The Green Skies Overhead

July 23, 2009

If you’ve ever been prescribed a drug and listened to a doctor discuss the pros and cons, you know that very few drugs fix one problem without causing another.   We all know that’s called a side effect.   And now, we’re seeing what happens when the planet is given a dose of medicine and, too late, we are now finding out there are side effects.

If you recall the last global environmental crisis -- the hole in the ozone layer – it was caused by overuse of dangerous chemicals that depleted the ozone layer.  The chemicals were used in air conditioners, refrigerators, and insulating foam.  

In 1987, governments signed the Montreal Protocol, agreeing to reduce CFCs. Since then, this agreement has been a kind of bureaucratic miracle: Ninety-six percent of ozone-depleting substances have been phased out, according to the United Nations.   Unfortunately, the damage was done.

To fix that hole, something called hydrofluorocarbons were introduced.  They worked; the earth’s protective shield is recovering.  The United Nations says there is still a hole in the ozone above the South Pole, but global ozone levels are expected to return to their pre-1980 level by about 2050.

But.  You knew that was coming, right?  You knew there was a “but.”  And here it is: researchers say what's good for ozone is bad for climate change.

It turns out, in the atmosphere, the “prescription” for ozone depletion is acting like “super-greenhouse gases.”  Their heat-trapping power is potentially as high as 4,470 times that of carbon dioxide.

Reminds me of that childhood song about a “woman who swallowed a fly” and then swallowed a bunch of other things, too, all aimed at ridding her of that pesky fly that she swallowed.

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