February 4, 2010
The CFC Ban: Global Warming's Pilot Episode
Although it has been only a little over twenty years since the Montreal Protocol, which effectively created a global ban on chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the interesting history of the ozone hole has slipped under the radar, largely eclipsed by the much greater story of the anthropogenic global warming fraud. It's interesting to revisit the CFC/ozone depletion scam and note the striking similarities to the current campaign against CO2. [See also: IPCC: International Pack of Climate Crooks]
Chlorofluorocarbons were primarily used as refrigerants, propellants, and in fire control systems. They were uniquely well-suited to these applications. CFCs are non-toxic, chemically inert, non-corrosive, non-flammable and roughly four times heavier than air. Their physical characteristics makes them ideal refrigerants. Because they are so chemically inert, non-toxic, and non-flammable, they are excellent aerosol propellants. They are inexpensive to produce and easy and safe to handle. CFCs made modern refrigeration and air conditioning affordable and widely available.
Back in the early '70s, chemists at the University of California began studying CFCs in the atmosphere. They theorized that eventually, CFCs could migrate to the upper atmosphere. After fifty to a hundred years, they could be broken down by UV radiation, releasing a reactive chlorine atom which could catalyze the degradation of ozone (O3). It is significant to note that this was not proven, but was based on other work that showed the potential of nitric oxide (NO) to catalyze ozone. It was theory only, and it was hotly disputed by scientists working for CFC manufacturers at the time. In reality, it remains theory to this day. Note: To date, the concept of man-made CO2 emissions causing global warming remains theory only. There exists no empirical evidence to support the theory.
Then, in 1985, the journal Nature (sound familiar?) published an article by some British researchers who reported observing a greater degree of thinning of the Antarctic ozone layer than expected. Thus was born the "ozone hole." To appreciate this, one must understand a little about atmospheric ozone. Ozone is a very unstable form of oxygen that consists of three oxygen atoms per molecule. When atmospheric oxygen (O2) reacts with UV radiation, two unstable atoms of highly reactive oxygen (O) are produced. These will rapidly react to form either stable O2 or unstable O3. Ozone is constantly being created and destroyed in the upper atmosphere. Its creation is dependent upon sunlight and high-energy UV radiation. Ozone "holes" over Arctic and Antarctic regions have been well-known by atmospheric scientists for many decades. These areas of stratospheric thinning of O3 concentrations are associated with winter (i.e., no sunlight). Upper atmospheric ozone is important, as it absorbs UV-B radiation (280-320 nm). Strangely, the most significant thinning of the ozone layer has been observed over the Antarctic. Most CFC use has been in the northern hemisphere.
So two theories came together. Man-made CFCs could theoretically hasten destruction of stratospheric ozone, and British researchers observed greater thinning of Antarctic ozone than they "expected" (although at the time, this phenomenon was poorly understood, and no one knew what to "expect"). Almost immediately, human health threats erupted, most notably the threat of an increased incidence of malignant melanoma. This is interesting, as melanoma is not influenced by UV-B radiation, but rather UV-A radiation (which is not blocked by ozone). In the early '90s, the EPA estimated an additional 200,000 cancer deaths by 2050. But even before this, the scam had found a voice and a message. Mankind was sowing the seeds of its own destruction. Does this sound familiar?
The other significant coincidence that happened about this same time was that DuPont, a major CFC manufacturer, was poised to lose its patent on one of the most widely-used CFCs. Three Canadian investors who owned 25% of the company led the campaign to ban CFCs. DuPont initially fought the CFC phase out, but the company finally acquiesced when it had secured a patent on a CFC substitute. After all, billions of dollars were at stake.
The media never seemed to report the real economic impact of the CFC ban. Replacing CFCs was not at all easy. There really are no suitable, safe, and affordable replacements for Halon fire control systems. Most propellants were not too difficult to replace (although many are flammable). One notable exception is the CFC propellant used in metered dose inhalers of asthma medication. CFCs were ideal for this application because they are both chemically and biologically inert. Eventually, the pharmaceutical industry found a solution: hydrofluoroalkanes (HFA). Of course, this new delivery method meant that previously inexpensive generic drugs (e.g., albuterol) suddenly became expensive proprietary drugs. The CFC ban effectively tripled the cost of managing asthma.
From the time the "Freon phase out" began, virtually hundreds of millions of refrigeration systems worldwide had to be replaced. This included automobiles, homes, businesses, and food and medical refrigerators. The systems still functioned, but they could not be economically recharged with CFCs (does this sound familiar?). This enormous cost continues to be silently passed on to consumers. It is important to recognize that the alternatives to CFCs are many orders of magnitude more expensive than CFCs themselves. This is roughly analogous to comparing the cost per kwh of electricity produced by coal versus solar or wind.
In the end, a global ban on CFCs was enacted based on a theory that continues to be challenged to this day. Chemists remain uncertain of the rate and extent of ozone depletion due to chlorine. In fact, the exact role of atmospheric CFCs remains uncertain. It appears that the primary catalyst of ozone depletion is atmospheric chlorine, and the most atmospheric chlorine by far is out-gassed from the oceans or emitted by volcanoes. Mankind's contribution is miniscule (does this sound familiar?). Further, natural processes have by far the greatest influence on the ozone layer (e.g., solar influence).
The CFC ban was a perfect pilot for the anthropogenic global warming fraud. It established all the characters: the eco-left NGOs, the environmental "scientists" (both real and self-proclaimed), and big industry poised to make huge profits and political control over human choices and behavior. It had buy-ins by governments all over the planet. It was based on an unproven (and probably unprovable) hypothesis. Many industries stood to gain at the expense of consumers. To this day, research continues to be funded to study CFCs in the atmosphere. Most significantly, the "ozone hole" hasn't changed appreciably. It remains stable...as if we ever really knew what "stable" was.
The CFC ban empowered and emboldened the eco-left. It paved the way for their next big scam. The environmentalists scored a big win when they finally banned DDT and doomed millions to a bleak death. Their subsequent eco-scares were not so successful. They were never able to affect global action in their belief in zero population growth. Widespread starvation and scarcity of resources has not happened. Pesticides and herbicides have proven not to be deadly to children. Acid rain has not resulted in widespread deforestation. High power transmission lines do not cause cancer. The use of chlorine produces more safe, potable water than any other intervention. The CFC ban gave them a "win," and it was based on some of the most specious, tenuous science one can imagine. But it proved a point: Proven science need not trump environmental ideology.
Their next target -- perhaps the ideal target of CO2 -- was in their sights. Noise about global warming started in the late '80s, but it didn't really get much traction until the mid- to late '90s...right after the CFC ban was a done deal.