What could’ve been

s debates about how to address climate change and other environmental threats whirl in political circles, there are those who wonder if all these laws and regulations actually get us anywhere in terms of “saving the planet.” After all, the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Ace were all passed nearly 40 years ago, and many living things are still choking on pollution, drinking dirty water and vanishing from the planet. It can be discouraging at times.

Atmospheric chemists at NASA decided to use science to look at something hypothetical: What would the world be like if, in 1989 under the Montreal Protocol, 193 nations hadn’t agreed to ban ozone-depleting chemicals?

Pretty disastrous, according to their findings. Among them: By 2065, nearly two-thirds of the ozone—Earth’s natural sunscreen—would be gone. An ozone hole over Antarctica would be a year-round fixture. The ozone over the tropics would be nearly completely gone. You could get a sunburn standing outside for five minutes in mid-latitude cities like Washington, D.C. UV radiation would be up 500 percent, enough to change the DNA of some species, hike skin cancer rates, and cause other harm to plants, animals and humans.

Their computer models show color-coded maps of a multi-hued Earth in 1974 transitioning into a sheet of blue, indicating ozone’s absence by 2064. The models are visible at earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/WorldWithoutOzone.

“We simulated a world avoided,” said lead researcher Paul Newman in an article on the NASA website. “And it’s a world we should be glad we avoided.”