It is noteworthy that reference is made to the discovery of the 'Ozone Hole' -- a term which was not used by the BAS team in its original publication. A 'hole' could only be seen after NASA's satellite data confirmed the BAS findings and provided data for global ozone. Still the term 'ozone hole' did not appear until Sherwood Rowland invented the metaphor later in 1985. It took some time before the term became acceptable in scientific papers. The authors of the paper reporting NASA satellite data (Stolarski et al. 1986) wanted to use it but referees objected to it.
Shanklin points to the serendipidity of their discovery at Halley Bay, including their sheer luck of not being closed down due to funding pressures. Would we have missed the ozone hole without their publication? When I interviewed many of the scientists involved (see my book here), most told me that sooner or later we would have realised that there was a problem. This may be true but the timing of the discovery was just right and could not have been 'scripted' in a better way for the unfolding drama. Remember, in 1985, model predictions of global ozone depletion went towards zero, indicating that there was no problem after all. In the same year the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer was signed and no one had big hopes of turning this into a binding and effective treaty. During this window of opportunity the ozone hole made its appearance and changed the whole game. The BAS publication was essential for this dynamic to unfold.
One can see how others have tried to apply the same instrumental approach to the policy process in the case of climate, arguably stretching the availbale data to mount a similar alarm as we saw 25 years ago. But the alarm signal is of a different strength.
Shanklin gives a good insight into the difference between ozone and climate politics, emphasizing the different framing of the two discourses:
Concerns about the ozone layer led to the 1987 Montreal Protocol to phase out CFCs. The discovery of the ozone hole undoubtedly helped to seal those negotiations, but there were several other important drivers to international accord. Chemical manufacturers were able and willing, after some initial resistance, to produce CFC substitutes. The public was keen to see action: the evidence was strong and clear; the hole sounded threatening; and there was a link between thinning ozone and cancer. And the public did not feel bullied or threatened — no one was telling them to radically change their way of life. There was a problem, and something could be done about it.Shanklin's conclusion draws on the idea that overpopulation is the cause of many environmental problems. We discussed this topic here on the Zwiebel on previous occasions. This is what Shanklin has to say:
By contrast, the evidence for man-made climate change is less clear-cut to the average person. And people are given the impression that civilization will collapse unless they abandon cars and radically change their lives in other difficult ways. Not surprisingly, there is confusion and resistance.
Perhaps the most startling lesson from the ozone hole is just how quickly our planet can change. Given the speed with which humankind can affect it, following the precautionary principle is likely to be the safest road to future prosperity. Although the focus is on climate change at present, the root cause of all of our environmental issues — a human population that overburdens the planet — is growing. Future historians may note that although humanity solved one unexpected environmental problem, it bequeathed many more through its failure to take a holistic approach to the environment.