The Ozone Layer Success Story

The most powerful success story I know of in global environmentalism is the ozone layer.  It took the signing of an international agreement over the fierce objections of industry and paid skeptics but we dramatically reduced emissions of CFCs, the coolant chemicals that were destroying the ozone layer.

As Jeff Masters notes, at the time:

The CEO of Pennwalt, the third largest CFC manufacturer in the U.S., talked of "economic chaos" if CFC use was to be phased out (Cogan, 1988). DuPont, the largest CFC manufacturer, warned that the costs in the U.S. alone could exceed $135 billion, and that "entire industries could fold" (Glas, 1989). The Association of European Chemical Companies warned that CFC regulation might lead to "redesign and re-equipping of large sectors of vital industry…, smaller firms going out of business… and an effect on inflation and unemployment, nationally and internationally" (Stockholm Environment Institute, 1999).

Other industry spokesman warned that the air conditioner in your car would stop working, that medicines would go bad because refrigerators at hospitals would fail.  None of those things happened. Instead, CFC use plunged, alternatives were developed by industry, and the ozone layer has begun to recover.

You can read more about how we reduced CFCs and reduced other pollutants in my book on innovating to overcome climate, energy, food, water, and other environmental and natural resource challenges looming ahead of us, The Infinite Resouce: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet