Discover more from Talking Climate with Katharine Hayhoe
How fixing the ozone hole slowed global warming and Arctic ice loss
Montreal Protocol sees success, climate change boosts inflation, and an inspiring organization
In 1985, scientists made a startling discovery in Antarctica: a hole in Earth's ozone layer, the protective shield that keeps us safe from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays. The culprits? The "super safe" chemicals we developed to use in everyday items like air conditioners and aerosol cans. Because they were so stable, these chemicals were making it all the way up to the stratosphere. There, the sun's ultraviolet rays were finally breaking them down, unleashing chlorine and other ozone-destroying chemicals.
Just two years later, in 1987, more than 200 countries signed a landmark treaty agreeing to ban the use of ozone-depleting chemicals. Thanks to the Montreal Protocol, the ozone layer is now on its way to recovery and there’s an unexpected benefit. By banning the ozone-depleting chemicals — many of which are also greenhouse gases — we also reduced the rate of warming and preserved more than half a million square kilometers of Arctic sea ice that would otherwise have already melted.
Even still, the Arctic is changing rapidly and its future depends on whether we can take collective action to limit climate change. If we stay on our current course, the first “ice free” summer in the region is projected happen around the middle of the century, a date scientists estimate the Montreal Protocol has already delayed by about 15 years. As I explain in this Global Weirding episode, though, this 1987 treaty powerfully demonstrates how global collaboration can transform our future.
Rising temperatures are driving up the cost of food and other goods worldwide, causing a ripple effect through the global economy. Economists estimate climate change will be responsible for as much as a 1% increase in inflation annually until 2035. When it comes to food, future warming could make prices climb as much as 3% each year.
Why does this happen? Heatwaves, flooding, wildfires, and drought can cause water shortages and crop losses, stress livestock, and help pests expand poleward. They also lead to production disruptions, supply-chain breakdowns, and employee shortages.
Just look at last summer, when a blistering heatwave in China’s Sichuan province — a key manufacturing and lithium mining hub — forced all factories to shut down for a week because of power shortages caused by air conditioning demand. In Europe, a historic drought drove up the prices of meat and milk as it dried up the pastures farmers used to graze their cows. Across the Horn of Africa, millions of people in four countries are facing a severe hunger crisis today as they suffer through the worst drought in decades and skyrocketing food prices.
As I often say, to care about climate change you don’t have to have any particular identity, interest, or political leaning. You just need to be a human being who lives on this planet.
INSPIRATION OF THE MONTH
People often think science and faith are in conflict—but I see them as complementary forces, like our head and our heart, or a compass and a map. Science, our compass, can discern the paths of empirical truth—north or south, for instance. But, as I discuss here, what motivates us to embark on a journey in a specific direction? That's where faith--which, for about 85% of us worldwide, informs the map of our heart--comes in.
I have the privilege of serving as an international advisor to the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion in Cambridge, UK. It’s named after the renowned scientist and Christian Michael Faraday. In addition to his work on electromagnetism, Faraday had deep concerns about pollution and its impact on human health. You can even read this letter he wrote in 1855.
Today, Cara Parrett and Steph Bryant from the Faraday Institute's youth and schools team continue his work, bringing faith and hope into the conversation when discussing climate change and pollution with young people.
“Through discussion and reflection,” Cara says, “Students start to appreciate that, no matter our personal belief system, we are all forming a particular way of viewing the world – views about the value of the world, about justice and care for the vulnerable, and about our agency, power and ability to create positive change – which tie into how we connect with, and choose to act on, climate change." She continues, "For an eco-anxious generation, this leads us to a place where we can discuss how we feel, and what resilient and enabling hope might look like for each of us.”
Cara and Steph are following the golden rule for starting impactful conversations on climate change: begin with what people already hold dear. Listen to their perspectives, connect what they care about to climate, and show how that makes them the perfect person to advocate for climate solutions where they study, or work, or worship. As I explain in my TED talk, don’t just talk at people—have conversations that resonate, sparking permanent changes in perspectives and actions.