Janos Maté just received the “2010 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Montreal Protocol Award” for his work with us to protect the ozone layer and the climate over the past 18 years. The award ceremony took place at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. Read below for Janos's reflections on receiving this award.
Before coming to work at Greenpeace, I worked in the field of psychotherapy for nearly twenty years. So when in 1989 I decided to take a job as a Greenpeace Canada anti-nuclear campaigner I often wondered about the collective psychosis that was driving humanity towards the wanton destruction of our home planet.
But our day-to-day destruction of nature’s balance is generally much more routine, banal or innocent. One simple example is our use of fluorocarbon chemical refrigerants in our refrigerators and air-conditioners. These chemicals, like CFCs (commonly known as Freon) and HCFCs, are potent ozone depleting and global warming substances.
Over the years millions of tons of these chemicals were emitted into the atmosphere, and the multinational chemical companies continued to produce and vigorously market them even after they had credible scientific evidence (since the 1970s) that their products could destroy the ozone layer. Now is that not insane?
Public pressure and the appearance of a massive ozone hole over the Antarctic in 1986 finally compelled governments to create in 1987 the Montreal Protocol to control and phase-out ozone depleting substances.
In 1992 Greenpeace invited me to be a campaigner with the ozone layer protection campaign and I have been with the campaign ever since. Over the 18 years that I have worked on this campaign I have seen many positive developments in the world and I know that Greenpeace has made several significant contributions.
For example, Greenpeace revolutionized the global domestic refrigeration sector by developing and commercializing in 1993 the ozone and climate friendly Greenfreeze hydrocarbon technology. The organization received the UNEP Ozone Award from the United Nations for developing and making this technology freely available. Today there are over 400 million Greenfreeze refrigerators in the world, and it is expected that by 2020, 75% of domestic refrigeration production in the world will be using the Greenpeace technology.
Greenpeace was also instrumental in the development of SolarChill which is a solar powered and battery free vaccine cooler and food refrigerator designed for parts of the world that has no reliable electricity.
During the past 18 years I have also seen unprecedented international cooperation within the Montreal Protocol. While the Montreal Protocol could have achieved much more over the years, it is nevertheless the most successful global environmental treaty to date. All national governments on the planet have ratified it. The Montreal Protocol is an example of how the whole world must and can come together to meet global environmental challenges. We desperately need such level of cooperation to tackle global warming.
Much more could be said and much more needs to be done. But as I accept the “2010 U.S. EPA Montreal Protocol Award”, I shall have two thoughts: One, that I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to make a difference in the world through Greenpeace. Secondly, that the most important lesson the ozone crisis teaches us is that it is easier to break the world than to fix it.
(A longer version of this blog is available here)