A day late, President Bush Friday joined the European-led parade for a total ban by the year 2000 on the chemicals that deplete the ozone layer in the atmosphere. It is embarrassing for this country to be following someone else’s lead on critical environmental issues so much of the time, but Bush’s reaction time was an improvement over the Reagan Administration’s response to such things. It probably would be calling for more study.
Still, there is a bit of a hitch. The Bush promise was made contingent upon finding safe alternatives. But the ozone-hole problem now is known to be so serious that there can be no conditions. The world must end the use of chlorofluorocarbons and other ozone-depleting chemicals just as soon as possible. Substitutes must be found. There simply is no other choice.
Manufacturers of foam containers, such as the hamburger boxes used by fast-food outlets, already have found other chemicals. Chemists still are trying to perfect an alternative for chlorofluorocarbons in refrigeration units, and it is hard to believe they cannot do so during the coming dozen years. Apparently the British are close to a solution now.
The erosion of the ozone layer, of course, is a new, cosmic sort of environmental problem that has not been dealt with before. Scientists for some years theorized that chlorine and bromine atoms freed from the breakdown of the chlorofluorocarbons were affecting the ozone layer of the stratosphere between 9 and 15 miles above the Earth’s surfaces. This is important because the ozone shields the Earth from harmful ultraviolet rays from the Sun. As the ozone layer is eroded, the penetrating ultraviolet rays can dramatically increase the incidence of skin cancer and cause other health problems.
In the past four years, scientists have detected the alarming effect on the ozone layer above the Antarctic--much greater than expected--and just recently discovered “incredible” concentrations of chemicals in the Arctic region.
The United States joined other nations in Montreal last year in agreeing to cut the production of chlorofluorocarbons by about 50% by the end of the century. But scientific observations of recent months have demonstrated that will not be sufficient. The complete ban by the year 2000 should be approved quickly by signers of the Montreal Protocol, and the ban should be made effective even sooner, when a substitute is found for chlorofluorocarbons for use in refrigerators, air conditioners and other such units.