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Research Day: Taco Bell And The Ozone Layer

Why is Taco Bell so named?: When I was nine or ten, I was in the car with my dad when we passed one of the Taco Bells that were springing up all over our suburb. "Why do they call it that?" I asked.

My father, a classical music aficionado, thought for a moment and said "I think it's a play on the name Pachelbel. You know, the composer who wrote the Canon? And the Hexachordum Apollinis?"

That answer satisfied me for a decade and a half. Recently, though, while driving by another of the ubiquitous fast-food outlets, the question popped back into my head, and it occurred to me that a restaurant boasting a "Cheesy Gordita Crunch Supreme" for 99¢ was probably not named in honor of a seventeenth century Baroque organist. Maybe if they served a "Beef Taccota in C minor," or their soda machine dispensed "Mountain Fugue."

So today I headed over to tacobell.com, and pored over their "history" page, looking for clues as to the store's name. And by "pored over," I mean I read the first two words in their history, which were as follows:

"Glen Bell ..."
Ah. The founder's name is Bell. Duh.

And so my fifteen-year investigation comes to a sudden and anti-climatic end. Wow. Honestly, I don't know what to do with the rest of my life. Possibly just reading through the archives of this fansite.

What ever happened to the ozone layer?: In the late 80's and early 90's, the environmental crisis du jour was the rapidly depleting ozone layer. I distinctly remember hearing somewhere that the ever-widening hole over Antarctica had reached some critical tipping point, where all our efforts to stop the damage would be in vain. David Brin's 1991 novel Earth foresaw a future in which no sane person would venture outside without a hat, glasses, and heavy sunscreen. In the 1992 presidential campaign, George Bush dubbed Gore as "ozone man" for his environmental activism.

Now, of course, Gore is a champion for global warning. (although, technically speaking, I think he might be against global warming) and the ozone layer seems to have been all but forgotten. What happened?

What happened, apparently, is that we stopped releasing the compounds that damage the ozone layer, which took the topic off the polical table -- even though the hole still exists, and was larger than ever before as recently as 2000. Even so, most people agree that it is healing. "All other things being equal," says NOAA, "and with adherence to the international agreements, the ozone layer is expected to recover over the next 50 years or so." The main "international agreements" here are the Vienna Convention (1985) and the Montreal Protocol (1989). The latter, especially, is largely responsible for the worldwide phase-out of ozone damaging chemicals (halogenated hydrocarbons), and it has been hailed by Kofi Annan as "Perhaps the single most successful international agreement to date."

So I guess the take-home message here is: if we all work together, as conscientious global citizens, we can collectively confront and even reverse the environmental cataclysms that threaten the future of our species. Or perhaps the moral is: if I, Matthew Baldwin, personally ignore a problem for a decade or so, it will go away. Could be either one, no way to tell.

Here you can find a nice overview of the issue, and a chart showing significant dates, both past and future, in the ozone crisis and response.

Posted on September 19, 2006 to Research Day


Actually, this post reminded me of a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) segment I heard a month ago. In it, they asked the same question you did: how did the ozone layer go from the darling of environmental hot topics to [draw your own washed-up celebrity metaphor]?

We've been doing pretty well since the Montreal Protocol. Many of the holes have stopped growing, and some researchers think that the hole over Antartica may actually be shrinking. So, hey, humankind *can* get together and stop a global environmental problem.

On the other hand, the replacements for the ozone layer-damaging gases have been shown to contribute to global warming.

You can read about it here: http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2006/08/24/ozone-recovery.html

Posted by: Karen on September 19, 2006 10:14 PM

What did you "pour" over the Taco Bell history page? Some of your Mountain Fugue? I pored over this entry, but couldn't find the answer.

Posted by: Michelle on September 19, 2006 10:37 PM

Hey there, here in New Zealand the lack of an ozone layer still plays in the news. But that's because, at the right time of year, you can get really burnt in under 10 minutes of sunlight.

Smart kids love their sunhats, the rest get the melanomas chopped out.

Posted by: Jo on September 20, 2006 12:15 AM

It amuses me when people write "O-zone layer", as if there were a P-zone layer, Q-zone layer, etc.

Posted by: Jaap on September 20, 2006 2:16 AM

I read recently that one result of the two agreements you mention was that, in order to stop using ozone-damaging compounds in industrial processes, industry switched to the cheapest alternatives, most of which are extremely potent greenhouse gases.

Maybe the lesson is that Al Gore is still ten minutes smarter than everyone else.

Posted by: braine on September 20, 2006 3:35 AM

Yeah, what Jo said. In a testament to how unfair the world is, the hole in the ozone layer formed above all the countries that didn't cause it (NZ, Antarctica, etc). We do a roaring trade in sunscreen down here.

