From chemistry to the international treaty or why science changes things

Mikel Mancisidor

A few days ago the Nobel Committee announced that this year the winners in its Chemistry category would be the French Emmanuelle Charpentier and the American Jennifer A. Doudna "for the development of a method for editing the genome" . That same day, chance sometimes has these things, the person who had won that same award 25 years before died: the Mexican Mario Molina.

Molina obtained the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1995 for his participation in the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer and for his work on chlorine compounds as the cause of that hole. Thanks to their work (and that of others, of course, that science is usually a collective enterprise) the international community was able to learn about the problem, became aware of its seriousness and the need to combat it. As a result, the Vienna Convention for the protection of the ozone layer (1985) and later its Montreal Protocol (1989) were adopted, which prohibited the production and emission of the CFCs that caused this deterioration. This Protocol included specific and differentiated commitments by the countries and specific dates for their fulfillment. Technical, legal and financial means were included. States and industrial and commercial agents complied. As a result of all this, the emission of these products was eliminated in a few years, allowing their concentration to gradually decrease. The Convention and its Protocol have been a success: the situation is already reversing and it is expected that in 35 years the ozone layer will have practically recovered completely.

I don't know if you have observed it, but from time to time one Read or listen to commentators who use this success story to defend the exact opposite of what I think it might teach us. Not long ago, to give one example among many, one of the most important online media in the country published an article by one of its collaborators that said: “climate change is in fashion. I, who have lived the fashion of the hole in the ozone layer (does anyone know what happened to the hole and, mostly, to ozone?), I must admit that I sleep very quietly at night while the planet is heading towards its destruction total. Sorry: I sleep at night lulled by a thousand personal problems and none of them is climate change. To a certain extent, I envy them. I envy that you have time to save a planet while I can barely save my marriage. ”

As a funny person, it is not so original either, in fact it is not the first time I hear or read that this climate change is a distraction for idlers and dilettantes as it was, when appearing, the fashion of the emergence of the hole of the ozone layer that, apparently, arose from nowhere, alarmed gratuitously a couple of seasons (coinciding with the no less alarming fashion of the shoulder pads) and by Magic art disappeared from the agenda without a trace. On something I agree: we must remember the case of the hole in the ozone layer. But I read here just the opposite of those who believe that they are fads that come and go. "Does anyone know what happened to the hole and the ozone?" Asks the writer as if wanting to imply that no one knows. But it is possible to know: it is enough to be interested a little and spend a few minutes of attention in rigorous sources.

We are not before a funny story of a silly fashion that came and went. We are facing a problem that justifiably alarmed and that the international community was able to reverse by reacting with scientific knowledge, social involvement and political will. This is a good example for other problems, especially for climate change and in a way also for the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges, like that one, can only be addressed by adding rigorous scientific knowledge, civic responsibility and good political direction.

The problems mentioned are different, without a doubt. The CFC problem could be tackled in such an efficient way, among other things, because it was a well-defined problem, on which there were mature technical alternatives that were economically acceptable and did not present insurmountable political difficulties. But for that reason it was not a minor problem, nor an easy one, nor an experience that we can despise or from which we can afford not to want to learn.

It is true that the problem of climate change is more complex technically and scientifically, with alternatives more difficult, much more expensive, with devilish implications. I do not mean, therefore, that the way to face the problem of Climate Change can follow the same steps or at the same rate as the problem of the ozone layer, but I do mean that, in one case as in another, nothing can be done if not it is in alliance between science, society, economics and politics.

Mario Molina said it recently in one of his last interviews: «The ozone layer is a very important example of a global problem that could be solved successfully ». And he said it long before, with enormous vision, in his speech at the reception of the Nobel in 1995:

“[…] this global problem has shown us that different sectors of society can work together – the scientific community, industry, environmental organizations, government representatives and public managers – to reach international agreements: the Montreal protocol has set an important precedent for solving global environmental problems. ”

We have had these last few controversial weeks, not always constructive, on the relationship between science and politics. Molina also spoke at the time of these things: "scientists can pose problems based on the available evidence, but their solution is not the responsibility of scientists, it is the responsibility of the whole of society."

Can you imagine more messages current, more ambitious, more inspiring? My respects to a great scientist who with his work and vision has bequeathed us a better world.

The good news to finish this article is that in our society there are more and more molinas working on different problems : Let's take care of our science and our scientists if we want a better world! And it is that today more never #SinCienciaNoHayFuturo.

About the author: Mikel Mancisidor ( @ MMancisidor1970 ) is a member of the Committee on Economic, Social and Social Rights Cultural de la ONU and Adjunct Professor of International Human Rights Law, Washington College of Law, American University (Washington DC)

The article From chemistry to the international treaty or why science changes things has written in Cuaderno de Cultura Científica .

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