The CFC ban has nothing to do with the closing of the ozone hole

On October 24, AT published the article "Ozone Hole Shrinking, NASA Announces."  The author, Howard J. Warner, correctly wrote that there are many factors that cause the Earth's ozone layer to grow or shrink and that chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's) are merely one factor of many.  Mr. Warner cited volcanoes as one of these factors, for example.  He provided a link to an article, which stated that although the Antarctic ozone hole is now shrinking overall, it actually grew in 2016, owing to the recent one-time eruption of the Chilean volcano Mount Calbuco.  This eruption injected sulfur into the atmosphere, which formed the compound sulfuric acid (H2SO4) — which ate away at the ozone layer.


Ozone hole in 2010 (Photo credit: NASA).

One of the commenters to Mr. Howard's article was kind enough to include the entire chemical reaction by which every CFC molecule is alleged to eat away at some 100,000 ozone molecules, in a catalytic chemical reaction, before the CFC molecules themselves are "washed out of the upper atmosphere."  This reaction was discovered by F. Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina, for which discovery they won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 1995, and it led to the ban on CFCs.  One wonders why it wasn't the Nobel Peace Prize instead.

According to the news reports, now that CFCs have been banned, the Antarctic ozone hole is on track to heal itself by 2050.  The reduction of the Antarctic ozone hole is being touted as a vindication of the theory that banning CFCs was needed to accomplish this.  Environmental activists across the world have seized upon the news of the closing of the ozone hole as proof that the world was right to ban CFCs during the 1980s.

This is faulty logic.  It is, in fact, the logical fallacy of the post hoc, ergo propter hoc argument.  That's Latin for "after the fact, therefore because of the fact."  As this writer's Jesuit philosophy professor remarked in 1971, "that's like saying hospitals cause death."  People check into hospitals all the time, and many of them die there.  Therefore, hospitals cause death, right?  Similarly, to say a ban on CFCs caused the ozone layer to heal itself is a post hoc, ergo propter hoc argument if there are other hypotheses that can explain the same thing.  Suppose there are other sources of upper-atmosphere acids that can do every year what Mount Calbuco did in 2016?

There is such a source: Mount Erebus.  It is an Antarctic volcano that has continuously erupted since 1972, and it erupted sporadically before that.  It also injects 1,200 tons of HCl gas into the atmosphere every day, and 500 tons of HF gas.  In the presence of water, these form the corrosive acids hydrochloric acid and hydrofluoric acid.  In chemistry, it is a rule of thumb that there is no acid that is more corrosive than hydrofluoric.  These acids are sufficient to do every year what Mount Calbuco did only in 2016.

There is a problem with the theory that CFCs cause the Antarctic ozone layer that its proponents have always had and have never explained: how do the CFCs get up there?  They ought not to be able to do so.  This is because CFCs have molecular weights about four times greater that the principal components of the Earth's atmosphere, nitrogen and oxygen.

Readers are undoubtedly aware that light gases rise, like helium.  The converse is also true: heavy gases sink.  Any gas that is four times heavier than air, such as CFCs, can do only one thing: sink.  It is actually possible to pour CFCs from a container into another container beneath it.

Readers can verify this for themselves every time they visit a supermarket.  Have you ever seen those freezer units that have no lid?  The supermarkets stuff things like frozen pizzas into these containers, and the customers can remove them easily.  And the cold air inside the freezers never flows out of them, even though there is no lid.  That is because the temperatures inside these freezers range from zero to 20 degrees Fahrenheit.  This is some 70 degrees colder than room temperature, so the air inside the freezers is 10% to 15% denser than air at room temperature — and this is enough to trap the cold air in the freezers and prevent its escape even though there is no lid.

And this is for air that is only 10% denser than air at room temperature.  If this air doesn't escape from those lidless freezers, then how is it possible for CFCs that weigh four times as much as air to rise to the stratosphere?  They can't, in anything greater than trivial quantities caused by turbulent atmospheric mixing.

Another problem with the CFC theory is that the Antarctic ozone hole was actually first observed during the International Geophysical Yearof 1957-1958. This was the world's first serious scientific study of the Antarctic, so there is no telling whether the ozone hole could have been observed in previous years. This was in any case well before widespread use of air conditioning.

In 1999, this writer attended a debate between Madeleine Kimball and Dr. S. Fred Singer. Kimball was an Assistant Undersecretary of State for Environmental Affairs in the Clinton Administration; and Dr. Singer is an eminent atmospheric scientist, who among other things has written many times for AT. Kimball praised "responsible corporations" like DuPont that, apparently out of public-spiritedness, were willing to advocate the switch from CFCs, even though they held the patents on them. What Kimball neglected to mention is that these patents were about to expire anyway, so what could be better for these corporations than to get the government to guarantee their monopolies by mandating the switch to HCFCs, which likewise could be patented?

A question for genuine atmospheric scientists like Dr. Singer: What has Mount Erebus been up to recently? It has been erupting continuously only since 1972. Has its daily output of HCl and HF gas recently subsided? And if it has, then doesn't this reduce the CFC theory to mere coincidence?

Environmental activists are lauding the ban on CFCs as causing the closing of the annual Antarctic ozone hole. Don't buy their assertions, until they are able to explain how CFCs can rise to the stratosphere, and until they are able to explain why the ozone hole was observed before the widespread use of the CFCs that are alleged to cause it.

The author is an Iowa truck driver known to some AT readers as Kzintosh.

