plan of action and made it work.

The Montreal protocol, which came into effect 30 years ago, was drawn up to address the alarming thinning of the ozone layer in the Earth’s stratosphere. It was the first agreement in the history of the United Nations to be ratified by all 197 countries. Since it came into effect on 1 January 1989, more than 99% of the gases responsible for the problem have been eradicated and the “ozone hole” – which, in the late 80s, vied for headline space with the cold war, Diana, Princess of Wales, and Madonna – is receding in the sky and the memory.

According to the latest UN study, the “ozone holes” (there are actually two: one above each pole) are healing at the rate of 1% to 3% a decade and will have completely vanished in the northern hemisphere by the 2030s and the southern hemisphere by the 2060s. This is cause for back-slapping, but also frustration that the world has not been able to unite as effectively over the climate and biodiversity crises. Here are half a dozen lessons.

Imagery and language matter

The satellite animation of the changing atmosphere over the Antarctic first shown in 1985 appeared to show a growing “ozone hole”. This was a scientifically imprecise description of the thinning that was concentrated at both poles, but the metaphor – of the roof over our home planet being punctured – captured the public imagination and, most importantly, conveyed a sense of urgency. By contrast, many people feel distant from climate problems, which are usually illustrated with images of polar bears, filled with caveats and headlined with vague labels, such as “global warming”, which sounds benign (or even desirable for those living in cold countries), and “climate change”, which comes across as a statement of the obvious.

External link

The Guardian, 20 Jan 2019: How to stop the climate crisis: six lessons from the campaign that saved the ozone