Pride in profound ignorance

By May 8, 2024Environment, Society

One Matt Walsh, an idiot right-wing nutjob from the US, posted something on Twitter (or X as it has now been renamed by its idiot owner): “Remember when they spent years telling us to panic over the hole in the ozone layer and then suddenly just stopped talking about it and nobody ever mentioned the ozone layer”.

This was seemingly some attempt to cast doubt on the seriousness of climate change, as if it was just something that scientists would suddenly stop talking about at some time in the future, and that it was not a problem for the planet or the human species.

Someone not as ignorant as Walsh replied with “What happened is scientists discovered chlorofluorocarbons were bad for the ozone, countries believed them, the Montreal Protocol was signed, and CFC use fell by 99.7%, leading to the stabilisation of the ozone layer, perhaps the greatest example of global cooperation in history”1.

The problem with people like Walsh is that they are too ignorant to know how ignorant they are, something I have written about here before2.

Ozone is a highly reactive gas composed of three oxygen atoms (O3). It is both a natural and a man-made molecule that occurs in the Earth’s atmosphere. In the upper atmosphere, the stratosphere, ozone is formed naturally through the interaction of solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation with molecular oxygen (O2). The ‘ozone layer’, which extends from about 10-50 km above the Earth’s surface, reduces the amount of harmful UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface. In the lower atmosphere, the troposphere, ozone is formed primarily from photochemical reactions between two major classes of air pollutants, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides. Significant sources of volatile organic compounds are chemical factories, petrol pumps, oil-based paint, panel-beaters and printeries. Nitrogen oxides result primarily from high temperature combustion from places like power plants, industrial furnaces and boilers, and motor vehicles3.

Ozone in the upper atmosphere absorbs harmful incoming UV light from the sun, reducing human exposure that causes skin cancer and cataracts. In the lower atmosphere, when inhaled, it reacts chemically with many biological molecules in the respiratory tract, leading to a number of adverse health effects, such as: coughing; sore throat; pain when breathing deeply; inflamed and damaged airways; making the lungs more susceptible to infection; and aggravating lung diseases such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma4.

Scientists from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) began monitoring the Antarctic ozone layer in 1957-58. In 1985, they published a paper in Nature that showed since the mid-1970s ozone values over Halley and Faraday Research Stations had been steadily dropping when the Sun reappeared each spring. Something in the stratosphere (about 20km above Earth) was destroying the Antarctic ozone layer. NASA scientists used their satellite data to confirm that not only was the hole over British research stations, but it covered the entire Antarctic continent5.

In a 1974 paper published in Nature, Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina found that Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were being added to the environment in steadily increasing amounts. These compounds are chemically inert and may remain in the atmosphere for 40-150 years, and concentrations can be expected to reach 10 to 30 times present levels in the current rate of use continued. They also found that photodissociation of the CFCs in the stratosphere produced significant amounts of chlorine atoms, which led to the destruction of atmospheric ozone. They shared the 1995 Nobel Prize for this discovery6.

In 1976, the US National Academies of Science issued a report affirming the destructive effects of CFCs on stratospheric ozone. The federal government began exploring bans on the use of CFCs in aerosol cans. Of course, the chemical industry maintained that the data on CFCs and stratospheric ozone were inconclusive and didn’t warrant drastic action6  (Sound familiar? It is what the tobacco Industry did, and what the fossil fuel industry is now doing).

Despite all the interference from the chemical industry, governments actually listed to the scientists and came together to reverse the damage done to the ozone layer. In 1985, governments adopted the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, which provided the framework for the Montreal Protocol to phase out ozone-depleting substances, including chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). The adoption of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer on September 16, 1987 marked a turning point in environmental history. It also showed that when science and political willpower join forces, the results can change the world for the better7.

Around 99 per cent of ozone-depleting substances have been phased out and the ozone layer is being replenished. The Antarctic ozone hole is expected to close by the 2060s, while other regions will return to pre-1980s values even earlier. It has been estimated that the phasing out of CFCs has prevented two million people developing skin cancer every year7.

This whole business demonstrates several things:

  • As I state above, there are many people who are so supremely ignorant they do not realise how ignorant they are.
  • When scientists discover something that impacts the health of the planet, you need to take heed.
  • When political will has not been corrupted by money, lobbyists, or a corrupted (read Murdoch & Stokes) media, it can make the world a safer place for all of us.
  • When any industry or any of their employees say that the science ‘is not settled’, they are lying.
  • Any industry is more concerned with their shareholders’ profit than anything else, and that includes the deaths of millions, or of the planet.




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