It is very surprising that today is not a national holiday. In fact, it should be an international day to celebrate our continued existence here on earth. Much more significant than Labor Day or even Christmas, September 16 is the day we all escaped an ecological disaster. It was on this day in 1987 that the Montreal Protocol was signed.
September 16 should rank up there with New Years, which is about the closest day we have to a global holiday celebration, yet hardly any of us even know what happened on this day 36 years ago.
Organic chlorofluorocarbon or CFCs were developed in Germany in 1928. Known more commonly in the US by the DuPont brand name Freon, they became popular in the 1970s as a propellant in aerosol spray cans and as a refrigerant in fridges and air-conditioners. They were promoted by the manufacturers as wonder compounds because they had no direct impact on people, plants or animals, but the truth was they threatened everything alive. Once manufactured, CFCs take roughly 5 years to escape into the atmosphere and make their way up to the ozone layer. During that process they break down into free chloride.
Ozone in the stratosphere makes up only three particle of every ten million of our upper atmosphere but it does an efficient job of blocking 99% of the UV-B from the sun. Because of ozone, the earth is a green and temperate place for us and everything else that lives here.
A particle of chloride can destroy 100,000 ozone particles before it degrades. By the 1980s a hole was detected in our protective ozone layer. It was over the arctic and it grew, and shrank as the seasons changed but each year it was bigger. On this day in 1987 the Montreal Protocol was signed limiting the production of CFCs.
Had that agreement not been signed the earth would be a greatly different place today. It has been demonstrated that by 2008 permanent holes in the ozone layer would have existed over both poles and large areas over the temperate zones would have been dangerously thin. Today if you lay unprotected in the tropical sun you would likely have a substantial sunburn after 20 minutes. In an environment with a depleted ozone layer, that same burn would occur in seconds. More importantly, for every one percent increase in the amount of UV that reaches the earth’s surface, crop yields drop by one percent. As UV increases so do skin cancers, blindness and the accelerated breakdown of most exposed manmade materials.
The continued manufacture of CFCs would have been devastating to the entire globe. The signing of the Montreal Protocol was a crisis averted. It was an eleventh hour action akin to a Superman comic when he charges into outer space to deflect an asteroid heading our way. Yet it is only one of the world changing catastrophes we face today.
David Akins said “In a generation from now, historians will laugh at us for being more afraid of Iran than of climate change.”
So happy Montreal Protocol Day. Take a walk and celebrate the salvation of everything you see. But don’t forget your sunblock.