On October 24, AT published the article "Ozone Hole Shrinking, NASA Announces."  The author, Howard J. Warner, correctly wrote that there are many factors that cause the Earth's ozone layer to grow or shrink and that chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's) are merely one factor of many.  Mr. Warner cited volcanoes as one of these factors, for example.  He provided a link to an article, which stated that although the Antarctic ozone hole is now shrinking overall, it actually grew in 2016, owing to the recent one-time eruption of the Chilean volcano Mount Calbuco.  This eruption injected sulfur into the atmosphere, which formed the compound sulfuric acid (H2SO4) — which ate away at the ozone layer.


Ozone hole in 2010 (Photo credit: NASA).

One of the commenters to Mr. Howard's article was kind enough to include the entire chemical reaction by which every CFC molecule is alleged to eat away at some 100,000 ozone molecules, in a catalytic chemical reaction, before the CFC molecules themselves are "washed out of the upper atmosphere."  This reaction was discovered by F. Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina, for which discovery they won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 1995, and it led to the ban on CFCs.  One wonders why it wasn't the Nobel Peace Prize instead.

According to the news reports, now that CFCs have been banned, the Antarctic ozone hole is on track to heal itself by 2050.  The reduction of the Antarctic ozone hole is being touted as a vindication of the theory that banning CFCs was needed to accomplish this.  Environmental activists across the world have seized upon the news of the closing of the ozone hole as proof that the world was right to ban CFCs during the 1980s.

This is faulty logic.  It is, in fact, the logical fallacy of the post hoc, ergo propter hoc argument.  That's Latin for "after the fact, therefore because of the fact."  As this writer's Jesuit philosophy professor remarked in 1971, "that's like saying hospitals cause death."  People check into hospitals all the time, and many of them die there.  Therefore, hospitals cause death, right?  Similarly, to say a ban on CFCs caused the ozone layer to heal itself is a post hoc, ergo propter hoc argument if there are other hypotheses that can explain the same thing.  Suppose there are other sources of upper-atmosphere acids that can do every year what Mount Calbuco did in 2016?

There is such a source: Mount Erebus.  It is an Antarctic volcano that has continuously erupted since 1972, and it erupted sporadically before that.  It also injects 1,200 tons of HCl gas into the atmosphere every day, and 500 tons of HF gas.  In the presence of water, these form the corrosive acids hydrochloric acid and hydrofluoric acid.  In chemistry, it is a rule of thumb that there is no acid that is more corrosive than hydrofluoric.  These acids are sufficient to do every year what Mount Calbuco did only in 2016.

There is a problem with the theory that CFCs cause the Antarctic ozone layer that its proponents have always had and have never explained: how do the CFCs get up there?  They ought not to be able to do so.  This is because CFCs have molecular weights about four times greater that the principal components of the Earth's atmosphere, nitrogen and oxygen.

Readers are undoubtedly aware that light gases rise, like helium.  The converse is also true: heavy gases sink.  Any gas that is four times heavier than air, such as CFCs, can do only one thing: sink.  It is actually possible to pour CFCs from a container into another container beneath it.

Readers can verify this for themselves every time they visit a supermarket.  Have you ever seen those freezer units that have no lid?  The supermarkets stuff things like frozen pizzas into these containers, and the customers can remove them easily.  And the cold air inside the freezers never flows out of them, even though there is no lid.  That is because the temperatures inside these freezers range from zero to 20 degrees Fahrenheit.  This is some 70 degrees colder than room temperature, so the air inside the freezers is 10% to 15% denser than air at room temperature — and this is enough to trap the cold air in the freezers and prevent its escape even though there is no lid.

And this is for air that is only 10% denser than air at room temperature.  If this air doesn't escape from those lidless freezers, then how is it possible for CFCs that weigh four times as much as air to rise to the stratosphere?  They can't, in anything greater than trivial quantities caused by turbulent atmospheric mixing.

Another problem with the CFC theory is that the Antarctic ozone hole was actually first observed during the International Geophysical Yearof 1957-1958. This was the world's first serious scientific study of the Antarctic, so there is no telling whether the ozone hole could have been observed in previous years. This was in any case well before widespread use of air conditioning.

In 1999, this writer attended a debate between Madeleine Kimball and Dr. S. Fred Singer. Kimball was an Assistant Undersecretary of State for Environmental Affairs in the Clinton Administration; and Dr. Singer is an eminent atmospheric scientist, who among other things has written many times for AT. Kimball praised "responsible corporations" like DuPont that, apparently out of public-spiritedness, were willing to advocate the switch from CFCs, even though they held the patents on them. What Kimball neglected to mention is that these patents were about to expire anyway, so what could be better for these corporations than to get the government to guarantee their monopolies by mandating the switch to HCFCs, which likewise could be patented?

A question for genuine atmospheric scientists like Dr. Singer: What has Mount Erebus been up to recently? It has been erupting continuously only since 1972. Has its daily output of HCl and HF gas recently subsided? And if it has, then doesn't this reduce the CFC theory to mere coincidence?

Environmental activists are lauding the ban on CFCs as causing the closing of the annual Antarctic ozone hole. Don't buy their assertions, until they are able to explain how CFCs can rise to the stratosphere, and until they are able to explain why the ozone hole was observed before the widespread use of the CFCs that are alleged to cause it.

The author is an Iowa truck driver known to some AT readers as Kzintosh.