A Noble Nobel Gesture

October 23, 1995
By Michael Glantz

Fragilecologies By Michael GlantzThe Nobel Prize for Chemistry has gone to three researchers (Paul Crutzen, Mario Molina, and Sherwood Rowland) who have had a long association with scientific research on the possible impacts of manufactured chemicals on stratospheric ozone.

Their studies go back to the early 1970s, when they hypothesized that even small amounts of chlorofluorocarbons, popularly known as CFCs and as Freons (a trade name), could destroy large amounts of stratospheric ozone. In fact, chlorine molecules in the stratosphere earned the dubious honor of being labeled as "ozone-eaters."

By now, most Americans, as well as many others around the globe, have come to realize that certain industrial chemicals can have negative effects on the ozone layer. They may know it from the numerous articles that have appeared in newspapers and magazines or from news clips on television. A thinning of the ozone layer will increase the amount of ultraviolet rays from the sun that reach the earth's surface. This thinning puts humans and most other living organisms at increased risk to various types of skin cancer.

Not surprisingly, a few scientists continue to challenge the large amount of scientific evidence of ozone depletion, and they have denounced the Nobel Prize Committee's selection of these atmospheric chemists as nothing more than a political act.

All this hoopla, pro and con, about the selection of these researchers notwithstanding, there is yet another aspect of this particular award that needs to be brought to light. In my mind, this award rings loud and clear as a Nobel prize FOR the environment.

There have been intermittent demands during the past ten years or so for the creation of a special Nobel award for the environment, along with those already given for peace, medicine, chemistry, physics, and economics. But to date, such calls have not been taken seriously.

It is time to renew our demands for a special Nobel Prize for the Environment. We have learned a lot about the workings of the earth's environment during the past century, and that body of knowledge is still growing. As part of that learning, we have come to realize just how fragile the Earth is. We have seen how easy it is to destroy forests, create deserts, pollute bodies of water, and even make large bodies of water disappear. We have also seen how costly it has been to do so — costly in terms of both human suffering and environmental destruction.

In addition to recognizing the environment as the focus of many of the world's most pressing problems, it would be a great gesture to the generations who will manage the planet in the 21st century to honor those whose efforts are related directly to improving the environment, such as individual scientists, activists, governmental, and nongovernmental groups. It would also be a great gesture to make on behalf of Alfred Nobel.

Let's see if we can convince the Nobel committee to create an environmental prize by 1999! You can contact them at the following address: Nobel Foundation, Sturegatan 14, Postfack 5232, S-102 45 Stockholm, Sweden.

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