Climate change can feel like an overwhelming problem, so it’s important to shine a light on environmental success stories. One such tale? How the world came together to save the ozone!
Join Joy and co-host Asa as they whisk listeners from the birth of ozone-depleting chemicals, to the scientific discovery that these chemicals were destroying our atmosphere, to the stunning act of international cooperation that lead to the Montreal Protocol, the world’s most successful environmental agreement to this day. Plus, a First Things First to light up your day!
NARRATOR: In a world where stranger things keep happening.
JOY DOLO: Do you ever think about all the stranger things happening in the world?
ASA: Like how celebrities can't stop eating spicy chicken wings or how low rise pants are back in style or how your lights will not stop flickering?
JOY DOLO: Even stranger, have you noticed the environment is getting weirder and weirder?
ASA: Like massive wildfires or rising sea levels or plastics in our oceans?
JOY DOLO: Yeah! What can we do about it? Surely, people have dealt with strange things like this before.
NARRATOR: A beloved podcast host and her trusty co-host search to find hope in history.
JOY DOLO: Come on, Asa, bike faster! We've got history to find!
ASA: Why are we heading towards that creepy looking forest?
JOY DOLO: Because that's where some of the best history is kept.
ASA: I don't know about that.
NARRATOR: And things just keep getting odder and odder.
ASA: Otters? I love otters.
JOY DOLO: Oh, they're so cute. And sometimes they hold hands when they swim. And their little noses are so adorable. Oh, and their fur seems so soft.
ASA: Otters are the best.
NARRATOR: No, not otters. Odder. O-D-D-E-R. Like odd, weird, mysterious. Od-der stuff.
JOY DOLO: Oh, I get it.
ASA: Oh, odder.
JOY DOLO: Is that why my pants are backwards?
NARRATOR: Coming to a Forever Ago episode near you.
JOY DOLO: Welcome to Forever Ago from APM Studios. I'm your host, Joy Dolo. And I'm here with my co-host, Asa, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hi, Asa.
JOY DOLO: Hello! Today's episode is all about one story, where the world came together to try and fix a massive environmental problem.
ASA: Wait, Joy, we don't want to spoil the story yet.
JOY DOLO: Oh, of course, not. But we do want to talk about issues affecting the health of our planet.
ASA: Because they're all around us, from plastics in our oceans to air pollution to the destruction of rainforests and to the biggest of all-- climate change.
JOY DOLO: Right. When we say climate change, we're talking about how the Earth is getting warmer, because we burn fossil fuels for energy. That could be power plants that burn coal to make electricity or using gasoline to power our cars. And when we burn all those fuels, we release a lot of carbon into our atmosphere.
ASA: And all that carbon acts just like a blanket trapping the heat from our sun, which is warming our planet, weirding out our weather, and creating climate change.
JOY DOLO: So weird. And just talking about environmental problems can feel super overwhelming. Asa, do you ever feel that way?
ASA: Yeah, pretty much. Like one time in science class, we had a talk about climate change. And I'm freaked out for a week.
JOY DOLO: Yeah, that's really freaky. It's frustrating, too, isn't it?
JOY DOLO: Is there anything that you think that gives you hope or an excitement for the future?
ASA: Ugh, there's this one program. These people go out in oceans and pick up plastic and stuff like that. That really gives me hope.
JOY DOLO: Oh, that's cool! Yeah, I've seen that before, too, where people pick up trash on the beach and help clean things up. There are lots of folks making an effort to help. We actually talked to some young people to find out what they're doing to help make the planet a healthier place.
MALCOLM: Something that I do to help the Earth is the school supports, like being sustainable. So we actually have a whole class called Sustainability, and we do a lot of this-- we re-use paper. We rarely ever get blank paper, because the more paper we use, the more trees you have to cut down.
OSCAR: I like to protect animals which is like, if ants are hot, like it's a really hot day and there's just ants on the sidewalk, I'll shade them sometimes, if I'm not really on the move or anything.
