Antarctica

Ozone Hole Over Antarctica Is Closing, Reports Science

The phase out of ozone-damaging chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants is working

|

OzoneHoleNASA
NASA

In the 1980s, researchers discovered that the protective stratospheric ozone layer over Antarctica was thinning. Since stratospheric ozone reduces the amount of damaging ultraviolet light from the sun that reaches the surface, this was potentially very bad news. Scientists quickly identified chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) widely used as coolants in refrigerators, air conditioners, and as propellants in spray cans as the culprits. CFC molecules floated into the stratosphere where they destroyed ozone molecules. Environmental activist Al Gore famously, but inaccurately, asserted that rabbits and fish in Argentina were being blinded by increased ultraviolet light as a result of the thinning ozone layer. In 1987, countries producing CFCs agreed in the Montreal Protocol to phase out CFCs.

In my 1993 book, Eco-Scam I reported on the science and politics related to the problem of the ozone layer and concluded that an international ban on CFCs was merited. From Eco-Scam:

Despite a great deal of continuing scientific uncertainty, it appears that CFCs do contribute to the creation of the Antarctic ozone hole and perhaps a tiny amount of global ozone depletion. If CFCs were allowed to build up in the atmosphere during the next century, ozone depletion might eventually entail significant costs. More ultraviolet light reaching the surface would require adaptation-switching to new crop varieties, for example-and it might boost the incidence of nonfatal skin cancer. In light of these costs, it makes sense to phase out the use of CFCs. …

The normal processes of science and democratic decision-making have proved adequate to correct what might have become a significant problem. In 1990 our national and international institutions hammered out an agreement to control CFCs, the London Agreement to the Montreal Protocol, which takes the interests of all affected groups into account (though imperfectly).

This is in line with my general view that wherever anyone identifies something as an environmental problem, that problem is occurring in an open-access commons. There are two things one can do to address such problems; assign property rights (the preferred policy) or regulate the commons. Since atmospheric pollution presents significant barriers to assigning property rights, I concluded that the international treaty banning CFCs was the appropriate response. 

So the good news reported in Science this week is that ozone layer over Antarctica is in the process of healing:

Industrial chlorofluorocarbons that cause ozone depletion have been phased out under the Montreal Protocol. A chemically-driven increase in polar ozone (or "healing") is expected in response to this historic agreement. Observations and model calculations taken together indicate that the onset of healing of Antarctic ozone loss has now emerged in September. Fingerprints of September healing since 2000 are identified through (i) increases in ozone column amounts, (ii) changes in the vertical profile of ozone concentration, and (iii) decreases in the areal extent of the ozone hole. Along with chemistry, dynamical and temperature changes contribute to the healing, but could represent feedbacks to chemistry. Volcanic eruptions episodically interfere with healing, particularly during 2015 (when a record October ozone hole occurred following the Calbuco eruption).

Amusingly whoever curates my wikipedia entry continues to assert: "In his 1993 book, Ecoscam, and other works, Bailey criticized claims that CFCs contribute to ozone depletion and that human activity was contributing to global warming." Oh, well.

NEXT: Did Orange County Put an Innocent Man on Death Row?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. So that’s why I’m not as tan as I was in the 90’s.

    1. Sorry. You’re going to stay that color.

    2. Sorry. You’re going to stay that color.

  2. Or, natural variation is causing it and the government’s
    refrigerant ukase had nothing to do with it.

    1. Not in this case. During my PhD work we reviewed the kinetics of CFC reactions. There is no doubt they greatly accelerate ozone decomposition. Natural processes are much slower.

      1. Is the mechanism C-F cleavage followed by radical-radical reaction with the ozone? What’s the rate limiting step?

    2. Not likely. The science on this is pretty firm. You might even say it’s settled.

    3. I’m not going to believe anyone’s claim until someone shows me what the consensus is saying.

  3. Can’t you edit your Wikipedia entry?

    “Numerous reports claim Ron Bailey is awesome and totally called it with the CFC thing. Ron Bailey is basically the the most awesome person since awesome came to awesome town, experts assert.”

