Sherwood Rowland – science and moral action

One of the three scientists who unravelled the complex chemistry of atmospheric ozone and the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) once used in aerosol sprays and other household and industrial products and processes is no more.

Sherwood Rowland, Mario Molina and Paul Crutzen won the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work on the formation and destruction of ozone in the stratosphere. Their investigation into this environmentally rare allotrope of oxygen led to a worldwide ban on the production of CFCs: a prohibition that, contrary to initial protests from industry lobbyists, did not harm the economy, even if the adoption of alternative compounds for aerosol propellants and refrigerants did raise costs in the short term.

The 1987 Montreal Protocol is arguably the most successful environmental treaty ever devised. Its adoption is due in large part to the moral as well as scientific efforts of individuals such as Sherwood Rowland, who once asked…

“Isn’t it a responsibility of scientists, if you believe that you have found something that can affect the environment, isn’t it your responsibility to do something about it, enough so that action actually takes place?

“If not us, who? If now now, when?”

RIP Frank Sherwood Rowland (1927–2012)