A Hole in the Ozone, or a Hole in the Political Science?

Importantly, neither China nor India was willing to or required to participate in the Montreal Protocol. That left them free to do whatever they wanted, and that is exactly what they did. In February 1989, the New Scientist reported that China had a plan in place to boost their production of CFCs up to 10 times the present level. And, it wasn’t until the summer of 2007 that China actually got around to banning the production of ozone-depleting CFCs. So there has not been much in the way of reduction from China. In fact, as reported by Walter Russell Mead in The American Interest, China used the UN-sponsored Kyoto Protocol to run an emission credits scam operation:

By using incinerators to cleanly burn off the chemical, HFC-23, these manufacturers were earning emission credits that they would in turn sell to developed world companies in order to help them hit their targets under the Kyoto Protocol.

This chicanery didn’t go unnoticed, however: the European Emissions Trading Scheme banned trade in those credits in May, and other working climate exchanges have said they’re going to follow suit. A very lucrative business for Chinese manufacturers is drying up very quickly, and they’re not taking it sitting down.

The EIA said an undercover investigation had shown that most of China’s non-CDM facilities were emitting HFC-23 already.“If all of these facilities [under the CDM] join China’s non-CDM and vent their HFC-23, they will set off a climate bomb emitting more than 2bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions by 2020,” it said.

Thanks to financial incentives to destroy CFCs under the Kyoto Protocol, there are even more CFCs in existence than there were before. This might explain why, more than 15 years after the Montreal Protocol was put into effect by the UN, NASA reported in 2006 that the ozone hole over the Antarctic reached a record size:


Above: Antarctic ozone levels since 1979. Source: NASA Ozone Watch

Or does it? Adding to the madness, now there is scientific uncertainty about the actual extent of the ozone problem as it relates to CFCs. More recent science has shown that the sensitivity of the Earth’s ozone layer might very well be 10 times less than was originally believed back in the 1980s when the alarm was first sounded. As reported in the prestigious science journal Nature, Markus Rex, an atmospheric scientist at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Potsdam, Germany, found that the breakdown rate of a crucial CFC-related molecule, dichlorine peroxide (Cl2O2), is almost an order of magnitude lower than the currently accepted rate:

"This must have far-reaching consequences," Rex says. "If the measurements are correct we can basically no longer say we understand how ozone holes come into being." What effect the results have on projections of the speed or extent of ozone depletion remains unclear. (Emphasis added)

One of the biggest issues with the Antarctic ozone hole is that it is not a year-round event. It peaks at its worst during the long, dark Antarctic winter. Observations show that it is highly correlated to weather patterns -- more so than to actual atmospheric CFC content. The cold, the lack of sunlight to form new ozone, and the circular wind pattern in Antarctica all conspire to reduce ozone without any help from CFCs at all. Fellow of the American Meteorological Society and co-founder of the Weather Channel Joe D’Aleo says he thinks that the Antarctic ozone hole might simply be a permanent feature of the Earth that we only discovered when we went looking for the posited ozone reduction:

The data shows a lot of variability and no real trends after the Montreal protocol banned CFCs. The models had predicted a partial recovery by now. Later scientists adjusted their models and pronounced the recovery would take decades. It may be just another failed alarmist prediction.

Remember we first found the ozone hole when satellites that measure ozone were first available and processed (1985). It is very likely to have been there forever, varying year to year and decade to decade as solar cycles and volcanic events affected high latitude winter vortex strength. (Source)

With the claim in the AP story of “statistically significant” success being just a tiny reduction at higher latitudes, about 4%, while the Antarctic ozone hole continues mostly unabated, one wonders if the UN claim of success is nothing more than taking credit for simple natural variability.

The ozone hole may be a process that has been around for ages, which we only were able to notice as a result of recent technology.