Orange County Voices : COMMENTARY ON CITY GOVERNMENT : Irvine’s Pioneering Environmental Policy Takes the Prize Too : When UCI’s Nobel Laureate Sherwood Rowland warned of dangers to the ozone layer, his city’s leaders listened, then acted. The world is better off because they did.
Irvine residents should take a special pride in UC Irvine scientist Sherwood Rowland’s winning the Nobel Prize for chemistry. Not only is Rowland one of their own, but their city government played a seminal role in drawing global attention to the environmental hazards caused by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which he discovered 20 years ago. In 1989, long before saving the ozone layer became fashionable, Irvine became the first city in the world to adopt an ordinance restricting the release of CFCs into the atmosphere. Rowland’s public testimony was instrumental in its adoption.
And the ordinance worked! Back in 1989, high-tech Irvine alone contributed 1/1,000th of the global CFC pollutants harming the ozone layer. In its first year, the ordinance reduced Irvine’s CFC emissions by nearly half. By 1995, emissions were reduced 90%. The ordinance won Irvine a 1990 United Nations award for environmental achievement.
Critics questioned why Irvine should get involved at all. But we looked at it differently--if one city stepped forward and took responsibility, others might follow.
Which they did.
San Diego County’s Sierra Club, following Irvine’s precedent, pursued a countywide ordinance. Santa Monica soon adopted CFC regulations. The South Coast Air Quality Management District, citing Irvine as a test case, adopted its own regulations for the entire Los Angeles Basin. Similar steps were taken by Toronto, South Pasadena, San Jose, Denver, and the states of Hawaii and Vermont--many following Irvine’s model.
In April, 1990, mayors and local officials from 28 nations convened in Los Angeles, taking upon themselves to do what their national governments could not--find a global solution to the CFC problem. Here Irvine led the way too; its ordinance became a model for cities around the world.
In late June 1990, 53 nations met in London and agreed to ban major ozone-destroying chemicals by 2000.
With these combined efforts, by early 1994, the rate of increase in atmospheric CFC concentration had been cut in half. Scientists tell us it will take hundreds of years for the ozone layer to repair itself, but at least corrective measures now are in place.
Some critics claimed that the ordinance would hurt Irvine businesses. But history proved that those who complied with our ordinance actually gained a competitive edge because they’d phased out CFCs before their rivals. They found cheaper and more effective alternatives. Some even shared their solutions with others.
For example, Hughes Aircraft in 1992 developed a cheap, nontoxic formula to replace the CFCs widely used in the defense industry as a cleaning solvent. Hughes shared the technique with other companies at a minimal cost because it was too important to the world’s environment to keep it only for its own use. The company cited Irvine’s ordinance as the incentive to begin the research.
Ironically, just as Rowland receives his award, the city of Irvine is contemplating a repeal of its ordinance. We support repeal of those provisions that have been superseded by stricter national and international standards.
Irvine’s ordinance set an example for the world--and the world followed. History has vindicated Rowland. So has it vindicated Irvine. Both can be proud of their achievements.