War on Straw

On his blog, John Ray makes a remarkable claim: “Greenies” are wrong about ozone depletion. He writes:

In 1991, the Greenies got everyone to ban CFC chemicals. CFCs were the normal gases that has always been used to make refrigerators and air conditioners work. CFCs even used to put the puff in all our aerosol cans. The ban was because CFCs supposedly destroyed earth’s ozone layer and caused the ozone “hole” over Antarctica. So the hole has of course shrunk by now, right? Wrong! As this U.N. report shows, the hole is as big as ever! Another Greenie scare proved wrong.

Ozone is of course a common industrial “pollutant”. We actually send tons of the stuff into atmosphere all the time. So even if CFCs do destroy some of it we replace it too. The theorists discount that, of course, but seeing that the rest of their theory hasn’t worked out, I think the theorists are the ones who should be discounted.

It is so easy to find information on the net these days that there is absolutely no excuse for writing things like Ray does above. He “refutes” ozone-depletion theory by mis-stating what the theory predicts. It took me five minutes to find what scientists actually say will be the results of the CFC ban: CFCs last in the atmosphere for many years, so it will take until 2050 for the CFC ban to restore the ozone layer

Ray’s second paragraph is also seriously in error. Even if the theorists were wrong about ozone depletion (which they weren’t) and we discount them (which we shouldn’t), it does not follow that ground-level ozone can rise 25km up into the stratosphere in significant quantities. If Ray wants to claim that it does, he needs to present some theory that explains how this happens, and also explain away the measurements of ozone concentrations at different altitudes that show that it isn’t happening.

I will take one piece of advice from Ray’s second paragraph and discount any future claims John Ray might make.

Update: John Ray has responded with:

A Leftist blogger has taken umbrage over my note that the Antarctic ozone hole has not shrunk 12 years after CFCs were banned. He says that I misstate the Greenie claim — which he gives as “it will take until 2050 for the CFC ban to restore the ozone layer”. But if it takes 60 years for a full restoration, shouldn’t we see SOME effect after 12 years? Let me make a similar prediction: By the year 2050 a Communist society will have emerged that will make its people prosperous. No sign of it yet but you never know!

I would have hoped that after being caught making one ignorant claim, Ray would not have turned around and done it again, but he has. If he had bothered to look at what the scientists said, he would have discovered that CFCs weren’t banned in 1991, but that their use was phased out. Consequently, the CFC concentration in the lower atmosphere peaked in the mid 90s and has since declined. However, because it takes years for CFCs to reach the stratosphere, CFC levels there continued to increase and have only now peaked. They predict that ozone levels will start to increase by 2010. Once again, it only took me a few minutes to discover these facts—I don’t understand why Ray prefers to argue from a position of profound ignorance.

I should also note Ray’s attempt to move the goal posts. He originally claimed that the “Greenies” were wrong because their prediction about the ozone hole was false. When he discovered that the prediction was true so far, he turns around and attacks them for making predictions that can’t be proven false until 2050. But scientists have made many short term predictions about ozone depletion that have proven true. The most spectacular one was the discovery of the ozone hole. But don’t expect Ray to mention any of this.

One more thing: Rather than use my name, Ray refers to me as a “leftist blogger”. This really is a give away about his attitude. It’s not about science to Ray—it’s all about politics and ideology.

Update 2: Ray has yet another post on ozone. Instead of correcting his false claims he writes:

Far from following ANY regular progression, the hole clearly fluctuates wildly—as much as any other natural weather phenomenon—and its recent progression from super-small in 2002 to as-big-as-ever in 2003 was predicted by no-one. And in science, if you can’t predict it buddy, you don’t understand it. So claiming to have found the “cause” of something you don’t understand is sheer hubris. Give us back our CFCs!

This is just willfully ignorant. The link Ray provides is the same one as in his original post. It seems that the basis for his attack on ozone science is that one page plus whatever facts he makes up. Yes, the size fluctuates somewhat. In 2003 it peaked at 28 million square km, while in 2002 it peaked at 18 million (super-small in Ray-speak means “more than twice the area of Australia”). And you can see graphs of size going back to 1979 here. Just as predicted, the average size has grown from nothing to the present size as CFC levels in the stratosphere have increased.

Ray originally claimed that ozone science was wrong because its predictions were false. When he discovered that its predictions were coming true, suddenly that was irrelevant. It’s clear that his objections are not based on science, but on ideology.

Update 3: Chris Vinall rips into Ray’s ozone claims as well.

Comments

  1. #1 Ben Triplett
    December 28, 2003

    Singer, Fellow at the AIAA no less (I’m a student member), posts the following from 1994:

    http://www.sepp.org/ozone/ozscsst.html

    Tim, I’d like to see your opinion on that piece. It’s 10 years old, but the arguments are sound.

  2. #2 Tim Lambert
    December 28, 2003

    Ben, I believe that subsequent research has come down against Singer’s position. John quiggin has more.

  3. #3 Ben Triplett
    December 28, 2003

    thanks, that gives me more to read. Just out of curiosity, do you think that the IPCC document on global warming is worth beans scientifically, just a crappy political document or something else? Excuse my change of subject, this just gives me more to judge your opinions by.

  4. #4 Tim Lambert
    December 28, 2003

    I haven’t looked at the IPCC document, so can’t give you an opinion on it.

  5. #5 Scott
    December 28, 2003

    it does not follow that ground-level ozone can rise 25km up into the stratosphere in significant quantities.

    Yet…

    However, because it takes years for CFCs to reach the stratosphere…

    Whatever.

  6. #6 Tim Lambert
    December 28, 2003

    Scott, ozone and CFCs are different chemicals. There is ozone in the stratosphere and at ground level. There is no ozone in the part of the atmosphere between. How could ozone get from ground level to the stratosphere without passing through the intermediate atmosphere?

  7. #7 Angry Bear
    December 28, 2003

    Should the administration succesfully eliminate peer review, Ray sounds like (from their perspective) and ideal substitute reviewer.
    AB

  8. #8 Alasdair Robinson
    February 5, 2004

    Scott, Tim, :

    Ozone is created in high altitudes by bombarding Oxygen molecules (O2) with UV rays. 3O2 -> 2O3

    I don’t believe that the ozone produced at the ground level by UV reacting with gases released from combustion of fossil fuels ever makes it into the upper atmosphere. The reason is because O3 is a fairly reactive molecule and will easily react with other molecules. That is why ground level smog in (caused by ozone) is only present during the daytime (because of the UV input) and is never present at night time.

  9. #9 Ian Gould
    June 23, 2004

    Further to Tim’s comments regarding ground-level ozone and CFCs.

    Ground level ozone normally doesn’t last long enough to reach the ozone layer. Ozone is highly chemically reactive at surface temperatures and/or in the presence of water.

    Most ozone formed at ground level breaks down within a matter of hours.

    The ozone layer exists in large part because the upper atmosphere is cold and dry and ozone formed by UV radiation
    striking oxygen molecules has a long life expectancy under those conditions.

  10. #10 Max Denno
    June 24, 2004

    If someone told you there is a hole in your brain , it is getting larger and larger every year , and it is caused by writing articles without proper research …. would you stop writing ?

  11. #11 Max Denno
    June 24, 2004

    Above was directed towards Mr Ray

  12. #12 Tim Lambert
    June 24, 2004

    Max, Leaving a comment for Mr Ray here will not do much good, since I doubt if he will see it.

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