    1. Ha! You’re hustling a book like Ron in your handle. Why fusionist, Eddie?

      1. Because the philosophy in that book, In Defense of Freedom, is generally referred to as fusionism.

        Meyer contends that a proper conservatism recognizes liberty and virtue as interdependent – attack one and the other is damaged. The term “fusionism” was initially a derogatory term by those who thought Meyer was patching incompatible things together. And Meyer’s ideas are sometimes conflated with the a merely pragmatic alliance between libertarians and SoCons.

        But the book describes how freedom and virtue are intimately linked.

  4. How about you, young man? Do you wear your skin protector outdoors? You do? Good boy.

  5. Didn’t they change the name of that magazine to Science: it’s Settled?

  6. Environmental activist Al Gore famously, but inaccurately, asserted that rabbits and fish in Argentina were being blinded by increased ultraviolet light as a result of the thinning ozone layer.

    What a douche. No, seriously. Back then I was a teenager and thought him and his wife were complete, hysterical douches.

    Ron, you mean people respond to incentives brought on by private interest and property? J’AMAIS!

    And don’t tell Matt Damon. He just may be blinded by ultra-violet fricken lasers.

    1. J’AMAIS!

      I think your Canadian citizenship may get revoked for that butchery.

      1. Tell me about it.

        JAMAIS.

        1. Was going to write something with ‘J’accuse’ in it. Probably got wire crossed.

          Meh.

          Mange la merde.

          1. Mange de la merde?

      2. He could mean j’amais, “I loved” in Languedoc, approximately.

        1. Or ‘Jameis’, which is Seminole for rapist.

  7. Ron, when will you be posting the UAH’s latest update?

    With the rapid cooling now occurring in the global average tropospheric temperature, my previous prediction of a record warm year in the satellite data for 2016 looks?well?premature.

    Basically, as long as the anomalies stay below the June value of 0.34 deg. C, 2016 won’t be a record warm year.

    If only I had kept my mouth shut nine days ago?.

    1. R: As soon as they send them along.

      1. I foresee La Nina taking hold for a nice 3 yr trend his crappy denver winters.

        We have already had more rain than the last two years combined. Mah tummaters is looking guuuuud!

      2. Roy posted them this morning- they’re free for you to grab and comment on.

  8. But what does Tim Egan think?

    More than a century ago, in the first attempts to shape the face of a nation open to people from all nations, the United States banned convicts, prostitutes and Chinese laborers from landing on our shores. Later, “idiots” were added to the list of forbidden immigrants. Alas, it was too early keep Donald Trump at bay.

    Ho, ho ho, what a deliciously witty and insightful observation.

  9. Boy, it sure doesn’t seem like phasing out CFCs cost as much as CFC-phasing-out alarmists told us it would cost. I wish all these mitigating-environmental-problems through-sensible-regulation deniers would base their assumptions on science and not hysteria. But when you get all your money churning out junk science papers because you want to get more funding what can you expect?

    1. base their assumptions on science and not hysteria

      Like James Hansen does?

    2. Your grasp of both science and funding realities is almost on a par with John’s.

    3. But when you get all your money churning out junk science papers because you want to get more funding what can you expect?

      Hell of an own goal there, Chuckles.

    4. Re: Americanl Stultified,

      Boy, it sure doesn’t seem like phasing out CFCs cost as much as CFC-phasing-out alarmists told us it would cost.

      CFCs aren’t being phased out and won’t be phased out. Developing countries are still using CFCs because the newer stuff is too expensive and much less effective. That is why I don’t buy that the hole is smaller because of mitigation policies.

      And the costs were felt everywhere, you nitwit. Have you used a spray can that actually works like they used to? I am old enough to remember how a spray can used to work with CFCs, before the hysteria surrounding the substance.

      I wish all these mitigating-environmental-problems through-sensible-regulation deniers would base their assumptions on science and not hysteria.

      You mean like the prohibition on DDT was based on science and not on a badly-researched book full of falsehoods? I mean, now that you’re conflating every single ridiculous “mitigation” policy out there with CFC’s as if all were based on sound science instead of greeny hysteria.

      1. It is true that developing, and other powerhouse countries like China, continue to use CFC’s which blows some holes in the theory that the ban has a major effect.

      2. The party of IFLS fucking hates brown people. Bans on effective mosquito control, effective refrigerants, effect self-defense, GMOs? It’s just eugenics by other means.

