The New York TimesOctober 14, 2020 12:26:27 PM
Mario Molina, who received a Nobel Prize for work showing the damage that chemicals in hairspray and refrigerators do to the ozone layer in one of the most successful international efforts to combat environmental risks, died on October 7th at his home in Mexico City . He was 77 years old.
The cause was a heart attack, said Lorena Gonzalez Villarreal, a spokeswoman for the Mario Molina Center for Strategic Studies in Energy and Environment, the center for environmental research and policy he founded in Mexico City in 2004.
Molina, a Mexican-born US citizen, was a “trailblazing pioneer of the climate movement,”
Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland of the University of California at Irvine found that chemicals known as chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, would deplete the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere. Their discovery changed global environmental policy.
The impact of their findings was grave: without the protective ozone, an increase in ultraviolet radiation would endanger the health of many species, including humans. The two scientists pushed for a ban on CFCs and began scientifically sound environmental advocacy for both of them through statements and interviews from Congress.
Their work has been attacked by industry; A company president said the criticism of its products was “orchestrated by the KGB’s Department of Disinformation.”
In 1987, their work led to the Montreal Protocol, a pioneering international environmental treaty with which the establishment of the links is to be discontinued. This treaty had an unexpected positive effect: it later emerged that many of the ozone-depleting gases are also strong greenhouse gases. Without the treaty, climate change would have progressed even faster than before.
In 1995, the two men shared the Nobel Prize with Paul J. Crutzen from the Max Planck Institute in Germany. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in its announcement of the award: “The three researchers have helped save us from a global environmental problem that could have catastrophic consequences.”
In a 2010 congressional report, Molina said those attacking climate science are focusing on the areas of uncertainty, like it’s a house of cards that collapses when a card is removed. Instead, he likened it to a puzzle that reveals his image before all of the pieces are in place. On global warming, he said, “There is little doubt that the bigger picture is clear – that climate change is a serious threat that needs to be addressed urgently.”
José Mario Molina-Pasquel and Henríquez were born on March 19, 1943 in Mexico City to Roberto Molina Pasquel and Leonor Henríquez Molina. His father was a lawyer and judge and served as the Mexican ambassador to Ethiopia, the Philippines and Australia. His mother was a housewife.
He was fascinated by science from the very early days when he wrote in a treatise that appears on the Nobel website: “I remember my excitement when I first looked at paramecia and amoeba through a rather primitive toy microscope . ”He converted an underused bathroom in his house into a laboratory for his chemistry kits, run by an aunt, Esther Molina, who was a chemist.
Following their tradition, his family sent him abroad, and at the age of eleven he attended boarding school in Switzerland “on the assumption that German was an important language for a budding chemist”.
Deciding that of his two passions, chemistry and violin, science was the one to devote himself to, he enrolled in the chemical engineering program at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 1960. After studying in Paris and Germany, he began studying at the University of California at Berkeley in 1968. In 1972 he received his doctorate there in physical chemistry.
The experience of studying at Berkeley wasn’t just important to his development as a scientist, as he would remember. It arrived in the wake of free speech, and political awareness was part of everyday life. He initially worked in the fledgling field of chemical lasers, but was “dismayed” to find that some researchers from other institutions were developing high-powered lasers for use as weapons.
“That was important,” said Felipe José Molina, Molina’s son and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, in an interview. Thanks to Molina’s experience at Berkeley, his son said he felt driven to do work “that would benefit society, not just research or things that could potentially be harmful.”
In 1973 Molina joined Rowland’s laboratory group at the University of California at Irvine, where they developed their theory of ozone depletion.
Rowland and Molina realized that the chlorine atoms produced would destroy ozone when the CFCs reached the upper atmosphere, where they could be destroyed by solar radiation. “We were alarmed,” recalled Molina. They published their results in the journal nature in 1974.
He later worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. the University of California, San Diego; and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At the Molina Center in Mexico City, he focused on alleviating the city’s asphyxiation pollution.
In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In Berkeley, Molina met a chemist, Luisa Tan. They married in 1973 and divorced in 2005. She currently directs the independent Molina Center for Strategic Studies in Energy and the Environment in San Diego.
In 2006, Molina married Guadalupe Álvarez. She and his son survive him, as do three step-sons, Joshua, Allan, and Asher Ginsburg; four of his six siblings, Roberto, Martha, Luis and Lucero Molina, and two grandchildren.
Rowland died in 2012. In his New York Times Obituary, Molina was quoted as saying that the two scientists weren’t sure they would manage to ban CFCs, “but we started something that set a very important precedent: people can make decisions and solve global problems.”
Gore, who received a Nobel Prize in 2007 for his own work warning the world about climate change, said Molina “never withdrew from political pressure and always told power the truth based on science and reason.”
“The world,” he added, “is a better place because of Mario.”
John Schwartz. c.2020 The New York Times Company