Before we begin, I should point out that the ozone hole and the greenhouse effect are totally different. A lot of people get confused about that, and I’m about to talk about both phenomena, so I’d hate to contribute to that confusion.
In 1980, scientists examining satellite measurements of the atmosphere over Antarctica noticed that a lot of data were missing. Checking through their FORTRAN code, they found that a data integrity check that tossed numbers that were improbably low was removing data from most of the southern polar region. In 1987, the nations of the world agreed to phase out the use of the chemicals that had been destroying ozone. And now:
A new study using NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data finds consistent evidence that Earth’s ozone layer is on the mend. …
“These results confirm the Montreal Protocol and its amendments have succeeded in stopping the loss of ozone in the stratosphere,” Yang said. “At the current recovery rate, the atmospheric modeling community’s best estimates predict the global ozone layer could be restored to 1980 levels– the time that scientists first noticed the harmful effects human activities were having on atmospheric ozone — some time in the middle of this century.”
The example of ozone depletion can give us insight into the ways that climate change can be managed. When the Montreal Protocol was approved, and the world ended its use of CFCs, many people predicted economic travail. Indeed, recent industry estimates place the cost of implementing the treaty at $40 billion worldwide (PDF), other estimates go as high as $235 billion, or $23.5 billion per year.
Yet no one seems to be complaining.
The same phenomenon is on display whenever someone suggests a way of restricting emissions of atmosphere warming gases.
In response to California’s experiment in limiting carbon emissions, concerns about cost are being floated. The cost of Kyoto is estimated at $60 billion, and scaling that down to the size of California’s economy puts the cost at around $9 billion per year. The question is whether those costs can be offset somehow.
One part of the answer came to me while flipping through the latest issue of Business 2.0. I was draw in by the headline: “Blogging for dollars,” but learned more from the article on “The greenest office in America.” Adobe managed to cut its power consumption by 35–41% by retrofitting their existing building. It cost $1.1 million to renovate, and they save a million bucks a year. The biggest single change and one you can do all on your own, is a switch to compact fluorescent bulbs.
They spent a few hundred dollars to replace their existing lightbulbs with compact fluorescents, and save hundreds of thousands every year. The bulbs last longer and produce less heat, giving more light per unit of electricity.
Environmental Defense has a lot more information about the benefits of compact fluorescent bulbs. Take the pledge and replace a few bulbs in your own life.
This is what I don’t understand about the entire debate about carbon dioxide. The simplest thing we could do to reduce emissions of warming gases would be to reduce energy use. Replacing energy sources is a good goal also, but cutting energy use is easy. It saves money. It’s smart.
So why do people fight tooth and nail against these ideas? Why do people still bother buying incandescent bulbs? Why don’t people add more insulation to their homes? Why is it so hard to encourage people to drive more efficiently. None of this requires you to give anything up, and it saves you money in the end.
Could it add up to nine billion dollars a year? Who knows. Given how easily we absorbed the costs of banning CFCs, it hardly seems like any of this would matter anyway. Most of the costs would be up-front costs, and the savings would persist indefinitely.