        1. And it’s rich to hear a Stalin groupie discuss science in the first place. Reality denialism at its finest.

  10. I notice that as the o-hole closes up there seems to be are more a-holes pissing me off.

    We might need to bring back some of those CFCs to see if that helps reduce the a-hole count and make Earth great again for me.

  11. RE: Ozone Hole Over Antarctica Is Closing, Reports Science
    The phase out of ozone-damaging chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants is working

    One must not question the results of these scientists. They have been to college. They work diligently to ensure the unwashed masses are in tune with The State’s science policies. These academics have been given millions if not billions of grant money to ensure there is always a climate crisis down through the decades and have successfully frightened the naive, the stupid and clueless for years. Therefore it would behoove all of us to blindly accept the scientists’ results as gospel and never question their methodology, conclusions, etc.
    Otherwise these wise and forward-thinking people would lose their grant money, lose their three homes, their vacation homes in the Bahamas, four sport cars, etc.
    No one wants that on their conscience.

  12. The phase out of ozone-damaging chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants is working

    A HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

    Oh, man! I never had a good laugh like that in years!

    WHAT phasing-out? Do you really think that there isn’t R-22 being used everywhere else where people are not “environmentally conscious” (i.e. anti-market imbeciles)?

    Please.

    1. R12 or GTFO!

      My mechanic friend actually had snow coming out of his AC on a 1990 toyota pickup.

      1. In the early 90s, I thought about buying as much R12 as I could and storing it in a storage locker to sell later on at insanely high prices. But I don’t think the prices rose as much as I thought they would.

        I guess people accepted R134a.

        1. There is really no comparison.
          With the proper license (which and ASE AC certified mechanic can get) you can still buy R12. But most shops would not go to the trouble. And I don’t think they can sell it in replacement of r134a.

    2. I would be curious to see what the measured amount of CFC emissions actually is now and how it has changed over time. I know following various bans that you stopped seeing it in things like hairspray, but it’s still used even in the US for a number of applications, such as older HVAC. And the phase out has only recently picked up much steam, it seems, as in the past several years. If it took decades of CFCs to create the hole and a few years of somewhat reduced usage in the US and other “first-world” nations have resulted in recovery, that doesn’t seem like a direct connection. I have a hard time believing that Aqua-Net was responsible for so much destruction.

      1. If it took decades of CFCs to create the hole and a few years of somewhat reduced usage in the US and other “first-world” nations have resulted in recovery, that doesn’t seem like a direct connection.

        That’s probably because there isn’t one. I remember very well the claims being made by some in the scientific community that we were already at the point of no return, a condition where there would be no healing possible because the CFCs in the atmosphere could be floating around for years, wreaking destruction regardless of what we did at that point. It was pretty much standard Greenie scolding of greedy humans and that.

        Now, all of a sudden, Science reports that the mitigation policies are working. Indeed?

        Being very skeptical of anyone who claims that people must be sacrificed for the “greater good” (of course, sacrifice the rubes and not them, the elites), I look at this “news” as nothing more than a fabrication meant to give weight to the notion that mitigation policies do indeed work. These shysters pull a rabbit out of the hat, meant to impress the gullible.

      2. I’m sure I contributed to a decent amount of Aqua-Net usage growing up. It was one of the best things I could find for potato guns.

    3. R-22 is a an alternative to CFC-11 and CFC-12 that supposedly reduces ozone depletion by 95% compared to those CFC’s.

      Furthermore, here is the data on CFC levels in the atmosphere. There is a downward trend since the late 90’s-early 00’s.

      I’m not advocating for the regulations here, I’m just saying there is a correlation.

  13. Great, Ron’s shilling for Big Penguin again.

    1. +1 Ben Sherman

  14. Interestingly enough, I’ve read that the interaction of ultraviolet light entering the atmosphere actually creates O3 in the first place, which if true would discredit the idea that the O3 layer protects us from UV instead of being a byproduct of high energy reactions.

    Also, just as a thing, it’s notable that China still uses CFC’s while being a powerhouse of industry. So how does this jive with a closing Ozone hole?

    I’m not saying I know one way or the other, but it seems like those are pretty interesting questions that I don’t see a lot of people talking about. *shrug*

    1. Re: BYODB,

      Also, just as a thing, it’s notable that China still uses CFC’s while being a powerhouse of industry. So how does this jive with a closing Ozone hole?

