August 21, 2006

The Glozone Layer

Hatched by Dafydd

Beginning 28 years ago (starting with Sweden in 1978), the hysterical fear-mongering du jour were a pair of rapidly expanding "holes" in the ozone layer high above the Earth, one above each pole in the stratosphere (10 km to 50 km altitude, or 33,000 feet to 164,000 feet). The ozone holes -- actually, areas of somewhat decreased ozone concentrations, not the absence of ozone -- would let in too much ultraviolate radiation (UVR), which would lead to skin cancer, genetic damage, and the destruction of life on this planet.

The primary culprit for ozone depletion (this is actually correct) was found to be manmade refrigerants, propellants, cleaners, and fire extinguishers, nearly all based upon chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and bromofluorocarbons (BFCs). In an orgy of enviro-mental disorder, virtually every civilized and semi-civilized nation on the planet rushed to eliminate CFCs, substituting hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) for the dreaded CFCs.

But now it turns out, with an irony thick enough to spread on a muffin, that the wonderful chemicals we've shifted to using, in order to allow the "ozone holes" to "heal," are themselves very powerful greenhouse gases... and they're significantly contributing to supposedly human-induced global warming:

The chemicals that replaced CFCs are better for the ozone layer, but do little to help global warming. These chemicals, too, act as a reflective layer in the atmosphere that traps heat like a greenhouse.

That effect is at odds with the intent of a second treaty, drawn up in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 by the same countries behind the Montreal pact. In fact, the volume of greenhouse gases created as a result of the Montreal agreement's phaseout of CFCs is two times to three times the amount of global-warming carbon dioxide the Kyoto agreement is supposed to eliminate.

The international association of the perpetually aggrieved now laments the fact that nobody appears to own the earth's atmosphere... hence, there is nobody to be sued:

"But now the question is, who's going to ensure that the replacements are not going to cause global warming?" said Alexander von Bismarck, campaigns director for the Environmental Investigation Agency, a nonprofit watchdog group in London and Washington. "It's shocking that so far nobody's taking responsibility."

"A massive opportunity to help stave off climate change is currently being cast aside," he said.

Environmentalists now demand that those countries that spent themselves into recessions replacing CFCs with HCFCs and HFCs do it all over again, this time substituting for the substitutes:

The U.N. report says the atmosphere could be spared the equivalent of 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions if countries used ammonia, hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide or other ozone-friendly chemicals, rather than HCFCs and HFCs, in foams and refrigerants. Such alternatives are more common in Europe.

And of course, most of the international enviromentalist organizations are -- European! What a lucky break for countries of that continent.

Of course, the only other problem (besides prohibitive cost) is that the alternatives don't work very well, if at all. But that's a small price to pay for the priviliege of being on the cutting edge of chemical conscientiousness.

What has always struck me as hilarious is that the folks who are most exercised about global warming nevertheless recoil from the single most effective method of redusing carbon and carbonoid emissions: a massive program to replace all oil- and coal-based powerplants with clean, modern, and safe nuclear fission reactors, using new technologies. As Big Lizards discussed back in December:

But there are many methods of producing energy that do not require burning anything... the most effective of which, in the short-to-medium term (0 to 50 years), are hydroelectric generators and nuclear power plants. Since the former are limited by the number of rivers you're willing to dam (which causes rather significant environmental change, to say the least!), we should probably concentrate on the latter. Recent radically improved technologies for nuclear fission, including Pebble Bed Modular Reactors (gas-cooled) and Integral Fast Reactors (liquid-metal cooled), already exist in prototype but lack either funding or a favorable political climate for wide-scale development.

That last void is courtesy the environmentalist movement, which demands we solve a problem while nixing all possible solutions.

But hey, what do I know? I gloriously wasted my youth studying real mathematics and logic.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 21, 2006, at the time of 4:49 AM

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The following hissed in response by: Norman Rogers

I have a very strong background in science (Physics undergraduate), but I never understood the purported mechanics of the ozone depletion.

Granted, my only chemistry training was in my freshman year (many, many years ago) -- but my reading of the claimed reactions is that Freon breaks down to release atomic Chlorine (under UV radiation) and the Chlorine then reacts with Ozone (Chlorine being more active).

OK, I get that.

But then the Chlorine oxide (if that's the correct name) is further broken down by UV, freeing up atomic Chlorine again and the reaction repeats.

OK. So if there's enuff Chlorine in the stratasphere (or ionisphere) to diminish the ozone layer, why does the danger diminish over time? Why would restricting Freon emissions eventually emeliorate this condition?

I really don't get it.

The above hissed in response by: Norman Rogers [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 21, 2006 5:16 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman

The CFC/Ozone depletion theory like so much other political/junk science is not accepted by all.

In a panel discussion I was on at a convention recently, the topic somehow got around to junk science that the public is being force-fed these days, with the ozone depletion scare cited as an example. A young man in the audience--highly articulate and obviously conversant with the details of the claims, as if that were enough to settle the issue--was astounded. "What's there to question?" he wanted to know. "There isn't any doubt left about it now."

"How so?" one of the other panelists asked.

"They're finding it up there." He meant CFC molecules in the stratosphere--or signatures attributed to CFC molecules. (Back in the DDT scare days, the massive readings reported in the Antarctic turned out to be contaminants from tubing used in the sampling equipment.) Appealing gesture to the room. Incredulous shaking of the head.

And that was it. In other words, the mere presence of traces of a molecule is equated to proof that disruption of the ozone layer has been occurring. But despite all the hype and hysteria, this has never been shown to be the case. The guilt of the accused is presumed, but there is no good evidence that the crime he's charged with even happened.

