Stanford reflects on Earth Day at 50: Kari Nadeau

Kari Nadeau, director of the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy & Asthma Research at Stanford, puts the Montreal Protocol’s lessons into perspective.

Kari Nadeau is the Naddisy Foundation Professor of Pediatric Food Allergy, Immunology and Asthma; a professor of pediatrics at the Stanford School of Medicine; director of the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy & Asthma Research at Stanford; and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. One of the nation’s foremost experts in adult and pediatric allergy and asthma, she focuses on understanding the factors responsible for the increased prevalence of allergies and asthma, improving diagnostics and understanding the immunological mechanisms underlying these diseases.

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Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, Professor Kari Nadeau reflects on the success of the Montreal Protocol.

What is an example of a major environmental success story related to human health over the past 50 years?

The Montreal Protocol, finalized in 1987, is a global agreement to protect the stratospheric ozone layer by phasing out the production and consumption of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). CFCs are now globally recognized as the main cause of the depletion of the ozone layer, which allows high levels of damaging light to reach us. This light can cause or contribute to the development of non-melanoma skin cancer, malignant melanoma and cataract development. This light can also damage plant life on land and phytoplankton in the ocean.


Why do you consider it of great significance/importance?

It was the first treaty in the history of the United Nations to achieve universal ratification – signed by 197 countries. About 30 years later, there is no hole in the ozone stratospheric level.

I consider it one of the most successful achievements in global environmental regulation and see in it hope and inspiration that we can do something similar again.


What led to the change?

CFCs were shown to deplete stratospheric ozone in 1974, which led to CFC emission reductions by citizen action and national regulation in some countries. A decade later, the discovery of the ozone hole over Antarctica increased concern. The Montreal Protocol provided a mechanism to reduce and phase out the global production and consumption of CFCs.


What lessons can we learn from this success story?

I learned from (former Secretary of State) George Shultz that skeptical world leaders were asked to sign the agreement even if they only thought there might be a possibility that chlorofluorocarbons played a role. They were guarding against that possibility for future generations. I love what this story says about key principals of human behavior and motivation – we protect our planet so our families can lead healthy and sustainable lives into the future.