ELIAS: My family recently started composting. Composting really helps the environment because if you put food in the landfill, it just builds up and keeps getting more and more piles. And then that would be bad for the Earth.
AYA: Reusable yogurt cups. When we eat the yogurt, my mom and dad will peel the thing. And then we'll take everything off. And then we'll clean it. And then we'll use it as just a cup.
SORA: I find seeds, and then I put it in the soil. And then it grows trees. I once made a plum tree, and I picked one right off the tree. And it was super juicy and fresh.
XANA: When someone throws trash on the ground, sometimes I pick it up and throw it in the trash because that's where it belongs or the recycling bin.
PEPPER: Not try to buy stuff with plastic, like toys or food containers.
ELLA: Planet Earth is the only safe place that we have. So if we destroy it, then we won't have anywhere to live.
JOY DOLO: Thanks to Malcolm, Oscar, Elias, Aya, Sora, Xana, Pepper, and Ella from Brooklyn Campus Charter School for their awesome answers and environmental activism. The little actions we take every day do make a difference. Even so, it can be easy to get all doom and gloom about the problems facing our planet.
It can feel like there's an evil lurking in the shadows, turning our world upside down. But don't lose hope. History shows us there's a hero out there, who can take on big scary environmental monsters and win!
ASA: Is it a girl with a shaved head who loves Eggo waffles and moving into her mind?
JOY DOLO: No, it's us! Everyday people. We are the heroes. Our story starts about 100 years ago in the 1920s. Cue the Jazz!
Charlie Chaplin was starring in silly black and white silent movies. Families were buying new fangled cars like the Model T, and refrigerators were popping up for the first time in kitchens across America.
ASA: But these weren't like our refrigerators today.
JOY DOLO: They used toxic gases to keep things cold. [FARTS]
ASA: Not that kind of gas, Joy!
JOY DOLO: Oops, sorry! I just-- I joke. [CHUCKLES] These refrigerator chemicals were serious. They were kept in compartments inside the refrigerator to keep things cool. But sometimes, they leaked out and seriously hurt people.
ASA: This made people scared to keep refrigerators in their homes.
WOMAN1: Donald Dear, don't you think our new refrigerator is pure magic? My jiggly jell-o has never been this chilly.
DONALD: Yes, it's wiggly and wonderful, dear. But these fridges are dangerous!
DONALD: Yes! I'm moving this clunker out of the kitchen and next to the chickens!
ASA: People kept their refrigerators outside?
JOY DOLO: Yeah. So a few big companies decided to invest in developing a new safer chemical to keep things cold.
ASA: And in the early 1930s, an American chemist invented chlorofluorocarbons. And the chemical industry leaped for joy.
JOY DOLO: The chemical industry leapt for me? Wow! Yeah!
ASA: Sure, Joy. Chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs, for short, were colorless, non-flammable, non-toxic, and super powerful liquids--
JOY DOLO: And gases.
ASA: --that kept the cool stuff cool.
JOY DOLO: And the hot not. People were super excited to have these new safer refrigerators in their homes. By 1935, 8 million refrigerators with CFCs have been sold in the US. And over the next few decades, scientists found other uses for CFCs.
ASA: They were used to air condition cars.
JOY DOLO: To cool off homes.
ASA: And to send aerosols, like hairspray and asthma medicine shooting out of bottles and cans.
JOY DOLO: Just listen to how happy people were with CFC-powered hairspray.
WOMAN2: La di da, Delia. I've never CF-seen such a rock-hard hairdo.
WOMAN3: Isn't it amazing? CFCs keep my food cold. Now they help give my hair hold. CFCs are my main squeeze!
CFCs! Chemicals like you wouldn't believe!
ASA: So big companies made more and more of them.
JOY DOLO: And everyone was just so happy until--
ASA: --the 1970s. Cue the disco!
JOY DOLO: In the 1970s, disco balls, bell bottoms, and roller skates were in.
ASA: An over in California, two scientists named Dr. F. Sherwood Rowland and Dr. Mario Molina were studying CFCs.
JOY DOLO: Up until that point, almost everyone thought CFCs were harmless.
