Mon, Jul

Ozone Troubles, Once Again


CLIMATE WATCH - NASA: “Without ozone, the Sun’s intense UV radiation would sterilize the Earth’s surface.” 

It was 36 years ago in panic mode when the world came together like never before unanimously agreeing to ratify The Montreal Protocol, banning CFCs. This was done to protect ozone (O3), which is a widely-dispersed layer of molecules at 10-30 miles in the stratosphere that shields humanity from dangerously harsh UV Sun radiation. 

Appallingly, a similar issue is happening once again, as chlorine atoms have been turned loose to feast on precious life-saving ozone molecules. According to a recent study published in Nature Geoscience, from 2010-2020 five principal chlorofluorocarbons -CFCs- reached record-high levels in 2020 in the stratosphere. Scientists believe the increase is likely due to leakage from production of chemicals meant to replace CFCs, but unanswered questions remain outstanding. 

“This shouldn’t be happening,’ says Martin Vollmer, an atmospheric chemist at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology in Dübendorf who helped to analyze data from an international network of CFC monitors. “We expect the opposite trend, we expect them to slowly go down.” (Source: ‘This Shouldn’t be Happening’: Levels of Banned CFCs Rising, Nature, April 3, 2023) 

So far, the good news is that current levels of CFCs do not yet appear to be threatening the ongoing healing process of the ozone layer. Yet, this finding serves to emphasize the importance of detection and broadcasting the facts, as it must be isolated and stopped as soon as possible. Also, it should be noted that there is a 3–5-year lag time before the presence of CFCs interact with ozone molecules. Thus, the hard-core evidence is not yet completely available. 

“It’s highly likely that manufacturing plants are accidently releasing three of the chemicals — CFC-113a, CFC-114a and CFC-115 — while producing replacements for CFCs. When CFCs were phased out, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) were brought in as substitutes. But CFCs can crop up as unintended by-products during HFC manufacture… The rise in the levels of the two other CFCs is a mystery: “CFC-13 and CFC-112a should not currently be used or produced,” Ibid. 

Detection of CFCs in the atmosphere is a challenging issue because few CFC monitoring stations are found over the continents of Africa and South America where chemical production is not even close to being adequately monitored. Meanwhile. chemical companies continue to develop various types of CFC substitutes. Scientists are now suggesting: “The world might need to think differently about HFCs and perhaps even the next generation of refrigerant chemicals known as hydrofluoroolefins, HFOs, which can also emit CFCs,” Ibid. Or it may be necessary to amend the Montreal Protocol to address the issue. 

The current problem: A Global Monitory Laboratory study analyzed five CFCs that have no real current uses, starting at the point of total global phase-out in 2010. By 2020, “all five gases were at their highest abundance since direct measurements began.” (Source: Ozone-depleting CFCs Hit Record Despite Ban: Study, PHYS.ORG, Earth Sciences, April 3, 2023) In common-speak terminology, CFCs are chemicals that gobble up ozone molecules in the atmosphere like a Packman game gone berserk sans a controller. 

According to Science News, by 2012, 25 years following The Montreal Protocol, the ozone hole was at its smallest in decades. Hooray, humanity saved itself from itself and the likelihood of worldwide outbreaks of deadly skin cancer as well as insurmountable survival issues, e.g., toasted-to-a-crisp low-yielding food crops throughout the planet. As it happens, the endgame from loss of the ozone layer is rapid acceleration of the dreaded extinction event. 

Emitting chlorofluorocarbons -CFCs- into the atmosphere is an insidiously dangerous proposition simply because one (only one) chlorine atom can destroy up to 100,000 atmospheric ozone molecules (Source: Basic Ozone Layer Science, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). 

Moreover, CFCs not only gobble up the ozone layer, but according to Global Carbon Project, they are also a greenhouse gas that traps heat up to 10,000 times more than CO2. 

A major concern is the current “rapid upward trend” of CFCs, which will likely negatively impact both the ozone layer as well as enhance global warming at a time when the most prominent greenhouse gases, meaning carbon dioxide (CO2) methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are already at their highest levels in human history whilst global warming continually sets new record highs. It’s a dangerous cocktail that could blindside all of humanity. 

Meanwhile it’s worth taking note of the year 2022 for a peek at the first time in human history that’s best described as, “we’ve never been here before.” Global warming’s impact has always been most prominently found at the fringes of civilization, e.g., Siberian permafrost, the Arctic, Antarctica, Tibetan Plateau, the Great Barrier Reef. But, who lives there? 

The year 2022 changed everything. A new era of global warming officially started. Global warming came into every living room and onto every TV set on every continent. Paradise, California a town of 27,000 burned to the ground like smoldering matchsticks as the state suffered  7,667 wildfires; UK temperatures exceeded 40C for the first time ever while less than 5% of homes have air-conditioning (never needed it); China’s longest strongest heatwave on record at 260 locations for 70 days with power supply outages and water cutbacks at some key major cities like Guangzhou (15M) and Shenzhen (13M); Japan’s hottest heatwave in over 150 years of record-keeping; India (15,000 heat deaths) unprecedented pounding heatwaves; Western Australia hottest 50.7C (123F) ever; floods ravaged Pakistan (1,739 dead), parts of China (9,000 homes washed away), Germany; severe drought nearly caused complete unnavigable status for the world’s most famous iconic commercial rivers, Rhine, Danube, Po, Yangtze, Mississippi; drinking water delivered by truck to over 100 towns and communities in France and Italy; America’s largest reservoirs within several feet of dead pool status; Santiago (5.6M) rationing water. All of which is only a sampling of the year 2022. 

None of the record-setting fires, heat, floods, and droughts of 2022 were normal. Nothing was normal; it was all unprecedented. This has never happened before. If 2022 was a trailer or preview, one can only hope that the full-length feature is never released. It was the year of “we’ve never been here before.” 

Additionally, CFCs once again threaten the ozone layer, but that’s indeterminate for now. The ozone layer is the planet’s major line of defense from burning alive. Meanwhile, the ozone molecule’s biggest enemy, or CFCs, have unrelenting power at 10,000 times CO2’s impact on global warming’s binge, rampage, turmoil, which started in earnest in 2022. 

What’s the world going to do?

(Robert Hunziker, MA, economic history DePaul University, awarded membership in Pi Gamma Mu International Academic Honor Society in Social Sciences is a freelance writer and environmental journalist who has over 200 published articles appearing in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide.)