Joseph Farman: the Saving the Ozone Layer conference, 1989

Joseph Farman tells story of the Saving the Ozone Layer conference, London, 1989.

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So we had this Save the Ozone Layer Conference, in which we had six initial talks of which I, Sherry Rowland started off with talking about what he and Molina had decided about it all. Then I spoke and then Bob Watson spoke. There were six talks, and Bob was giving the third one I think it was. Erm, whereupon Mrs Thatcher suddenly climbs to her feet and takes her entourage out, leaving Bob sort of in mid-sentence [laughs] gasping somewhat. She had to go to a hospital where there’d been a terrible accident or something, and had pictures taken talking to her. Anyhow, so that wasn’t a good start. [Laughs] And then we went through all that, yes, that was fine. And then she appeared later in the day and gave some press conference and told everyone to go out and buy these wonderful new refrigerators from ICI, which were going to be full of hydro-fluorocarbons 134 and, erm, that was fun. And – and while she was away, heads of delegations from all around the world, paid for by us [laughs], solemnly got up and made statements about what needed to be done and so on and so forth. And I thought that’s very interesting, they’re all saying quite often stronger statements than I said. And then suddenly it sort of dawned on me: well, actually they weren’t going to be asked to sign anything at this particular conference, this was a build-up for next year for the Protocol. And when they came back next year, well, they didn’t quite speak in the same way they had at this particular conference [laughs]. In fact they didn’t promise to do very much at all. No, it’s really quite staggering that, you know, with a piece of paper to sign, politicians don’t commit themselves. But if they’re speaking at a preparatory conference, or something of that sort, they can all get up, preach and make it sound very exciting. [Sighs] Oh dear. That wasn’t quite the end of it … what does one say? [Laughs] Virginia Bottomley was Environment Minister, wasn’t she, at the time, yes, yeah. She came and grabbed me at the end of the meeting to meet the Prime Minister you see, and oh dear. Well, the Prime Minister says a few kind words and she says to me, somewhat sadly, ‘Did I make a mistake in telling everyone to buy this new refrigerator from ICI?’ you see. So what can a poor man do, but say, ‘Well, actually I don’t think they’ll be on the markets for a year. What you saw this morning was a prototype and they haven’t yet gone into mass production.’ [Laughs] ‘Oh,’ [laughs] ‘oh, get rid of this man, I don’t want to,’ [laughs]. So you get passed off. And I find myself face to face with Denis, you see, that’s what happens to people when she says [laughs]. So Denis is busy studying the marble floor and says to me, ‘Tell me, Mr Farman, and what are you going to turn your brilliant mind to now that the ozone question is settled you see?’ [laughs] Oh, bloody hell. [Laughs] I’d had enough of this, and so I thought, well, so I said, ‘Oh, I don’t know, there are one or two problems we are up against; aren't there?  Let me see, there's the balance of payments, isn’t there? There’s the Council Tax, there’s,’ [laughs]. And he has the grace to sort of smile gently, and we discover we can talk about rugby [laughs]. And that’s what life at some levels is all about. It’s somewhat sad I’m afraid.
  • Interviewee Joseph Farman
  • Duration 00:04:16
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Paul Merchant
  • Date of interview 12/13/2010
  • Shelfmark C1379/07

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