ASA: But Dr. Molina and Dr. Rowland weren't so sure.
JOY DOLO: So they did experiments and collected data. And as they learned more, they realized--
ASA: --something awful was happening.
JOY DOLO: Something devastating.
ASA: Something CF-sickening.
JOY DOLO: CFCs were eating the atmosphere! So let's talk about how these little CFC creepers were doing their dirty work. When I say atmosphere, I mean all the layers of gas that surround our Earth.
ASA: And one of those layers is called the ozone layer.
JOY DOLO: The ozone's job is to absorb dangerous UV light coming from the sun. You and I can't see UV light, but it can burn our skin and our eyes. Yeouch!
ASA: There's always a little bit of UV light that slips through the ozone layer, which is why I wear sunscreen.
JOY DOLO: And why I wear my nifty, neon green, cat-eye sunglasses.
ASA: Looking super fly, Joy!
JOY DOLO: Ooh, well, thank you.
ASA: So the ozone layer helps shield us from UV light, like the Earth's sunscreen.
JOY DOLO: Right. But remember those two scientists, Molina and Rowland? They discovered that when CFCs float way up high into the atmosphere, they damage the ozone layer and make it disappear. And without enough ozone, more UV rays reach the Earth's surface.
ASA: Which can cause all sorts of trouble.
JOY DOLO: Yeah. A future without an ozone is not a pretty sight. Without the ozone, those UV rays would basically burn the planet to a crisp. Plants wouldn't be able to grow. So there wouldn't be enough food. And those UV rays would burn our eyes and skin. Without the ozone, it would basically be impossible for most life to survive on Earth.
ASA: Dr. Molina and Dr. Rowland had to do something. They published an article about the dangers of CFCs in a scientific magazine.
JOY DOLO: Which seems like a no brainer, but it was actually a really brave thing to do at the time.
ASA: Yeah, because the big companies making chlorofluorocarbons did not want to hear about the dangers of their beloved chemicals.
JOY DOLO: They were making lots of money from CFCs, like billions of dollars a year.
ASA: And if everyone agreed that CFCs were bad for the planet, that would be bad for their business.
JOY DOLO: So when Rowland and Molina published their paper and suggested CFCs were hurting the planet and should be banned or restricted, these companies pushed back. They called Molina and Rowland's claims--
MAN1: --utter nonsense!
MAN2: A science fiction tale!
MAN3: Pompous claptrap!
JOY DOLO: Those are all real quotes, by the way. But it was too late. The cat was out of the bag. Rowland and Molina's research had made a splash.
MAN4: We've got a big ozone, oh no, for you today, folks. Scientists in California have let the gassy truth rip. Chlorofluorocarbons, the chemicals found in aerosol cans, fire extinguishers, and air conditioners are destroying the ozone layer.
ASA: No zone in the ozone? CF-scary!
JOY DOLO: At the time, the American public was getting much more concerned about the health of the environment. In fact, the environmental movement was just getting started.
ASA: More people were worrying about toxic chemicals and pesticides leaking in the rivers and lakes.
JOY DOLO: And things like cars and power plants polluting the air.
ASA: And the United States government was listening. In 1970, they founded the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA and started making more laws to protect America's air, water, plants, people, and animals.
JOY DOLO: So when Rowland and Molina exposed the dangers of CFCs, people reacted.
ASA: Many Americans stopped buying things that contain these harmful chemicals.
PROTESTER LEADER: Hair spray, no way!
PROTESTERS: Hair spray, no way!
PROTESTER LEADER: Spray paint is full of hate!
PROTESTERS: Spray paint is full of hate!
JOY DOLO: At the same time, the US, Canada, Sweden, and Norway made laws banning the use of CFCs in certain cases.
ASA: So change was happening. Thanks to Roland and Molina's amazing research, CFC manufacturing started to slow down.
JOY DOLO: Yep! So you're probably thinking, we did it! Kum ba yah! Hurrah!
ASA: But really it was like a kum ba nah. Things got weirder.
