1984: The Sky Is Falling

Oct 1, 2002
Outside Magazine

Ozone hole image recorded by NASA's Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer, October 1985.

In late 1984, British atmospheric scientist BRIAN GARDINER and two colleagues, Joseph Farman and Jonathan Shanklin, stunned the world with their discovery of a hole—roughly the size of Australia—in the protective ozone layer over Antarctica. Scientists quickly fingered the culprit—industrial gases called chlorofluorocarbons—and within two years, most nations had agreed to ban the gases outright. Gardiner, 57, now leads the British Antarctic Survey's Ozone Monitoring Program in Cambridge, England. "When this thing happened, it was a wake-up call, a shocker. But we learned from it. First, that we need to work harder at understanding the atmosphere we breathe. Second, that we need to realize how mankind's activities can cause unpredicted and quite dramatic changes. Detecting the ozone hole was, really, a lucky break, because that problem was relatively easy to solve. The ozone hole should begin to get better soon. We could see some improvement in the next five or ten years. But when you're talking about the greenhouse effect and climate change, that pervades all aspects of industrial and economic life throughout the world. I'm an old guy now, a dyed-in-the-wool curmudgeon. But I guess I'm saying the most radical thing: I'd like to see us convert worldwide from fossil fuels to solar, wind, wave, biomass, and so on. Let's not wait to find out what we shouldn't be doing. We're playing dice with our future."

Interview by Rob Buchanan

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web

Not Now

Open a World of Adventure

Our Dispatch email delivers the stories you can’t afford to miss.

Thank you!