Friday, April 13, 2012

Ozone hole and global warming: evolution of an alarm

Steven Goddard at is posting lots of old newspaper articles with scary predictions we already know to be wrong. I was intrigued by this particular one today:
NASA 1986: All Life Extinct In A Few Decades
Are the ozone hole and global warming problems related? Are they correlated? Or anticorrelated? How do the advocates of one of them react to the other?

I hope it's OK if I repost the image:

Click to zoom in. Or go to the old Milwaukee Sentinel in Google's archives where you may check "related articles" in the right lower corner, too.

In 1986, we learned that the loss of ozone above the Antarctica would cause 10 °C of global warming, human misery, and ultimately extinction of the human species. Nice. We have obviously seen no glimpse of those catastrophes in those more than 25 years. Every sane person knows that the temperature change, if any, will remain as inconsequential as it's been in recent centuries and millenniums. And the temperature changes caused by the changes in the ozone itself are even smaller, just a tiny portion of the total temperature changes. The 1986 article clearly overstated the impact of the ozone changes on the temperature roughly by two orders of magnitude (and the human casualties by 10 orders of magnitude).

However, we may still ask: are those two problems linked?

First, let me say a few words about the ozone hole separately. I did think it was a problem and I have always found the arguments that freons were harmful to be plausible, to say the least, which is why I was a Montreal Protocol supporter although it wasn't a top priority issue for me. Skin cancer is a bad thing and the number of UV photons that make it through exponentially depends on the amount of ozone so we had to do something to stop the growth of the ozone hole. Years later, I feel less convinced. It's plausible that bad science was already being pursued 25+ years ago.

Fred Singer is a freon-made ozone hole skeptic much like he is a dangerous climate change skeptic. Some of his comments about the ozone depletion (he told me in D.C. and then in Berlin) sounded sensible. However, I still tend to believe that the freons do help to destroy the ozone layer. I've seen the reactions etc. and they make sense but this chemistry isn't really my cup of tea so I could overlook trivial mistakes, I could miss if a much more important reaction was ignored etc.

Quarter a century ago, as you could see, the media would essentially say that the global warming and ozone hole problems were the same; the CO2 emissions were already popular among the alarmist journalists in 1986 but they didn't enjoy the monopoly yet. The popularity of CO2 emissions as the dominant scare grew before 1992 when it exploded because of the Earth Summit in Rio.

Many people still remember what they were told 25 years ago. Chick the Comedian is an example:

In this Menopause Song about Al Gore's (now defunct) marriage, he asks whether global warming is caused by the greenhouse gases or ozone depletion (0:16); don't skip the rest of the song if you don't know it. ;-)

However, you don't hear "alarmed scientists" who identify these two problems today. Ozone depletion is no longer hot and not only because it doesn't seem like a serious problem. The main reason is that one can't control the societies if he just controls the producers of freons. Has the identification of the problems survived? Quite on the contrary, William Greenpeace Connolley's controlled Wikipedia says the following about the relationship between these two problems:
  • CO2, like other warming drivers, cools the stratosphere which makes the polar ozone depletion worse. Empirically, of course, the cooling of the stratosphere that could be attributed to CO2 hasn't been observed and the attribution of ozone loss to this unobservable CO2-caused cooling is of course even more hypothetical
  • ozone depletion changed some energy flows, in both direction, but the net effect is that the loss of ozone has cooled the troposphere and surface by forcing equal to –0.15 ± 0.10 watts per square meter. A big error margin, indeed. Not a big contribution, anyway
  • ozone depleting gases are powerful greenhouse gases themselves. Their increase added 0.34 ± 0.03 W/m2, about 14 percent of the warming induced by the well-mixed greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere
  • some lousy models that have apparently been falsified already are being hyped
I have used a bold face font to emphasize that it's believed by the people tolerated by William Connolley (and probably by many others) that the ozone depletion actually helps to fight global warming. Don't expect me to promote a deliberate destruction of ozone because of that: the ozone hole could be a genuine problem while global warming couldn't.

Interestingly enough, this long and would-be comprehensive list of the relationships between ozone depletion and global warming completely omits one important and simple fact: ozone itself is a greenhouse gas. Of course, to act as a greenhouse gas, it should better be in the troposphere; the ozone layer is mostly in the lower stratosphere i.e. above the troposphere. Ozone in the troposphere isn't really a negligible greenhouse gas: the previous link claims that it amounts to 25% of the greenhouse effect caused by CO2. On the other hand, ozone absorbs the harmful UV radiation whether it is in the stratosphere or troposphere so you may view it as a "good gas" from the skin cancer's viewpoint. It has bad health consequences, too. I don't want to go into these complex waters of medicine.

This was just a sketch of various subtle influences but you may see that none of them is ever seriously discussed because about one-half of them are inconvenient truths. These inconvenient truths challenge the breathtakingly oversimplified and demagogic picture in which CO2 is a villain and an evil imperialist, ozone is a victim and a likable hippie, and everyone else must be labeled as a villain (=capitalist=white=male=conservative) or victim (=proletarian=black=female=progressive), too.

In the last 25 years, we have seen the decline of the claims that the ozone depletion and global warming are the same thing. It's one of the rare examples of stupid scares that have actually largely disappeared. However, we're still drowning in the ocean of similar demagogy which is emitted by dishonest ideologues as well as hopeless morons. If one wanted to behave rationally, according to the best recommendations that science can give us, he would find out that none of the chemicals is really a "pure villain" or "pure victim", most of the effects that are hyped in the media are secondary and negligible, and even the sign of the conclusion "what we should try to achieve" according to science is often opposite relatively to what the media and not only media tell us. In particular, carbon dioxide is a big friend of ours.

Unfortunately, if you look at what relatively ordinary people such as journalists and climatologists serve to other ordinary people these days, one think is clear: We don't live in a scientific age.

And that's the memo.

P.S. Shockingly enough, there are signs that non-hysterical attitudes are becoming legitimate in various research and media corners. So some media were brave to inform about the research that dares to say that corals as a class will survive and some of them will thrive more than today. What a shock that pH changed from 8.0 to 7.9 isn't deadly.

1 comment:

  1. Prof. Singer's talk on ozone depletion