a relatively small number of companies; substitutes were developed by these same companies (who stood to profit from the transition); and while CFCs were important to certain products and industrial processes, they were not fundamental to the operation of modern society. Climate change, however, is driven primarily by the burning of fossil fuels, for which there are currently few comparable alternatives; they are produced by some of the world’s largest companies; they provide the primary source of income for a number of key nations; and they supply the primary source of energy for the world. Furthermore, ozone depletion threatened significant personal health consequences because UV-B light is associated with increased rates of skin cancer. By contrast, while climate change is projected to have significant health consequences, the impacts will be neither universal nor as personally relevant to most Americans. People around the world could see themselves as more or less vulnerable to the risk of increased UV light due to ozone depletion, while the health risks of climate change are likely to be much more heterogeneous. In fact, studies have found that a majority of Americans currently believe climate change will have a small or no impact on human health, or they simply have no idea (Leiserowitz et al., 2009). Finally, while CFCs were used in some consumer products such as aerosol spray cans and refrigerators, fossil fuels power much of the world’s transportation system and electrical grid and provide key inputs into countless goods and foodstuffs (Sunstein, 2007).
Limiting the severity and adapting to the impacts of climate change will require the participation of individuals, organizations, and governments in every nation. The daunting scope of this task also has precedent, however. In 1979, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) formally declared victory in its 20-year campaign to eradicate smallpox worldwide.
Smallpox was one of the most deadly and contagious diseases known to humankind. It originated about 10,000 years ago and became endemic across Europe and Asia. Before widespread vaccinations became available during the 19th century, the disease killed about half a million people annually (0.5 percent of the population) in Europe alone. By the 20th century, smallpox still killed about 2 million people each year worldwide. In 1959 the United Nations began—and in 1967 greatly intensified—a campaign to eradicate the disease worldwide, a task made possible because smallpox exists only in humans and has no other carriers. Using extensive networks to reach every village on Earth, particularly in Africa and the Indian subcontinent, WHO teams identified each outbreak, isolated the victims, and vaccinated the surrounding population. Advertising campaigns and financial incentives encouraged even illiterate villagers