JOY DOLO: Scientists thought they had a handle on the problem of CFCs. But there was trouble lurking in the skies of Antarctica, silently growing and threatening the world.
ASA: And it CF-seemed to be caused by--
JOY DOLO: Super secret spy penguins!
ASA: Joy, penguins don't fly! They can't even be in the sky!
JOY DOLO: That's what they want you to think. Also, humans can't fly, but we're pilots, aren't we? How do you know there weren't penguin pilots?
JOY DOLO: We'll circle back to penguin pilots and to the real cause of the trouble. But, in the meantime, let's play--
KIDS: First Things First!
JOY DOLO: Today's First Things First is all about sun protection. Let's put these items in the order they were created. Waterproof sunscreen, bucket hats-- those are the hats with the floppy rims that go all around them-- and aviator sunglasses, those glasses that cool pilots wear that have teardrop lenses and wire frames. OK, Asa, which do you think came first, which came second, and which came most recently in history?
ASA: So I think it's bucket hats, aviator sunglasses, and waterproof sunscreens.
JOY DOLO: All right. So first up, we have bucket hats and then aviator sunglasses. And in the most recent history is waterproof sunscreen. Good guesses. We'll hear the answers after the credits.
You're listening to Forever Ago. I'm Joy.
ASA: And I'm Asa.
JOY DOLO: We love talking about the surprising history behind some of our favorite inventions on this show. We also love hearing about inventions you couldn't imagine living without. Here's today's--
NARRATOR: Invention Mention.
SOPHIA: My name is Sophia, and my invention mention is a pencil, colored pencil, or crayon. 'Cause when you're at school and you didn't have a pencil or crayon or colored pencils, what would you write with?
JOY DOLO: Thanks, Sophia, for sharing your invention mention. Listeners, send us a recording of yourself sharing your favorite invention and what's great about it at foreverago.org/contact. Now, back to the ozone.
ASA: We just learned how in the early 20th century there were new miracle chemicals called Chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs for short.
JOY DOLO: And they took the world by storm. They helped our refrigerators and air conditioners stay cool and even helped aerosols spray, from asthma medicine to hairspray.
ASA: But in the 1970s, scientists Dr. F. Sherwood Rowland and Dr. Mario Molina discovered that those CFCs were bad for our atmosphere.
JOY DOLO: Specifically, the ozone, the part of our atmosphere that acts like sunscreen protecting the Earth and blocking harmful UV rays.
ASA: So the scientists sounded the alarms and eventually convinced the public to listen.
JOY DOLO: People stopped buying a lot of the stuff that contained CFCs, and some governments banned them in certain products.
ASA: Which brings us to the 1980s. Cue to new wave!
JOY DOLO: Scrunchies and Rubik's cubes were having a moment. But down in Antarctica, something fishy was happening, like super secret spies of the penguin variety.
ASA: Joy, there were no evil penguin pilots.
JOY DOLO: Aliens?
JOY DOLO: An upside down portal to another dimension darker than our own?
ASA: No. As I was saying, there was a giant growing problem looming in the skies above Antarctica. There was--
JOY DOLO: --a massive hole in the ozone layer!
ASA: Thank you.
JOY DOLO: I knew it all along. I just like thinking about evil penguin pilots. So adorable. So naughty little tuxedo cuties. You better stop it. Get out of here, you little penguin cutie, little happy feet, happy feet penguin! You want some fishes? Get out of here!
ASA: OK. Back to this ozone hole above Antarctica.
JOY DOLO: Right. You're all probably thinking, was it an actual hole?
ASA: And the answer is, not quite. If you looked up in the sky, you wouldn't see a big, black splotch, or something. It's more like the ozone was getting very thin in this one area.
JOY DOLO: So it was like a pothole in the ozone.
ASA: Yeah! And if you looked at it on a weather map, it would look like there was this dark blob hovering over Antarctica.
JOY DOLO: Oh, blobber.
ASA: Yeah, a big blobber.
JOY DOLO: A blobber that's bigger than you would believe!
