Frozen in Time
Aug 05, 2010
The Ozone Hole Debacle from an Insider

By Will Happer

The Montreal Protocol to ban freons was the warm-up exercise for the IPCC.  Many current IPCC players gained fame then by stampeding the US Congress into supporting the Montreal Protocol. They learned to use dramatized, phony scientific claims like “ozone holes over Kennebunkport” (President Bush Sr’s seaside residence in New England). The ozone crusade also had business opportunities for firms like Dupont to market proprietary “ozone-friendly” refrigerants at much better prices than the conventional (and more easily used) freons that had long-since lost patent protection and were not a cheap commodity with little profit potential.

I was the Director of Energy Research at the US Department of Energy at the time, and I knew very well that the data to support the treaty was not there.  Ever since Dobson’s first expeditions to Antarctica in the early 1900’s, we had known that ozone levels were always low over the Antarctic, but we had no real idea of what the natural fluctuations were. As far as we know, there has always been an ozone hole over Antarctica, with a size that varies from year to year.  The size of the hole has hardly changed since 1990, as you can see from NASA’s site.

I don’t know what the current status is, but two or three years ago, some researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology remeasured the rate of ozone destruction by the key chlorine oxide, and they found a number about 6 times smaller than the one promoted during the freon-ban crusade. Even the establishment value was really not big enough cause substantial ozone depletion.  The ozone hole over Antarctica involves high-altitude “ice” particulates, made from a witch’s brew of water, nitric acid, chlorine etc. It is not clear if freon has made any difference to this.  The behaviour of these ice crystalsmay be more determined by the stratospheric temperature and the amount of water vapor in the stratosphere, all changing with time at the poles.  At any rate, stratospheric freon and its breakdown products are steadily diminishing, but little is happening to the ozone hole.

As Director of Energy Research, I argued strongly for better measurements to be sure we understood the science well enough to support the Montreal Protocol.  I did manage to get a new network of UVB sensors deployed to measure year-to-year changes of ground-level UVB. The existing network was an embarrassment to the alarmists since it showed stable to decreasing UVB levels.  I thought that this might be analogous to the urban heat island problems that so vex ground-based temperature measurements.  Suburbs had grown up around the old network, so there was the possibility that air pollution was increasingly attenuating UVB. The new DOE network had real rural sites, as far as possible from urban smog.  These activities really infuriated Al Gore, who had me fired as soon as possible after becoming Vice President.

The Montreal Protocol may not have been necessary to save the ozone, but it had limited economic damage. It has caused much more damage in the way it has corrupted science. It showed how quickly a scientist or activist can gain fame and fortune by purporting to save planet earth.  We have the same situation with CO2 now, but CO2 is completely natural, unlike freons. Planet earth is quite happy to have lots more CO2 than current values, as the geological record clearly shows.  If the jihad against CO2 succeeds, there will be enormous economic damage, and even worse consequences for human liberty at the hands of the successful jihadists.

See this report on the Nature story of the collapse of the ozone hole consensus here.

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