At a time when there is still debate in the United States among the public and politicians about the link between climate change and the greenhouse gases expelled into the atmosphere by the activities of human beings, the author looks back to an argument from another era about a man-made pollutant and a dangerous atmospheric problem. In many ways, today’s controversy over the causes of climate change and what to do about it are reminiscent of the debate over the link between chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and the thinning of the ozone layer over 30 years ago, when the vast majority of scientists who studied the CFC problem were on one side, and industry and lobbyists were on the other. This stalemate was finally resolved only after the discovery of the ozone hole over Antarctica and the irrefutable evidence linking the ozone hole to CFCs. Only then did the major manufacturers of CFCs begin to get on board. In the end, an international agreement was signed to control CFC production, substitutes for the compounds were found and marketed by manufacturers, and the ozone hole stopped growing—and it now shows signs of repairing itself, if slowly. This collaboration has been hailed as a landmark that may have implications for how the current debate in this country will eventually play out. But was that the whole story?
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Issue: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Volume 71 Issue 1
Keywords: Antarctic, CFC, Montreal Protocol, UV, atmosphere, chlorofluorocarbons, ozone hole, science controversy