ASA: So get this. Even though satellites have shown really low levels of ozone over Antarctica for years, scientists thought the numbers were a mistake.
JOY DOLO: Yeah, it seemed too wild to be true. But, finally, in 1985, a British research team was like, wait a second, maybe our data is telling us something.
ASA: Yeah. Turns out the hole was real and really big. It was about the size of the United States of America.
JOY DOLO: The scientific community was getting really worried. They thought those ozone destroying chemicals called CFCs might be to blame again, but they weren't 100% sure. So it was research time!
ASA: Enter atmospheric chemist, Dr. Susan Solomon.
JOY DOLO: Dr. Susan Solomon was a cool young atmospheric scientist. When she heard about the hole in the ozone, she jumped at the opportunity to figure out what was going on. In the mid 1980s, Susan and her team made two visits to the South Pole to gather information. Reminder, the South Pole is cold.
ASA: Yeah, it is beyond freezing-- subzero!
JOY DOLO: It's so cold you can get frostbite in five minutes. It's ideal weather for penguin spies but freezing for humans.
ASA: But, eventually, Susan and her team got enough info to pinpoint the problem.
JOY DOLO: Evil penguin pilots!
ASA: Ugh, Joy, no!
JOY DOLO: Kidding! Once again, it was CFCs. But this time, they were teaming up with very special clouds.
ASA: Right! So one of the things that makes Antarctica different from the rest of the world is it has clouds in its stratosphere. Way, way, way high up in the sky.
JOY DOLO: Susan and her team discovered that these clouds created the perfect environment for CFCs to destroy the ozone. They created these little fluffy surfaces for CFCs to sit on while they went about their nasty work.
ASA: Around that same time, other research teams confirmed the same thing. In fact, they found CFCs were eating away at the ozone way, way faster than Molina and Rowland had thought.
JOY DOLO: OK, wait a second. You're probably thinking, didn't the world start phasing out CFCs in the 1970s?
ASA: To which we say, yes, but it was only a few countries. Just the United States, Norway, Sweden, and Canada. And they were only getting rid of CFCs that make aerosol products go, pssss!
JOY DOLO: Oy, vey! Not just the spray!
ASA: I know. Most of the world was still using chlorofluorocarbons and all sorts of products. So CFCs were still everywhere!
JOY DOLO: So how did they solve this new strange problem? Did a bunch of kids on bikes team up with their telepathic waffle-loving friend to save the day?
ASA: Wow, that is so specific. But, no, they used science communication.
JOY DOLO: For starters, there was a good visual. When the media took images of the ozone hole and broadcast them on TV, people could see the problem really clearly.
BOB: Now would you get a look at that hole, Holly?
HOLLY: I'd call it more of a blob, Bob.
SCOTT: Well, my name's Scott. And I'd call it a splotch.
HOLLY: Seriously, though, this is terrifying. We need to do something. Coming up next, a kitten that knits. Stay tuned!
ASA: The public was shocked. Governments around the world were appalled.
JOY DOLO: What happened next was amazing. In a few months time, a big international group called the United Nations drafted an international treaty called the Montreal Protocol. It was basically a set of rules that called for everyone to stop making and using CFCs, as well as other chemicals that destroy the ozone.
Scientists, businesses, and governments from around the world agreed to cooperate and build the Montreal Protocol together. They created a flexible agreement that gave businesses the freedom required to develop new products and smaller countries the support they needed to switch to using cleaner chemicals. As a result, the Monreal Protocol became the first international treaty to be signed by every country in the entire world.
ASA: And it took a few years to start working. But by 2006, the hole in the ozone started to shrink.
JOY DOLO: And scientists hope the Earth's ozone will return to normal levels by 2050. To this day, the Montreal Protocol is considered the world's most successful environmental agreement.
ASA: Wow, this story got me thinking, if we came together in the past to tackle a big environmental problem like the hole in the ozone, why can't we do the same thing today to stop using the fossil fuels causing climate change?
