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Commentary : Irvine Effort to Protect Ozone Layer Has Future Generations in Mind

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Can we afford to mortgage our children’s future in order to finance our contemporary conveniences? Is it reasonable to insist on the status quo until all possible evidence is finally and irrefutably rendered? Or doesn’t a prudent concern for the scientific testimony now available mandate that we act promptly and decisively to forestall what could evolve into an environmental disaster of immense proportions? I believe that it does.

For over 15 years we have been warned that unless certain chemical compounds, such as chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, are eliminated from daily use, the thin stratospheric shield of protective ozone--without which life cannot exist on this planet--will be destroyed. As these compounds eat away at the ozone layer, we can anticipate an increase in cataracts and skin cancers, deterioration of human immune systems, even a breakdown in the global food chain. Prompted by the concern of scientists and citizen groups, aerosol sprays using CFCs were phased out in the United States. But that action didn’t go far enough, and the threat today is greater than ever. That is why Irvine is proposing an ordinance that will deal with the broadest range of threats to the Earth’s ozone layer yet tackled in this country.

The ordinance would restrict the use of virtually all ozone-depleting solvents and compounds. That would include banning the use food-packaging materials that contain CFCs as well as building materials, insulation, and ozone-damaging substances used in fire extinguisher, refrigeration and air-conditioning repairs and servicing.

Since Mayor Larry Agran and I introduced the measure at a May 30 press conference, we have received many letters from citizens expressing their support for what we are trying to do. These letters have stressed how encouraging it is to see something being done at the local level to help solve a problem that will affect the global environment. This problem must be approached locally, in our businesses and stores, in the day-to-day decisions that we make as consumers.

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So it is clear that such efforts can make a difference. No, Irvine’s action alone won’t end the risk of ozone depletion, any more than we can stamp out all human rights abuses around the world by ensuring that they cease within the city limits. But we have to start somewhere, we have to take a stand. The trick is finding a way to do it that allows everyone involved to come out a winner.

At our press conference I suggested that the ordinance would provide the city’s business community with a competitive edge. Some found that claim hard to believe, citing the inevitable economic fact of life that the price of equipment and chemical substitutes required by the ordinance would have an impact on the cost of doing business. But isn’t that a small price to pay to protect the environment that all of us--businesses and consumers alike--rely upon for our survival?

Indeed, not only must businesses change, but their customers must also contribute to solving this problem, a contribution I believe they are ready to make. Mayor Agran received a letter from a woman in San Juan Capistrano who stressed that she would go out of her way to patronize the industries in Irvine that were “cooperating with this beneficial policy.” If our mail is any indication, there will be a boon to be reaped by promoting the fact that in Irvine, we are protecting the environment.

The technology exists to make these changes, and some companies--such as Western Digital--have already gone on record as having made the transition. Around the country, firms are springing up to help industry wean itself away from its dependence on these dangerous chemicals. The changes required by the ordinance are feasible, and--as the cost of the regulated substances rises--they are becoming more and more economical.

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There is still one other factor that will help to support our local business community: the creation by the ordinance of an environmental program coordinator. While the EPC is charged with the administration and enforcement of this new law, that is but one of many tasks assigned that office. Other responsibilities include providing information to the community, especially business and industry, on how to meet the ordinance’s requirements. The EPC will point the way to cost-effective alternatives, so that compliance will be within everyone’s reach. If we wait until Sacramento or Washington impose their demands, who will be provided to answer our questions and research our problems? The answer is easy: no one. But by taking local responsibility for producing solutions to a common problem, the city will be taking an active role in protecting and enhancing the diverse industrial base that has made Irvine an economic leader in Southern California. Our businesses will be ahead of the pack, and they will reap the competitive advantages that naturally accrue to those with the foresight to be there first with the right answer.

The EPC is also charged with making certain that the concerns of businesses in the city are heard by state and federal legislators and agencies as they move toward producing their inevitable remedies. Without the EPC we would be mute, with no choice but to wait for decisions to descend upon us from above. With the EPC actively involved in the problem of eliminating ozone-depleting compounds, Irvine will be able to lead the way. The reputation of the city, and its many businesses, cannot help but prosper from such attention.

It is clear that we cannot continue with business as usual. Today we are the caretakers of the environment for tomorrow’s generations. That stewardship requires that we act with vision in producing protective measures. Public support is there. The timing is critical, and by coming together we can show the rest of the world how an enlightened community can take concrete steps toward solving a problem of great concern.

DR

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