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Editorial: Learning from repair of ozone layer

The ozone layer hasn't healed yet, but it is rebounding from the damage of man-made pollution. That's according to new research by NASA scientists, who project a full recovery by 2070. This is good news for public health, marine life and agriculture. And it's a reminder for a world reliant on dirty fossil fuels that with effort and resources humans can help undo the environmental damage they cause.

Scientists say the hole in the ozone layer is stabilizing, more than two decades after the global community pledged under the Montreal Protocol to reduce the use of chlorofluorocarbons and other ozone-killing substances. It will take several more decades before actual recovery of the ozone layer over Antarctica, because it can take so long for ozone-depleting chlorine to rise into the atmosphere. By 2030, officials predict, chlorine levels should fall enough to drive the ozone layer's recovery, which could be completed in four decades. And that would leave the Earth with more protection against skin cancer, cataracts, compromised immune systems and impacts to plant and marine life.

The findings, released this month at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, are reason for cautious optimism. It shows what can happen when more than 190 nations take the long view and sustain their commitment. And this coordinated retreat away from the everyday use of ozone-depleting substances — which were widely used as coolants, insulating foams and solvents — should be a model for future efforts to move away from polluting fuels that have become entrenched in the economy, namely coal and oil.

When government gives industry some regulatory certainty and an incentive to reshape the market, the private sector can respond with technical innovation that solves problems. That's long been the rationale behind plans to tax carbon, and it's an idea worth resurrecting. By encouraging cleaner and renewable energy, such a policy would jump-start investment, create jobs and improve public health.

Restoring the protective ozone shield should inspire new efforts to address the harmful impacts of climate change from man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

Editorial: Learning from repair of ozone layer 12/19/13 [Last modified: Thursday, December 19, 2013 5:14pm]
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