I think I heard that for similar reasons, if there is a nuclear war that is not Earth-destroying but still bad (as opposed to the good nuclear wars, I guess), all the radioactive crud is going to end up in a big cloud over New Zealand, and I guess at least we will die smiling at the irony of it all.

Posted by: db on September 20, 2006 4:13 AM

While the ozone thing sucks, I have to say, your dad is a genius. I would not have come up with Pachelbel as the inspiration for Taco Bell. I guess now I have something to aspire to when my son starts asking bizarre questions.

Posted by: John on September 20, 2006 4:49 AM

You've got some tough shoes to fill from your old man! It'll be difficult to top that kind of quality misdirection when you answer the S-man's questions. I bow to the wisdom of your father!

Posted by: Kevin on September 20, 2006 5:57 AM

I'm a little mystified about your missing ozone layer as I just saw a piece on it on the evening news. And the news was as you report: good. Cutting back on the damaging emissions is having a beneficial effect.

The report played up the angle that this latest realization has helped the scientific community confirm the basic fact that humans can indeed, impact the planet globally with their actions - good or bad.

I'm not so sure about manufacturers changing to cheaper products. Car makers completely redesigned AC compressors to move away from Freon. The new coolant required compressors with much better seals.

While it added to the cost of the vehicle, these days you can go forever before needing a coolant recharge...thekeez

Posted by: Jeff Keezel on September 20, 2006 7:35 AM

So Bush (#1) slung insults at a man who was "dedicated" to environmental issues? What a great precident your past president set. Next thing you'll see is one of his off spring starting a war for oil.

And, I gotta ask: do lots of people like Taco Bell, or is it mostly potheads? I manage a meal there maybe once everyt two years...

Posted by: Kelly on September 20, 2006 7:37 AM

"Mountain Fugue" = awesome. And what John and Kevin said (above)--your dad showed true genius by pulling that out of his tuchus.

Posted by: juliloquy on September 20, 2006 7:56 AM

Not to be wet blanket ... but I think Gore's movie makes the same point re. ozone layer/we can make a difference. It's actually a fine movie.

Posted by: Anonymous on September 20, 2006 9:02 AM

Yeah, I was pleasantly surprised about the ozone layer thing too, until I saw a Nova show about how the chemicals we're cutting down on were actually protecting us against some more horrible catastrophe having to go with global dimming or something. You can't win with this Earth shit.

Posted by: Ian on September 20, 2006 10:06 AM

Or maybe they plugged the ozone hole with a chalupa.

Posted by: Carmen on September 20, 2006 10:14 AM

Is it me or do I recall all early taco bell's having a bell mounted in the front ...

Posted by: brodie on September 20, 2006 11:40 AM

The thought of a "Mountain Fugue" soda machine is, somehow, endlessly amusing to me. I laugh every time I think about it.

Posted by: Jeremy Zawodny on September 20, 2006 1:10 PM

The Tacobell Canon

Be afraid, be very afraid

Posted by: eric on September 20, 2006 1:42 PM

Interesting side note; in one of the more environmentally conscious episodes of G.I. Joe Cobra Commander planned to destroy the Earth's ozone layer in order to sell Cobra-brand sun block and gain lots of molah for his own nefarious and self-sabotaging purposes.

Matt's combination of topics got me to thinking about future disasters. As a precautionary measure I suggest we all check our respective Taco Bell for hooded men who unconsciously draw out their s-sounds when speaking.

Enjoy a diet fugue while you’re there!

Posted by: The Strawsburg on September 20, 2006 1:53 PM

As noted, An Inconvenient Truth finishes with that very point, and it's a damned good one.

Also, in college we concluded that Taco Bell was the euphamistic and more-easily-marketed name of Taco Hell.

Posted by: MatthewF on September 20, 2006 1:57 PM

Your excellent commentary fails to address the *connection* between Taco Bell and Global Warming, which appears to be significant and related to the fact that beans digested in this form create a LOT of gas. Please support my application for grants to study this issue.

Johann Pachelbel

Posted by: Joseph Hunkins on September 20, 2006 2:57 PM

Ok. But what happened to the killer bees?

Posted by: taleswapper on September 20, 2006 3:28 PM

Hey, Thank you. I have alternatively wondered, off and on, what ever happened to all that Ozone stuff. In school it was all I ever heard about and then it just stopped being topical. Of course, I could have taken the initiative to look it up like you did (thank you for the links too) but that would have required energy and motivation. I have some other questions if you have the time:

Why are black leggings an acceptable fashion choice again?
Why is Britney Spears allowed to breed and what steps are NATO and the United Nations taking in regard to this matter?
Will that Nickelodean show Roundhouse ever re-surface and be available on DVD?