The July 1993 edition of Omni magazine carried an article of mine called "Ozone Politics: They Call this Science?" questioning the whole issue (I'll send the full text to anyone interested). Although that's a few years back now, I haven't seen any reason to change fundamentally anything I said then. Here are some of the problems with the standard line that "everyone knows,"

Ozone isn't in finite supply. It's produced all the time from oxygen by the UV-C component of sunshine, which penetrates down to between 30 and 17 km. altitude depending on intensity before being used up. If all the ozone were to magically disappear, 17 to 30 km. of oxygen-rich lower atmosphere would still be available as a resource to recreate it
Heavy CFC molecules don't rise in significant amounts to where UV-C photons can break them up. Finding traces doesn't mean very much in itself when one takes into account the incredible sensitivity of modern analytical instruments. (Things are being banned on the basis of alleged contaminants that weren't even detectable 15 years ago.) People who work with CFCs say that when freon leaks, the place you find it is right on the ground underneath. At 30 km. CFCs decline to 2% the surface value, which isn't much to begin with. About 2% of UV-C photons penetrate this deeply. Hence, the number of encounters is tiny for the same reason there aren't many marriages between Eskimos and Australian aborigines.
For each UV photon that does make it, there are 136 million oxygen molecules to collide with for each CFC. Each such reaction will produce two free oxygen atoms, (eventually) creating ozone, not destroying it.

Even if serious ozone destruction by chlorine were credible, there is nothing that links stratospheric chlorine with human activities. All chlorine atoms are alike. The diagram shows how the various sources of atmospheric chlorine compare in quantity. Reports of high chlorine levels in the Antarctic in the '80s neglected to mention that the measuring station at McMurdo Sound is 15 kilometeres downwind from Mt. Erebus, an active volcano normally venting 100-200 tons of chlorine per day, which in 1983 averaged 1000 tons per day.
continued read the rest don't wait for the movie. ;-)

The above hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 21, 2006 6:22 AM

The following hissed in response by: Big D

Nuke is the solution, but solar may be a big part (I'm assuming we can invent a cheap "paint-on" solar cell that works in the near infrared). Maybe OTEC, but probably not.

My favorite scientific idiocy is the "hydrogen economy". Do ill informed idiots realize that hydrogen is nothing more than a (poor)carrier of energy? That it is no better than compressed gas, batteries, or barium powder? The hydrogen for the hydrogen economy is supposed to come from nuclear power, hydro, or worse from conversion of natural gas.

The above hissed in response by: Big D [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 21, 2006 9:15 AM

The following hissed in response by: hunter

There are still very educated people who think the seasonal ozone hole was causing global warming. The thing you did not discuss much is that the ozone hole is in fact an artifact of the seasonal cycles at the poles where the absence of sunlight causes a depletion in the ozone.
Whether or not the hole was aggravated by the presence of CFC is still in huge doubt, imho. I think all that happened is that the enviro conartists moved on to promoting man-caused-global-warming, and have simply stopped reporting or discussing the reality of the seasonal ozone fluctuations.
Fission power could be in use much more broadly here in the US and the other energy intensive economies of the world than it currently is.
Thanks to enviro-extremists, it is not.
And the air sidirtier, and the world more dangerous, thanks to them.

The above hissed in response by: hunter [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 21, 2006 9:34 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman

Too right Hunter

The so-called "hole," claimed to have been discovered in the 80s, has been reported in the scientific literature since the International Geophysical Year, 1956, before CFCs were in widespread use. It is a natural annual phenomenon that varies in location and size. Basically, the polar jet stream forms a vortex inside which ozone depletion continues through the Antarctic winter but can't be replenished due to the absence of sunshine and the inability of new ozone from lower latitudes to penetrate the vortex. By the end of winter, the UV flux at the surface is about the same as that in North Dakota in July

Exagerate a natural cycle, blame it on human activity and hysterically scream global disaster.

Have I left anything out?

Oh I DID forget one detail, use computer models to prove your point and defund UV momitoring stations which are reporting NO increase of UV radiation above normal fluctuations,

Can't have theories confused by real data now can we?

The above hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 21, 2006 3:38 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman

The figure for 200,000 excess cancer deaths that the EPA trumpeted in the early nineties was based on ignoring the reversal and extrapolating the 1975-1986 trend forward 40 years. Neat eh? By the same logic, the mean temperature trend of New York from January to July would show the city bursting into flames forty years from now.

The whole doomsday case boiled down to saying that if something wasn't done to curb CFCs, UV intensity would increase 10% in the next 20 years. So what? From poles to equator it increases naturally by 5,000% (factor of 50) anyway, and 25% from summer to winter. Moving home from New York to Philadelphia will get you the same increase in exposure as the worst-case depletion scenario.
And what makes all the theoretical arguments and models irrelevant in any case, the measured surface value of UV hasn't been increasing (so forget the stories about blind sheep and the like that were supposed to be effects of it). 8 U.S. ground stations showed UV decreasing 0.5 to 1.1% over 15 years prior to the late 80s. The response? Presentation of these findings at scientific conferences was blocked and the ground stations shut down.

The above hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 21, 2006 3:40 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman

The U.N. report says the atmosphere could be spared the equivalent of 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions

Has it every occurred to anyone to wonder why if putting the CO2 back into the atmosphere is going to bring on an eco-disaster, it didn't do that BEFORE that carbon was locked up in the fossil fuels?

I had fun with that concept in

Global Warming For Dummies

The above hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 21, 2006 5:08 PM

The following hissed in response by: Socratease

The panic about ozone holes and CFCs coincided remarkably well with the expiration of DuPont's patents on chloroflourocarbons. And guess who just happened to have a ready replacement for them? I'd start checking the patent dates on HCF's and HCFC's.

The above hissed in response by: Socratease [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 21, 2006 5:15 PM

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