      That’s because their CFC’s are made in China and so they can never have the same O3-killing effectiveness of a quality, American-made product.

      1. Well, it is actually a fact that CFC’s degrade O3. The question is if O3 is a byproduct, a driver, or neutral. It seems to be taken as read that O3 protects us from UV, but I think it’s not so certain myself.

        Not sure if that was your point or not, but it’s worth mentioning.

    2. I’m not sure how ozone is formed, but it’s perfectly plausible that UV disassociates O2, and one of those O’s then combines with another O2 to make O3, which then is eventuality disassociated itself, absoring UV. You’d have a stable equilibrium eventually.

      Just a guess.

      1. And a quick Wikipedia search confirms my suspicion exactly

      2. The thing is, since O3 is formed because of UV in the first place as a photochemical reaction it stands to reason that it doesn’t matter how much CFC is in the air because UV would simply create O3 at a lower altitude given that the lower you go in the atmosphere the more oxygen there is. It would still degrade faster, but so what? UV will still make more. It might get warmer since supposedly the end result is heat instead of UV, but since the hole is closing and it’s still getting warmer…

        You see what I’m getting at here? They clearly haven’t proven this reaction beyond a reasonable doubt. Yet.

        1. Doesn’t the UV decrease as you go lower in the atmosphere because of increased cross section?

          1. More accurately, increased extinction. Need to drink more.

        2. At different pressures/temperatures the reaction rates could be much different

          1. From what I’ve seen, it would probably produce more O3 given that the reason it forms in the stratosphere is primarily because of oxygen concentration. It doesn’t form higher up because there simply isn’t enough O2 to chop into O3.

            It’s a complex topic that I’m not qualified to judge, but considering the methods for testing it don’t seem overly complicated I imagine it’s somewhat settled. Just fill a box with O3 and measure the UV the penetrates through. The question I don’t know the answer to is if O3 itself somehow converts UV by itself, or if O3 is a byproduct of UV being converted. *shrug*

            1. It could recombine to form O2 more quickly at higher densities.

              It is both formed by disassociation of O2 by UV and destroyed itself when it absorbs UV.

              1. Yeah, O3 isn’t stable without constant input.

    3. B: China closed most of its CFC plants in 2007. But HCFCs are a different matter.

      1. Thanks for that, I’ll give it a read!

        1. I actually went back and looked into the source articles I recalled going through and it turns out what I was thinking of was HFC-23, whoops!

    4. Jive?!

  15. […] A chemically-driven increase in polar ozone (or “healing”) is expected in response to this historic agreement.

    And not due to Post Hoc, “Killed the Black Cat and the Bad Luck Went Away” and “The virgins we sacrificed calmed the Volcano God” kind of thinking.

    1. Considering there was already a hole in the ozone layer when we started measuring, I’m not sure we can say definitively that CFC emissions — even specific types of CFC emissions are the prime driver.

  16. Speaking of Wikipedia editing, at Burning Man I met the guy whose picture is the Wikipedia entry for “redhead”. He submitted it himself back in the early days and argued on the mod boards as being the redhead ideal. According to him, the beard put him over the edge, and I don’t really see anyone dethroning him. What a nice piece of Earth to occupy.

    1. Screw that guy. He doesn’t even have freckles. If I had known about Wikipedia back when I still had hair, I’d be the face of the red heads! Also, something I’ve noticed, those of us with slightly different tinges of red tend to not like each other on sight. It’s weird. I’m more of an auburn with a bit of copper (not too far off of that guy, but obviously better). Those orange heads can’t be trusted.

  17. IT was relatively easy to phase out CFCs, and this did not require any sacrifice on the part of consumers, or much by industry for that matter. However, CFCs were replaced by propane, butane, and CO2, and R4 in your car’s AC, all of which are GREENHOUSE GASSES! Arrrgh!!!

  18. my Wikipedia page

    Humble bragging

  19. Lest we forget, here’s a link to a 1997 paper (pdf) discussing DuPont’s part in those Montreal Accords:

    http://tinyurl.com/jz2y5hl

  20. It is nice to see a good government policy for a change, though.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.