Ozone Depletion

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were originally used as fluids in refrigerators, in part because they were far safer than the available alternatives, which were either flammable or dangerously toxic.4 In addition to their numerous cooling applications, CFCs came to be used as propellants in aerosol spray cans. Widespread commercial and military uses for CFCs and related chemicals, prominently including halons, produced billions of dollars in revenues for their manufacturers.

The idea that CFCs posed a threat to the ozone layer was initially suggested in a stunning academic paper in 1974, written by Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina.5 According to their analysis, CFC molecules migrate slowly to the upper atmosphere, where ultraviolet radiation causes them to release chlorine atoms. These atoms could endanger the ozone layer, which protects the earth from sunlight. The potential consequences for human health were clear, for Rowland and Molina wrote only two years after the loss of ozone had been linked with skin cancer.6 In 1971, it was prominently suggested that a 1 percent ozone loss would cause an additional 7,000 cases of skin cancer each year.7 If Rowland and Molina were right, CFC emissions would create serious health risks.

In the years immediately following, depletion of the ozone layer received widespread attention in the United States, which accounted for nearly 50 percent of global CFC use. A great deal of theoretical and empirical work was done within the scientific community; the National Academy of Sciences and many other research institutions made contributions. Most findings supported the initial claims by Molina and Rowland.8

Meanwhile, the CFC industry attempted to conduct and publicize its own research, mounting an aggressive public relations cam paign to discredit the association between CFCs and ozone depletion.9 A senior executive at DuPont, the world's largest producer, testified before a Senate panel that the "chlorine-ozone hypothesis is at this time purely speculative with no concrete evidence ... to support it."10 At the very least, industry representatives suggested that no harm would come from each year's delay and that costly regulation should not be imposed until further research established that the risks were real.11

Consumers saw the problem differently. Because of intense media attention to the danger, American consumers swiftly cut their demand for aerosol sprays by more than half, thus dramatically depressing the market for these products.12 The same public concern spurred domestic regulation. In 1977, Congress amended the Clean Air Act to permit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate ozone-depleting chemicals.13 In 1978, EPA banned the use of CFCs as aerosol propellants in nonessential applications and defined criteria for exemptions of "essential uses."14 As a result of the ban, aerosol production in the United States plummeted by nearly 95 percent.15 A significant reduction in America's contribution to ozone depletion was achieved quickly, and in a way that imposed exceedingly little cost.

Why did so many consumers respond? There are three answers. The first is that skin cancer is easy to envision, and an easily envisioned harm is especially likely to affect behavior. Second, people could easily imagine that a "protective shield" over the earth was in jeopardy, and this image was an energizing force. Third, a change in behavior was not especially burdensome to consumers. Aerosol spray cans were hardly essential to daily life, and a decision to substitute some other product imposed no serious hardship.

Despite the flurry of domestic activity, no international agreement was in sight, and at first the effort to produce international cooperation seemed to be a clear failure. A central reason was the skepticism and opposition of the European Community (forerunner of the European Union), which firmly rejected regulatory measures of the sort taken by the United States.16 In most European countries, the public was relatively indifferent to the ozone question, which had received little media attention.17 Heavily influenced by private companies with an economic stake in the outcome, most European nations resorted to symbolic gestures such as voluntary emissions codes rather than regulatory restrictions. Industry arguments about the expense of such requirements, and the potential loss of tens of thousands of jobs, contributed heavily to the weak response in Europe.18 The British government in particular was influenced by Imperial Chemical Industries, among the largest CFC producers in the world.19 The export of CFCs played a large role in Britain's foreign exchange.

With the election of President Reagan in 1980, the American government became generally more skeptical about regulatory controls, and little happened from 1980 to 1982 to limit ozone-depleting emissions. In 1983, however, the United States asked the world to follow its own policies by banning uses of CFCs in aerosol propellants.20 Significantly, the U.S. government did not ask for international action that would impose new domestic costs; it merely sought an agreement that would replicate its existing domestic restrictions, imposing regulatory burdens on others and thus conferring benefits on Americans at little or no additional expense. Nonetheless, industry organizations within the United States initially objected vigorously to the new position, contending that it gave undue credence to speculative science and fearing the rise of further controls on CFCs.21 The government maintained its position despite these objections, but international negotiations were in stalemate through 1984.

In 1985, however, a new scientific analysis indicated that truly catastrophic harm was possible, stemming from a sudden collapse of ozone concentrations. The new scientific findings, and additional studies in 1987, showed that between 1957 and 1984 the total column of ozone over Antarctica had been depleted by 40 percent, and—even more dramatically—that a "hole" had formed in the ozone layer over Antarctica that was as large as the entire United States.22 This vivid image captured the imagination of the public and turned the tide of American opinion in the direction of a total ban on CFCs. These studies also became a spur to international negotiations.23 Because of this worst-case scenario, immediate action seemed critical. But still skeptical of the science and attuned to the costs, European leaders continued to reject an international agreement, contending that the United States was engaged in "scare-mongering"24 and that "Americans had been panicked into 'over-hasty measures.' "25

Other careful scientific investigations made the threat increasingly difficult to ignore. A NASA/World Meteorological Association group provided an exceptionally detailed review of the evidence in 1986, concluding that continued growth in CFCs would produce large losses in the ozone layer.26 In 1988, the Ozone Trends Panel, established by NASA, reiterated the basic finding that CFCs were the primary cause of the ozone "hole," and it offered a new analysis of a significant global trend.27 These conclusions, generally taken as authoritative, helped pave the way for the Montreal Protocol.

