What is past is prologue

OK, at this stage of the game, denying the reality of climate change, a.k.a. global warming, is exactly like a guy who smokes four packs of Marlboros a day but “denies” the threat of lung cancer. He can say he doesn’t “believe” in lung cancer all he wants. He can say he doesn’t believe that smoking 80 cigarettes a day poses a threat to his longevity. Fine. But when that big black blob shows up on the chest X-ray—well …

It’s become slightly fashionable to opine that it’s already too late. That the massive machinery of human-fueled climate mischief is now in place and, since we’re reluctant to do a damn thing about it, we are, ultimately, doomed to feel Gaia’s weather-rockin’ wrath more and more as the 21st century marches on. I confess to having a soft spot for these types of apocalyptic conversations—oh, you betcha. But maybe it’s time to pump the brakes just a tad on OID (our inevitable doom) by recalling acid rain and the ozone layer. Remember those?

Acid rain was detected in the lakes of the industrial northeast in the late ’70s, and the causes were quickly discovered. Yes, geologic activity was a trouble-maker, but humanity was as well, especially since we were belching a lot of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. Many lakes and streams were found to have harmful acidic pH levels, and the effects on overall ecology were negative. So you know what happened? We actually did something about it! You know, like, in a scientific, bipartisan way? I know, weird, right?

We studied the situation through the ’80s, and by 1990, Congress was ready to do something. No, really! It passed amendments to the Clean Air Act that reduced emissions of sulfur dioxide, and, as a result of us acting with actual intelligence, levels of acid rain have since dropped 40-60 percent. Gee, waddyaknow. We really … did something.

Also in the ’70s, scientists discovered that our use of CFCs (choloroflurocarbons) in aerosol sprays was mangling Earth’s ozone layer, which has the very important job of protecting us from the sun’s vicious UV radiation. So again, the governments of industrial nations actually took action (no shit!) and capped the use of CFCs, and by 2003, well, waddyaknow again. Measurements confirmed that ozone depletion was being reduced.

No, man-caused problems with the ozone and acid rain weren’t eliminated, but they were mitigated and controlled. See, back then, we didn’t suspect science, we respected it. And then used it. What a concept. So maybe, just maybe—it’s not too late with climate change?