ozone hole and global weirding

August 20, 2009 at 9:00 am | | literature, news, science and the public

Nature has a nice News Feature on how humans first caused an ozone hole in the atmosphere, then banded together to fix it. Really pretty inspiring what we can do when we need to. (The scientific story is also interesting.) And a lesson to how we can work together to solve the specter of global climate change and global weirding.

ozone-no-reg ozone-reg

The images on the left show a computer model of what the ozone hole (blue) would have looked like if we had done nothing; the ones on the right are what we’ve (probably) done by eliminating CFCs from the atmosphere. The large ozone hole would have been seriously catastrophic: Living in NYC or Tokyo would mean getting dangerous sunburns in 5 minutes of sun exposure. Ouch.

I think the ozone hole offers two lessons. (1) That climate science is not BS. And (2) that humans can cause and solve global atmospheric problems. The first probably won’t convince any global-warming skeptic, because they could claim that it was the same faulty science then as now, and that there never was a ozone hole.

But the second lesson should inspire all but the most adamant doubters. Humans are powerful enough to dramatically alter Earth’s environment, sometimes in catastrophic ways. Moreover, we can collaborate internationally to solve global problems. Why are we not inspired to slow global weirding (and solve other international problems such as abject poverty)?


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  1. In the late 1980’s I studied the ozone hole and carefully reviewed the science which predicted the hole and its associated remedy. That science was complex but clear, and Nobel Prizes were awarded for elucidating that phenomenon.

    I have a PhD in chemical physics and am retired, but I have spent the last three years examining AGW, the IPCC predictions, and the complexity of the associated issues. IPCC global temperature rise predictions rely on some 20+ computer codes. These codes are some of the most complex ever written and must be run on supercomputers for days to achieve a single temperature prediction. Their historical accuracy has been almost shameful, and the different codes are in great disagreement. Numerous “fudge factors” are used to anchor the codes to historical physical measurements and these constants are not grounded by physics or chemistry. Code inputs also require projecting human population growth and world economic growth by country.

    Water vapor accounts for more than 95% of the greenhouse effect. The remaining 5% is primarily CO2 with small amounts of nitrous oxide, methane and CFC’s contributing. HOWEVER, 97 PERCENT OF THAT 5% OF CO2 IS NOT MANMADE!! Statistically speaking, just think of the accuracy that the codes must have in order to make any reliable prediction. It’s more than close to impossible considering our poor understanding of the carbon cycle, cloud formation, precipitation cooling, and numerous other factors.

    I was initially suckered in and believed the IPCC until I started reviewing the science on my own. There are also billions of dollars being spent around the world to support AGW. It’s a self perpetuating industry not grounded in good science.

    So PLEASE do not equate ozone depletion by CFC’s with AGW, the former is real, the latter pseudo science at best.

    Comment by Herb Laeger — August 21, 2009 #

  2. Herb-

    Thanks for your polite comment, even though I disagree with your conclusions. I agree that the case for CFCs causing an ozone hole was more straightforward, but it too was strongly doubted back in the day.

    The basics of global weirding—the “greenhouse effect”—have been understood for many many years (see this history): adding CO2 to the atmosphere means that more IR is trapped, so generally the globe heats up. Predicting the specific outcomes to climate from certain levels CO2 is indeed very difficult and requires complicated computer codes that will probably prove to be less than perfect. That is a red-herring, though, because the basics of the greenhouse effect are solid.

    You claim that anthropogenic CO2 is only 3% of 5% of greenhouse gases. Is that % by mass or by volume or by potency? I understand that water vapor is the major greenhouse gas, but changes in CO2 concentrations could have significant changes in climate. Moreover, compounds such as methane—while are in the atmosphere a lower percent by mole—are significantly more efficient at blocking heat, so increasing those compounds even a little can have a large effect.

    Furthermore, I don’t know where you’re getting that only 3% of CO2 is anthropogenic. Historically, CO2 levels fluctuated between 150 and 300 ppm; now they are 380 ppm (a graph). Going from 300-380 is not a 3% change; that’s a change of over 20%.

    Anyway, I do trust climate scientists to figure out the science. I do not have time to become an expert in another field, so I decide to trust those people who work on the issue, using the same scientific method (and checks and balances from peers) that I apply to my research. There have been many instances of scientists being wrong and the science community going off in the wrong direction, refusing to listen to skeptics. It is possible that is happening today with global weirding. But I doubt it…


    Comment by sam — August 21, 2009 #

  3. according to this paper:
    Earth’s Annual Global Mean Energy Budget

    CO2 contributes more than 20% to the overall greenhouse effect (on a clear day).

    Comment by sam — August 23, 2009 #

  4. Sam,
    I don’t have a great deal of time for a lengthy debate about my numbers, which are correct. I would like to meet you and have a detailed discussion which I think we would both enjoy as you seem to be a rational fellow, but alas that is probably impossible. Also I could not Google your reference as written.

    Please see http://www.geocraft.com/WVFossils/greenhouse_data.html for a more detailed explanation of both molar concentrations and potency of the various greenhouse gasses.


    Comment by Herb Laeger — August 24, 2009 #

  5. Thanks, Herb. I fixed my link above, I hope.

    I’ve seen the website you mention, but cannot confirm the numbers it reports. The scientific sources I find report much higher fractions of CO2. Moreover, water vapor is more a passive participant in the greenhouse effect, whereas CO2 lingers and thus is more active (source).

    Nevertheless, I doubt we will convince each other in comments on this blog, so we can leave it at agreeing to disagree.

    Thanks for your level-headed comments,


    Comment by sam — August 24, 2009 #

  6. The Freon problem was straightforward and so was the solution. Unfortunately we cannot phase out carbon dioxide production – the proposed schemes are both very expensive and ineffective. Coupled with shaky science and shrill tone of the discourse (and my personal experience with enviro movement to which I used to belong) I am very unconcerned about climate change. Mind you, I have house near coast in Southern Florida.

    Why don’t you read something from Freeman Dyson on the subject, he used to be working on climate-change-related problems for government as a JASON

    Comment by m — August 31, 2009 #

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