Joseph Farman: explaining the ozone hole to politicians

Joseph Farman remembers feelings of frustration in attempts to advise politicians on ozone depletion, including story of his evidence to a House of Commons Select Committee.

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You probably won't believe this, but I’ve never met a politician who doesn’t think that if you reduce the rate at which you’re putting something into the atmosphere, you don’t actually reduce the amount in the atmosphere. [Laughs] The idea of filling a bath, if you let more out than you put in, you empty the bath, if you put more in, if you put things in more rapidly than it runs out at the other end, then you fill the bath. [Laughs] This doesn’t seem to be common knowledge in among politicians. [Laughs] They think oh, we’re not putting as much in; it surely must be going down. And the answer was no, you know. CFC 12, we will still claim gently, will thirty percent of what was there in 1985 will still be in the atmosphere in 2000, you know. It goes very slowly. It’s really quite amazing how difficult it is to get these messages across to people. I mean I remember when I gave evidence in the House of Commons Select Committee, I thought written evidence shouldn’t exceed one side of a sheet of foolscap, they can’t read anymore than that [laughs] with any understanding. So it was one sheet of foolscap of I hoped quite sensible English, I don’t think I’ve got a copy anymore, and some graphs showing, you know, the thing. And I can remember to this day that, oh well first of all I’d been told I shouldn’t – I wouldn’t – shouldn’t say anything until I was spoken to, as it were. And that the head of NERC and my director would take the take the questions, and if they thought there was something technical they might hand it on to me. But luckily the chairman sort of addressed me straightaway so I started talking as rapidly as possible to keep these other people away [laughs]. And I can remember sort of looking at the committee and they were sitting there with these pieces of paper in front of them, but with a glazed expression over their faces. And so I sort of banged on the table, and I said, ‘Oh for God’s sake, wake up and look at that piece of paper I’ve given you.’ [Laughs] And they did react; it was quite comical. [Laughs] I wouldn’t do it again, though. [Laughs] But no, it really is very discouraging. I mean to expect any – any sense at all really from most of them is just too much.
  • Interviewee Joseph Farman
  • Duration 00:02:27
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Paul Merchant
  • Date of interview 12/13/2010
  • Shelfmark C1379/07

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