THERE'S been a tinge of unreality to the concern about climatic warming and the ozone layer. The threats are global. The pollution that causes the threats is also global. But discussions of what to do about it have been parochial and dominated by Western industrialized countries. It's increasingly obvious that this pollution won't be curbed until a global consensus exists as to what needs to be done.
China made this point bluntly when it blew a hole in the Montreal Protocol to limit ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Prof. Cheng Zheng-Kang of Beijing University told a University of Colorado conference that China plans to boost its CFC production tenfold. Within a decade, that should equal current United States output, negating the US plan to cut its output in half under the protocol's terms.
The Chinese want refrigerators for which CFCs are the working fluids. They can't afford the more costly substitutes now being developed. They don't see why they should do without refrigeration because of a problem caused by Western nations. They also resent protocol provisions that allow industrialized nations higher CFC production levels than third-world countries.
What's true of the ozone treaty will also be true of efforts to deal with climatic warming. The recent congressional hearing on the subject understandably focused on what the US might do to cut carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels. The plain fact is that industrialized nations can't do much single-handed. Their efforts could be negated by rising third-world energy use.
Thus, first priority must be to achieve global consensus on the scope of the problem and how to cope with it. There has to be give-and-take all around. Third-world nations must be willing to plan their development in environmentally safe ways, and industrialized nations must provide technical and financial aid to do it.
It will take decades of sustained effort to protect the global environment. Now is the time to build the consensus that must precede action.