Thank you in advance, you are awesome and I may have a secret (totally platonic) internet crush, More knowledgeably yours,


Posted by: Desiree on September 20, 2006 3:54 PM

A little more info on the Ozone thing- the Ozone layer inexplicably started to disappear in 2001. The hole shrunk in size by about 1/2. Was this due to the harmful fluorocarbons not being released anymore? Not sure, because all the fluorocarbons we've released since the history of releasing fluorocarbons are still up there - depleting ozone.

Posted by: MB on September 20, 2006 3:54 PM

Just went and checked out the ozone link provided by Matthew - it would seem my ozone info and the info at the link would slightly disagree. I don't have a link for my info, but I'd like to offer something else to think about - we've only been completly charting the ozone layer since the late 70s (see Matthew's link for history of ozone chart). Ozone has been up there for probably 1000s of years. How do we know if a hole in the ozone layer isn't a natural process? 30+ years is a drop in the bucket of the geologic time scale.

Posted by: MB on September 20, 2006 7:27 PM

If the writing thing doesn't work out, Taco Baldwin has a nice ring to it.

Posted by: CM on September 20, 2006 7:34 PM

"David Brin's 1991 novel Earth foresaw a future in which no sane person would venture outside without a hat, glasses, and heavy sunscreen."

Er... that's pretty much how a lot of people in Australia live now.

Posted by: James Morrison on September 20, 2006 8:28 PM

I've never seen a Taco Bell here in Europe. So I always just thought it was a Mexican telephone company.

Posted by: Lung the Younger on September 21, 2006 1:49 AM

It seems that both sub-topics of this post came to an anti-climatic end.

Posted by: Bob S on September 21, 2006 8:27 AM

Wait, so why is it called Taco Bell?

Posted by: Rob Cockerham on September 21, 2006 8:55 AM

Ozone is to Taco Bell
Global Warming is to Royal Fork (???)

Posted by: CrankMama on September 21, 2006 10:54 AM

Good lord. Matthew, darling, don't cheapen yourself by explaining every little joke.

Posted by: nichole on September 21, 2006 12:56 PM

To Eric,

After I picked myself up off the floor after listening and laughing at the Tacobell Canon, I realized that I really liked it. (Now that's scary) Who created that piece? Where did it come from? You? I am really curious.

Posted by: Yeti Mom on September 21, 2006 12:59 PM

Conveniently, CFCs (the primary ozone-depleting chemical) also contribute to global warming -- so getting rid of them is a good thing.

Even more conveniently, Dow Chemical reversed their stance on CFC limits -- and supported the Montreal Protocol -- right after they figured out how to make a great, non-ozone-depleting, substitute for CFCs. Slick, hey?

Posted by: Nick on September 21, 2006 1:42 PM

Yeti Mom,

Not sure abut that particular song, but the title of the page suggests it is by Amazin' Blue, an a cappella group from the U of Michigan. While many collegiate a cappella groups write their own stuff, they also do a lot of stuff written by other groups. You could ask around the forums of the great collegiate a cappella podcast, Acappella U if Eric doesnt come back with more info.

PS, if you are in fact DY's mom, good job on the kid.

Posted by: Dave on September 22, 2006 5:49 AM

"David Brin's 1991 novel Earth foresaw a future in which no sane person would venture outside without a hat, glasses, and heavy sunscreen."


Welcome to Australia.

Posted by: Phet on September 22, 2006 8:08 AM

I heard Amazin' Blue perform that Taco Bell Canon when I was in college (I was about to post to it when I saw the link). It has stuck in my head ever since.

Posted by: Genevieve on September 22, 2006 8:12 AM

Time for another visit from the spelling police ...
Your thoughts on the ozone layer might be anti-climatic, but I think you meant that the end of the Taco Bell story was anti-climaCtic. (Come to think of it, as classical music goes, so is the Pachelbel canon).

Posted by: gruve on September 22, 2006 10:51 AM

Taco Bell Canon is available on the CD Wasting Our Parents' Money

Posted by: Brian on September 23, 2006 9:23 AM

ooops. Hit Post instead of Preview. I'm an asshat.

Anyway, there are some really funny songs on the acappella CD "Wasting Our Parents' Money." Check out "Conraid Bain" (The Polices "King of Pain") and "Walk of Shame", amongst others.

Posted by: Brian on September 23, 2006 9:26 AM

My wife and I are inexplicably fond of "Cheesecake Truck".

Posted by: Joshua on September 23, 2006 1:47 PM

In New Zealand we're constantly paying the price for the World's assault on the Ozone layer. Sun cancer rates here are some of the highest in the World. We get burned in 10 minutes on a cloudy, overcast day (in Summer). Just yesterday a phenomenon caused part of the 'hole' to break off and float directly over NZ, bathing us in stronger UV radiation than normal.

The Ozone Hole hasn't gone away - it's constantly on the minds of many NZers whenever they are outdoors.

Posted by: David on September 24, 2006 3:50 PM