Whatever Happened to the Ozone Hole?
An environmental success story.
If you were around in the 1980s, you probably remember the lurking fear of an ominous hole in the sky. In the middle of the decade scientists discovered that a giant piece of the ozone layer was disappearing over Antarctica, and the situation threatened us all. The news media jumped on the story. The ozone layer is like the earth’s sunscreen: without it ultraviolet rays from the sun would cause alarming rates of skin cancer and could even damage marine food chains. And it turns out we were causing the problem.
Today, more than three decades after the initial discovery, the ozone hole in Antarctica is finally on the road to recovery. How did we do it? This environmental success story gives us a glimpse into what happens when scientists, industry, the public, and the government all work together to manage a problem that threatens all of us. Happy Earth Day!
To research this episode we read Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway. We read, listened to, and used excerpts from an oral history with chemist Mario Molina that was conducted by the Science History Institute’s Center for Oral History. We also interviewed atmospheric chemist Susan Solomon at MIT in 2016.
These are the archival news clips we used as they appear in the episode:
Dow, David; Quinn, Jane Bryant; Rather, Dan. “Ozone Layer,” CBS Evening News. Aug 15, 1986.
Hager, Robert; Seigenthaler, John. “Ozone Layer,” NBC Evening News. Dec 3, 2000.
Gibson, Charles; Blakemore, Bill. “Environment/Ozone Layer,” ABC Evening News. Aug 22, 2006.
Reasoner, Harry; Stout, Bill. “Supersonic Transport Vs. Concorde,” CBS Evening News. Jan 1, 1969.
Quinn, Jane Bryant; Rather, Dan. “Ozone Layer Depletion,” CBS Evening News. Oct 20, 1986.
Chancellor, John; Neal, Roy. “Special Report (Ozone),” NBC Evening News. Sep 24, 1975. Benton, Nelson; Cronkite, Walter. “Ozone/Fluorocarbons/ National Academy of Sciences Study,” CBS Evening News. Sept 14, 1976.
Brokaw, Tom; Hager, Robert. “Assignment Earth (Ozone Layer),” NBC Evening News. Feb 3, 1992.
Our theme music was composed by Zach Young.
Additional music courtesy of the Audio Network.