JOY DOLO: I know! The trouble is, so much of our world runs on fossil fuels, from our cars to the heat and light in our homes. It's a much deeper, more complicated problem than getting rid of CFCs, which weren't used in as many things.
ASA: But we can still take action, and we can push our leaders to make it easier for all of us to kick our fossil fuel habits.
JOY DOLO: Yeah. In 2015, countries around the world signed the Paris Agreement, an international treaty designed to combat climate change. Its main goal is to stop global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degree Celcius. It requires nations to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and ramp up their commitments every five years.
But countries are responsible for deciding how much and what kind of actions they take. One way you can help push your government to do more is by making your voice heard. Protest!
Join a group of climate activists. Encourage the adults in your life to vote for candidates who are going to work to protect the planet. Listen to the science and take whatever action you can. Because, remember, when it comes to helping the planet, everyday people can be climate heroes.
This episode was written by Rosie duPont and Ruby Guthrie. We had production help from Nico Gonzalez Wisler, Molly Bloom, Sanden Totten, Shahla Farzan, Aron Woldeslassie, Anna Goldfield, and Anna Weggel. Sound design by Rachel Brees. Theme music by Marc Sanchez. Beth Pearlman is our executive producer.
We had engineering help from Anna Haberman and Alex Simpson. The executives in charge of APM Studios are Chandra Covatti, Joanne Griffith, and Alex Schaffert. Special thanks to Eric Ringham, Andy Doucette, and David Brancaccio.
ASA: If you want access to ad-free episodes and special bonus content, subscribe to our Smarty Pass.
JOY DOLO: Check it out at smartypass.org. And if you want to send us a note, head to foreverago.org/contact. OK, Asa, ready to hear the answers for First Things First?
JOY DOLO: OK. As a reminder, we've got aviator sunglasses, waterproof sunscreen, and bucket hats. And you said that bucket hats were the oldest, aviator sunglasses were second, and waterproof sunscreen was the most recent in history.
JOY DOLO: [GASP] Oh my goodness, Asa.
ASA: I got them all right, you know. I already know it.
JOY DOLO: How did you know? How did you know that you got them all right?
ASA: Well, I read people's minds.
JOY DOLO: [CHUCKLES] Smart guy.
ASA: Yeah, you know.
JOY DOLO: Yeah, you're super smart. That's what it is. You can admit it. It's OK. So bucket hats were invented in the 1900s in Ireland, and it was meant for farmers and fishermen. And it was made of wool, which is like water resistant. And it was very easy to pack as well. So the bucket hat has become like this cultural phenomenon. It was worn by the TV character, Gilligan, of Gilligan's Island in the 1960s.
And then in the 1980s, rapper LL Cool J sported one. Do you remember LL Cool J? He always had this hat that he always wore with the big rim on the edge. He was very famous in the '80s.
ASA: My dad probably knew him.
JOY DOLO: And even singer and mogul Rihanna wore one on the red carpet.
JOY DOLO: Yeah! So you know Rihanna. That one works. So bucket hats were the first. And then second up, you were correct again, it was aviator sunglasses. And those were invented in 1935. And they were developed by the US military. And they helped the US Air Force pilots see better while they were flying. So during World War II, aviators became standard military sunglasses but gained popularity outside of the army, too, because they looked so cool, right? Do you like them?
ASA: Yeah, I like them.
JOY DOLO: I do, too. I think they're pretty sweet. And then last but not least was waterproof sunscreen in 1977.
ASA: Mom, that's when you were born, 1977.
JOY DOLO: [LAUGHS] Waterproof sunscreen was invented in 1977 by American company Johnson & Johnson. And it was called Coppertone, a brand that's still around today, which I think I've seen before. Coppertone sunscreen? Did you know that people have been protecting their skin from the sun for centuries?
JOY DOLO: Ancient Egyptians used extracts from rice bran, as well as Jasmine and lupin flowers to block the tanning effects of sun or skin as early as 3,100 BC.
ASA: That's so crazy.
JOY DOLO: We'll be back next week with an episode, All About the History of Children's Libraries.
ASA: Thanks for listening!
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