Ozone Hole Heals, Gives Hope That Humans Will Fix Climate

Scientists are celebrating proof today that environmental policies do work, and if given a chance to exercise their political will, humans can fix environmental problems easily.

In a rapid turn of events back in the 1980s, scientists found enough proof that ozone-depleting chloroflurocarbons (CFCs) were turning into chlorine clouds and attacking the ozone layer to call for a planet-saving protocol in 1987, which was enacted just two years later in Montreal in 1989.

A world-wide ban on CFCs was put into place, and the atmosphere has been steadily healing since then. A research article released in Science magazine on Thursday shows that the hole has shrunk by 1.5 million square miles since its peak in 2000. The knowledge that chloroflurocarbons were effecting the ozone layer had been around since 1974, but it wasn’t until the world was shocked into action, when in 1985, a giant seasonal “hole” was discovered to be opening up over Antartica each spring.

Scientists are thrilled to announce that this seasonal hole is opening up later, and closing earlier, and has shrunk considerably.

“What’s exciting for me personally is, this brings so much of my own work over 30 years full circle,” says Susan Solomon, lead author of the Science research article and one of the scientists who called for the Montreal Protocol in 1987.

“Science was helpful in showing the path, diplomats and countries and industry were incredibly able in charting a pathway out of these molecules.”

“Now, we’ve actually seen the planet starting to get better. It’s a wonderful thing.”

Solomon says that, aside from volcanic eruptions which naturally erode the ozone layer, our human depletion has ceased and we can expect the ozone layer to recover by 2050.

The good news gives scientists hope that people will see how easily our species can change course and implement the radical changes needed to avert climate change. This comes at the same time New Zealand climate scientists are reporting carbon has hit 400 parts per million, a density of carbon we haven’t seen in 3 million years, back when the Earth was two-to-three degrees hotter and sea level was 20 meters higher.

Dr. James Renwick was a part of the team that recorded the milestone in Wellington, New Zealand. This comes after the Mauna Loa station in Hawaii, passed 400ppm in November, and the Australian monitoring station at Cape Grim on Tasmania passed 400ppm in mid May.

“Unless we do something drastic soon, we’re in for a big redrawing of coastal boundaries,” Dr. Renwick said. “We’re leaving a big fingerprint on the earth… it’s a kick in the guts.”

Some environmental scientists are also sounding the alarm as the jet stream finally crossed the equator this week, which some scientists have feared is the tipping point that will cause seasonal chaos in terms of winters being strangely warm and summers being erratically cold.

Polls show that all over the world, the majority of humans want action from their government on climate change. For example, in coal-rich Australia, 63 percent will even support what detractors fear might be a potentially economically detrimental carbon tax, but that general political will is not translating into political action, and political insiders such as Bernie Sanders are now pointing their fingers at the fossil fuel interests. Just this evening, Sanders tweeted, “Fossil fuel executives are hell-bent on doing everything in their power to block action and they’re doing it by bankrolling elections.”

But Solomon is really upbeat about our ability to come together and find solutions for our mistakes in the past. Last year, 196 nations signed a climate change agreement in Paris with the intention of capping global temperature increases at two celsius by 2030. Solomon pointed to the healing of the ozone layer as a sign that there is hope, and with some political might behind us, we can respond intelligently to the challenges our climate faces right now.

“We can now be confident that the things we’ve done have put the planet on a path to heal,” Solomon told Popular Science. “Which is pretty good for us, isn’t it? Aren’t we amazing humans, that we did something that created a situation that we decided collectively, as a world, ‘Let’s get rid of these molecules’? We got rid of them, and now we’re seeing the planet respond.”

[Image via Getty Images/Newsmaker]