Anniversary Post: Montreal Protocol

Montreal ProtocolOn this day in 1987, the Montreal Protocol was agreed to by the nations of the world. This was the treaty that was designed to reverse the antarctic ozone hole. In particular, it banned the two most potent ozone killers: F-11 and F-12. Hooray! We saved the ozone layer!

So a normal person would think that we could do the same thing about global warming. Indeed, the ozone hole disproves one of the most common complaints that I hear from global warming deniers: humans couldn’t have a global impact on the environment. It also disproves the Christian claim that God would never allow us to screw up the planet. But most people have forgotten all about the ozone layer, even though, as I recall, F-11 and F-12 both have something like a 100 year lifetime in the atmosphere.

But there was a reason that the world could ban these chemicals: they were out of patent or soon would be. DuPont had patents on the newer HFCs and HCFCs. Admittedly, they weren’t nearly as bad for the environment. But the point is that CFCs were easy to ban because big business wasn’t making money on them. In fact, the Montreal Protocol was doubtless a moneymaker for DuPont and other chemical companies.

With global warming, there is nothing but downside for big business. And so, at least in the United States, we have to talk about this for the next century or two — when Exxon is diversified and has patents that stop people from getting energy free from the sun. If I sound bitter, you’ve got it right. There is no democracy here. There is no compromise. Unless we can make doing something to make fighting global warming a moneymaker for the hydrocarbon industry, nothing will be done.

But if we could do that today, tomorrow Fox News and Rush Limbaugh would be ranting about the importance of doing something about the warming planet. Every time I hear “Montreal Protocol,” I am reminded of just how screwed up the human race is. All hope is lost. It is just a matter of time.

6 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: Montreal Protocol

  1. The vital question, of course, is “how much time”? If the world is ending tomorrow, then eat/drink/be merry would be the appropriate response. If we have a few decades, then a struggle to survive may be possible, if only because not every large and powerful organization in the world is a climate-change denier. Some, like insurance companies, the United States Navy, and the Netherlands, are well aware of what is happening and potentially willing to put their own resources to work against FOX News and Exxon.

    • It’s not all or nothing. So the longer we wait, the more suffering there will be. It’s possible there would be a discontinuity and the planet would be wrecked for tens of thousands of years and humans would go extinct. But science is terrible dealing with discontinuity. I’m afraid we must assume that things will be continuous and do what we can. I was surprised that the Republicans at the debate tonight were really hedging. That’s a moderately good sign.

      • I recently learned of the “fee and dividend” idea, a counter-balance to “cap and trade.” Rather than create a carbon market, you simply charge a set fee (going up over time) for mined/drilled/imported carbon, which presumably gets passed on to consumers (who would alter their choices/support new energy policies as fees went up.) Then you distribute the fees collected to every American equally, like those Alaska pipeline checks. The end result is people who live in McMansions and commute huge distances get hit hard; people in small houses/apartments who live close to work or use public transit get a nice little rebate.

        Politically impossible right now and with a lot of details to work out, but no less complicated than cap & trade and would have a direct benefit to many people immediately. Probably you knew of this idea already and probably it has tons of ozone-sized holes in it, I just thought it was some nice, creative thinking. (I read it in a James Hansen book, and he seems more open to different ideas as he gets older, which makes perfect sense!)

        • The idea of a revenue neutral carbon tax has been around for a long time. You would think that it is something that the conservatives would sign onto to. But they don’t, because they have been lying all along about their reasons for not wanting to do anything. Last night at the debate, it was all about not hurting the economy. Well this particular system would actually help the economy. They don’t care. For one thing, it would take more money away from the rich and give more to the poor, and so they hate it. But more than that, they just don’t believe in changing anything unless they see that change as taking us back to some great old time.

          The reason I wrote Carly Fiorina and the History of the $10 Bill, was because my father was very taken with the idea. Does it matter if we change the $10 bill? No. But conservatives just hate the idea. I told him we change the design of currency all the time. This came as a surprise to him. But it doesn’t really matter. In the conservative mind, liberals are just changing things to be PC. Of course, conservatives are the worst when it comes to PC. Look at how they howl when you question the military — or pretty much anything that they like. What were “freedom fries” but the most ridiculous case of PC in the history of humanity?

          If you came up with a way that would fight global warming, cost nothing, and double the growth of our economy, the Republicans would come up with some reason why it was the return of Stalin. I’m not feeling very tolerant at the moment. But look at the Iran nuclear deal. There is no reason to be against it. Yet there they are.

          • Ha — in the end of the Hansen book (which contains nothing you wouldn’t already know, I was just curious about it) there’s a cheesy old-style sci-fi story. Aliens from a dying star find Earth transmissions and send colonists hoping Earthers will let them preserve their species. They get here and, oops, Earth has gone all Venus feedback-effect. The aliens, angry (now they’re doomed, too) review all the transmissions they missed in-flight and realize how Earth politics screwed everything up. So they point the spaceship at long-dead D.C., hoping to at least make a big crater.

            AKA, you’re about at the same level of “not feeling very tolerant” as James Hansen is feeling. So not unreasonable. Personally I’m wondering if we shouldn’t laser-tattoo the moon with symbols for some species that might evolve a billion years hence, essentially saying “hey, all that free energy from dead organic material? Don’t use it. We warned you. Oh, you’re too smart to listen to us, eh? Well, whatever. See where ignoring your great-aunt (x 10^10000000) gets you, damned whippersnappers.”

            • I have read that the British intellectuals had a great disappointment as a result of WWI. Until then, they had this idea that society would only get better. I feel like I’ve gone through the same thing — and the society too. It’s much easier to believe in a dystopian future than a Star Trek one. I really do think there is a difference in mentality. There are some people who burn for authoritarianism. That’s the real problem we are having. The rest of us may screw up — A lot! — but eventually we do see reason. The problem is that a good 40% of the people in the most powerful nation on earth burn for authoritarianism. It’s strange that these same people claim that they are the ones who actually stand for freedom, but they literally tune into propaganda broadcasts every day to learn what to think. And then we have a media that is so terrified of seeming biased that they allow another 10% of the country to vote for the authoritarians because “they have some good ideas too” or “the two sides are exactly the same.”

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