If We Knew The World Was Ending Would We Do Anything?

In the movies, when we find out that a meteor is hurtling toward the earth, we always send Bruce Willis (or some other equally capable Hollywood hero) to save us from extinction. The way the world banded together to reduce the production and consumption of ozone depleting substances through the Montreal Protocol in 1987 was an inspiring moment for international cooperation. 196 parties signed the treaty. It would have made Woodrow Wilson proud. And perhaps it gave Hollywood license to makes films like Armageddon.

Unfortunately, F. Sherwood Rowland, one of the leading scientific researchers into the causes of atmospheric ozone layer destruction died recently. The MIT Technology described Sherwood’s contribution thusly:

Rowland is best known for figuring out, along with his then post-doc Mario Molina, in the early 1970s how chlorofluorcarbons (CFCs), industrial chemicals widely used in, among things, air conditioners and aerosol sprays, were destroying the protective atmospheric ozone layer. (Rowland, Molina and Paul Crutzen of the Max Planck Institute, shared the 1995 Nobel prize in chemistry for the work.) Rowland also did pioneering work in other areas involving the monitoring and chemistry of trace gases, including research on the rise of methane in the atmosphere. But perhaps his greatest achievement was his demonstration that seemingly simple chemical reactions could play out over a massive scale and have planet-wide effects.

It would be interesting to see if the scientific research was done today what the result would be. The Republican war on science has left the public sphere divided and irrational. Republican’s like to talk about how religious based dialogue is not welcome in the public square, but in truth, it’s really scientific analysis that is rarely heard above the noise.

It was a lot easier to get international consensus on banning a certain class of chemicals because the global economy didn’t depend on them. Perhaps that explains why we haven’t reached some sort of consensus yet on global warming. But maybe not.  If Armageddon 2 were to arrive in theaters today, maybe it would picture Bruce Willis just sitting in front of the television set watching Fox News and drinking a beer.


Speak Your Mind