The position of U.S. industry began to shift in 1986, apparently as a result of significant progress in producing safe substitutes for CFCs.28 While still arguing that CFCs produced no imminent hazard, DuPont supported an international freeze on CFC emissions, seeing this step as a justified precautionary measure after the dis covery of the Antarctic ozone "hole."29 DuPont and other producers pledged to phase out production by an early date and also supported international controls. No doubt public relations was a factor here, as was the fact that the relevant products were no longer especially profitable. American producers had a comparative advantage over foreign producers in developing and marketing substitute products, and they came to see this as a new commercial opportunity.30 The European Community even speculated that the Reagan administration's turnabout in 1983 was driven by the knowledge that American producers had secretly developed substitutes.31

Some U.S. officials in the executive branch agreed with industry that a freeze might be justified, but not emissions reductions. The view of Congress, however, was unambiguous. By a vote of 80-2, the Senate passed a resolution asking President Reagan to take aggressive action to protect the ozone layer, including an immediate freeze and the eventual elimination of ozone-depleting chemicals.32

What followed was a period of intense discussions within the Reagan administration. The Office of Management and Budget was skeptical of aggressive controls, while the Environmental Protection Agency was favorably disposed.33 This internal disagreement was resolved after a careful cost-benefit analysis suggested that the costs of controls would be far lower than anticipated—and the benefits far higher. In the words of Richard Benedick, a highlevel participant in the proceedings: "A major break . . . came in the form of a cost-benefit study from the President's Council of Economic Advisers. The analysis concluded that, despite the scientific and economic uncertainties, the monetary benefits of preventing future deaths from skin cancer far outweighed the costs of CFC controls as estimated either by industry or by EPA."34 In particular, both EPA and the Council of Economic Advisers concluded that the ozone layer depletion would cause a "staggering" increase in the number of deaths from skin cancer—over five million by 2165.35 The association between skin cancer and cherished leisure activities—such as lying on the beach, gardening, and other summertime activities—undoubtedly helped to spur a consensus that the problem needed to be aggressively addressed.

With the American position fixed, the stage was set for the negotiation of a new protocol. At an early point, the European Community, led above all by France, Italy, and the United Kingdom, urged caution and a strategy of "wait and learn."36 Concerned about the economic position of Imperial Chemical Industries, the United Kingdom rejected aggressive action.37 The United States took the lead in endorsing stringent additional controls; it was joined by several other nations, including Canada, New Zealand, Finland, and Norway. Those urging stringent controls placed particular emphasis on the problem of irreversibility. Because some CFCs last for a century or more, it was necessary to act immediately to avoid more expensive steps, and more destructive consequences, in the future.

Many months of discussions led to a decisive meeting in Montreal, starting on September 8,1987, and including over 60 nations, more than half of them developing countries. The key provision in the protocol was not merely a freeze on CFCs but a dramatic 50 percent cut by 1998, accompanied by a freeze on the three major halons beginning in 1992. The 50 percent figure was a compromise between the American proposal for 95 percent reductions and the European suggestion of a mere freeze.

A knotty question involved the treatment of developing countries. While CFC consumption was modest in those countries, their domestic requirements were increasing, and a badly designed agreement could merely shift production and use of CFCs from wealthy nations to poorer ones, leaving the global problem largely unaffected. But developing nations reasonably contended that they should not be held to the same standards as wealthier nations, which were responsible for the problem in the first place. India and China in particular emphasized that nations with less than 25 percent ofthe world's population had produced over 90 percent ofthe world's CFCs.38

This claim was met by several steps, including both loosened restrictions on developing nations and financial assistance to them. Under Article 5 of the Montreal Protocol, developing countries are authorized to meet their "basic domestic needs" by increasing CFCs to a specified level for ten years, after which they would be subject to a 50 percent reduction for the next ten years. In addition, a funding mechanism was created by which substantial resources— initially $400 million—were transferred to poor countries. These provisions were criticized as unduly vague, essentially a way of deferring key questions; but they provided an initial framework, one that has worked exceedingly well. The Montreal Protocol imposes trade sanctions on those who do not comply, and these create a strong incentive for compliance.

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How To Prevent Skin Cancer

How To Prevent Skin Cancer

Complete Guide to Preventing Skin Cancer. We all know enough to fear the name, just as we do the words tumor and malignant. But apart from that, most of us know very little at all about cancer, especially skin cancer in itself. If I were to ask you to tell me about skin cancer right now, what would you say? Apart from the fact that its a cancer on the skin, that is.

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