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What Does the Closing of the Big Hole Tell Us!

December 17, 2013

ozone_omi_2013259As the world struggles to control climate change, a ray of hope surfaced with the announcement that the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica is shrinking and may make a full recovery in the near future.

The ozone layer contains over 90% of all atmospheric ozone, extends between 12 miles to 19 miles (20 to 30 kilometers) above Earth’s surface. The layer is very important for life on Earth because it has the property of absorbing the most damaging form of UV radiation, UV-B radiation, which causes sunburn and skin cancer. The hole is the result of human-produced chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), halons, and carbon tetrachloride used in aerosols and refrigeration escaping into the atmosphere.

Discovering Antarctica explains:

“….. CFCs and other ozone depleting gases may come from anywhere, but it is in the south polar stratosphere where the conditions become most favorable for ozone destruction. The key factor is the presence of stratospheric clouds, where high winds cause a vortex of cold air to circulate over the continent, and the lack of atmospheric mixing between the south polar latitudes and air from elsewhere during the austral winter and early spring (CFCs are especially effective at depleting ozone in the frigid temperatures over Antarctica). “

“….. both problems (hole in ozone layer and climate change) are the result of atmospheric pollution, the causes and consequences relating to each are very different. Despite the differences, there are also some links between the two problems. For example, in addition to causing ozone depletion, CFCs are also a greenhouse gas – so phasing out the production of CFCs helps in combating climate change as well as repairing the ozone layer.”

Discovering Antarctica further states, “Soon after the scale of ozone depletion over Antarctica became apparent in 1985, an historic international agreement was signed (the Montreal Protocol) which came into force in 1989. The protocol set deadlines for reducing and eliminating the production and use of ozone depleting substances. It also promoted research and development into finding ozone safe substitute chemicals for the uses to which CFCs, …..”

Ratified by 195 countries, the protocol has been described as one of the most successful international treaties. A New York Times article states:

“It (the Montreal Protocol ) incorporates pragmatic, business-friendly principles that have allowed it to operate smoothly for more than two decades, achieving its goals — and then some — with little controversy … If production (of CFCs) had been allowed to continue, a batch of scientific studies show, the planet would most likely be warming a lot faster than it is.”

While levels of ozone depleting chlorine in the atmosphere have decreased as a result of the protocol, it’s too soon to tie them to a healthier ozone layer. Ryan Grenoble reports in The Huffington Post:

“….. the scientists believe the most recent ozone hole changes, including both the largest hole ever, in 2006, and one of the smallest holes, in 2012, are primarily due to weather. Strong winds have the ability to move ozone in large quantities, effectively blocking the hole some years, while failing to block it in others.”

“….. weather is expected to be the predominant factor in the ozone hole’s size until 2025, at which point CFCs will have dropped enough as a result of the Montreal Protocol to become noticeable.”

“….. however, the ozone hole is expected to have made a full recovery by 2070.”

NASA states: “There was a lot of Antarctic ozone depletion in 2013, but because of above average temperatures in the Antarctic lower stratosphere, the hole was a bit below average compared to ozone holes observed since 1990,” said Paul Newman, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

So how can a carbon-based society change to a more sustainable approach? Controlling harmful CFC emissions by prohibiting its use in aerosols and refrigerants is significantly less complex than combating greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels. Major battlefields exist in every sector of society – domestic and international.  The cause of the ozone hole was met early on with a general international agreement on what the scientists had to say. It has taken the global community much longer to accept the scientific evidence for anthropogenic climate change.

In addition, the cost impact of phasing out CFCs was negligible in comparison to the apparent cost of converting over to clean energy. The technological obstacles finding CFC’s substitutes were also not as severe as developing an installed base of suitable alternative fuels on the world stage.

In closing, there appears to be only one answer that makes “cents.” That’s right dollars and cents. Only when fossil fuels become precious and priced, accordingly will there be a gold rush towards clean fuels. Will this happen in the near term, doubtful.  Not in the face of cheap coal, stable crude oil production, and abundant natural gas reserves.  Otherwise, please be the first in line to gladly accept higher prices for fuel, electricity and food, just to name a few.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 17, 2014 4:27 PM

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  2. May 19, 2014 6:20 AM

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