Some Like It Hot

Preserving the Global Environment: The Challenge of Shared Leadership

edited by Jessica Tuchman Mathews
Norton, 362 pp., $22.95

It’s a Matter of Survival

by Anita Gordon, by David Suzuki
Harvard University Press, 278 pp., $19.95

Ecology, Economics, Ethics: The Broken Circle

edited by F. Herbert Bormann, edited by Stephen R. Kellert
Yale University Press, 233 pp., $26.50

Eco-Warriors: Understanding the Radical Environmental Movement

by Rik Scarce
Noble Press, 291 pp., $12.95 (paper)

Green Rage: Radical Environmentalism and the Unmaking of Civilization

by Christopher Manes
Little, Brown, 291 pp., $9.95 (paper)

Ozone Diplomacy: New Directions in Safeguarding the Planet

by Richard Elliot Benedick
Harvard University Press, 300 pp., $27.95

In It’s a Matter of Survival, Anita Gordon and David Suzuki report that in a 1989 radio interview, Lucien Bouchard, the Canadian minister for the environment, said of global warming:

If we don’t move now there will be a disaster. I don’t want to scare people but we’re dealing with the survival of the species. It is a question of great, great emergency. We must stop saying the burning of fossil fuels is the only way to live in Canada.

Nevertheless, Bouchard added, “While we’re concerned about the environment, we’re also deeply concerned with other aspects of life, like jobs.”

Conflicts between environmental preservation and economic development are an old story. They can be found in much of the debate of the past thirty years over the principal environmental issues—air, water, and ground pollution. But the conflict has been sharpened by the recent emergence of new concerns—global warming, ozone depletion, destruction of the rain forest, and loss of biological diversity.

The new issues involve a new type of damage to the environment. The main insults to it used to be evident: people could see smog, would get sick from toxic wastes, or notice that the fish had disappeared from the foul-smelling river. Scientific analysis was called on to explain what was happening and to suggest technical remedies for recognizable injuries.

The new dangers such as global warming and ozone depletion are much less visible and often will not materialize until years to come. We know about them primarily because of the analytical predictions of scientists. Indeed, without science, the threats would have gone largely unrecognized until—probably too late for effective countermeasures—they became tangible.

The scientific observations have accumulated over the last two decades. Ozone depletion was first recognized by the chemists Frank S. Rowland and Mario Molina in 1973, when they undertook to track the fate of fluorocarbon molecules that were being generated by the growing commercial and industrial uses of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in, for example, spray cans and air conditioners. At first they could hardly believe their findings that chlorine atoms broken off from the CFCs would seriously reduce the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere, which normally blocks ultraviolet light from reaching the earth’s surface. Such loss of ozone could wreak havoc on human, plant, and animal life because ultraviolet radiation can induce skin cancers and cataracts, lower the yields of basic crops, and kill tiny organisms in the ocean food chain. Rowland and Molina’s analysis, though much disputed for years, was gradually confirmed by scientists conducting computer simulations of the atmosphere and, more dramatically, by a British team who in 1985 detected an enormous depletion of the ozone layer over a huge region of Antarctica.

Apprehensions of global warming rest on a scientific theory that concentrations in the atmosphere of carbon dioxide, a product of burning fossil fuels, and of gases such as methane, trap radiation reflected from the earth, creating a greenhouse effect that …

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Letters

The Sticking Gas June 25, 1992