"Cancer threat as deadly UV rays build up" reported the New Zealand Herald on September 10th 2006. Referring to a "disturbing new study" the writer reported a finding that "increases in UV radiation over summer have occurred because of ozone depletion caused by pollution".
The article contained three assumptions:
Unfortunately, these claims are false on all counts. In order to simply understand the relationship between UV (sunshine), ozone and oxygen (air), think about what you see when you go to the beach. The order of things is:
Water — Surf — Beach
The boundary where the water hits the beach is called surf, and in the upper atmosphere, the boundary where the sunlight hits the air is termed the ozone layer, because in that region ozone is produced as a result of the UV acting on the oxygen, in other words where the sunlight hits the air.
Sunlight — Ozone — Air
Just as the surf cannot in any way protect the land from the sea, ozone cannot 'protect' the air and our environment that is below it from UV. A result cannot be defined as a protector. To lament that ozone depletion is taking away "our protection" is the same as crying that surfers are wearing down the surf, and as the surf is all there is holding back the ocean, when the surf goes (due to human behavior) the water will flood over the land and destroy mankind.
As with so many theories, threads are tied together to build a case. The case is then launched to the media to attract attention. The attention is then added to by 'further findings', 'disturbing new studies' and 'concerns'. The end result is the willing granting of research funds to research "the problem". If the Cancer word can be attached, so much the better for the case. The public will donate any amount of money for cancer research. It only wants to see the case for it spelled out in a conclusive-sounding way.
We do know that ozone exists. We know that there are two ozone depletion zones: over each of the Earth's poles. We know the depletion zone over Antarctic is bigger than that over the Arctic. We have found that CFCs [Chlorofluorocarbons] which are man-made substances commonly used in refrigeration and aerosol cans, contain chlorine. And we know that chlorine can destroy ozone.
At this point let's revisit school science. We breathe in oxygen and expell it as carbon dioxide. 02 is two oxygen atoms stuck together. Given sufficient energy applied, now and then three oxygen atoms will stick together, making an 03 molecule, which is called ozone. The energy required for this can come from electrical discharge through the air, such as lightning, or from the sun in the form of UV sunlight. You can smell ozone if you sniff around an electric motor that has arcing around the brushes — the pungent smell is the 03.
When in space the Sun's energy races down here to meet Earth's rising air, a certain amount of 03 is produced. But like the surf, it is merely the result of the photo-chemical process between oxygen and UV light. But it is the photo-chemical process itself which protects us; the ozone is a mere by-product. The air itself absorbs most of the UV radiation and disperses it. As the air contains ozone, so the ozone also combines with the UV. In the same way, if you dropped a cup of ink into the sea it would spread out and disperse. And if either the air or sunlight pack up, we will have long since suffocated or frozen to death before we start developing cancer.
There is not a 'layer' of ozone at all, any more than there is single layer of air; and ozone doesn't protect us from anything. The Sun's rays hit us at exactly the same time as they hit the ozone. Therefore, protection is impossible. In the same way, 'hard' water molecules, H3O, doesn't prevent anyone from getting wet. If we could snap our fingers and make every single last molecule of ozone disappear, it would have absolutely no bearing on the amount of UV light reaching the Earth.
Now, back to the poles, where there are indeed observed ozone-depletion zones. How come? Well, there happens to be two places on Earth where UV light doesn't meet rising warm air molecules: where the Sun shines less and where it is cold — at the Poles! Because the Earth is tilted, there is a wide area of depletion around both poles, and New Zealand happens to be under the southern depletion zone for much of the winter. In fact the "hole" gets bigger towards spring, because the highs and lows of the effect are modified by Earth's wind systems and subsequently the flow of warm and cold air. That is why you see glaring headlines on sudden discoveries about ozone depletion around New Zealand around New Zealand's springtime. But by December the hole is much smaller, and that's when New Zealand has its summer, when the skin cancer risk from the sun is higher.
Bricks Don't Float Up
Despite all the information you may have read, there is not one shred of supportable evidence that CFCs have found their way 40 miles up above the Earth. No one has ever found any up there because they are roughly five times heavier than air. They are like a brick in a swimming pool. It is not often that you will see a brick floating to the surface of your pool. CFCs are so dense that even as a gas you could fill a bucket with it and pour the contents of one bucket into another. Secondly there is no evidence that they can destroy anything because they are very stable and unreactive substances. Most dictionaries and chemistry books describe them as inert gases.
Faced with this rather unfortunate logic, some researchers extend the plot, claiming that in the upper atmosphere the intense UV light is sufficient to break down the CFCs, releasing chlorine which then does the damage. If that actually could happen though, then the "ozone layer" would just get replaced by the CFC layer, which would then further "protect" us from UV radiation.
There is, too, another difficulty with the theory: the fact that all the CFCs in the world are insufficient to even dent the known amount of ozone. The factor is 1 in 100,000. So we get told of yet another scenario — that in some imagined chain reaction, chlorine would keep on getting released by the UV until all the ozone was destroyed. But even if we supposed that this could happen, then all of these reactions going on would only further absorb UV, protecting us even more. We would right now be dying from lack of UV light and vitamin "D" deficiency.
There is no evidence that such a chain reaction would occur. Also, it is a long jump and unscientific to say that if a reaction could occur, then it would. Furthermore, there are some 192 known chemical reactions and 48 photochemical reactions occurring in the stratosphere (the ozone area) all the time. How would it be that chlorine and ozone, which are only in minute quantities anyway, should be able to carry on this reaction to the exclusion of the other 241 known reactive processes?
And who says that the "holes" are getting bigger? In 1988 NASA's Nimbus satellite appeared to show that the southern hole was increasing. Here was supposed proof that man was aggravating the situation. The fact that the following year's results showed the hole smaller than ever previously recorded went totally unannounced, except in obscure journals. Neither was it reported that the variation in depletion-area size seemed to correspond with increases in sunspot activity, which throws out more UV radiation.
Where did all this nonsense start?
The "CFC Depletion Theory" was first published in 1974 by F. Sherwood Roland and Mario J. Molina, University of California. Their work was treated as a joke by the world's scientific community until the mid-80s, when suddenly there were plenty of funds available for the study of such things.
There are genuine experts concerned at the erosion of truth. In 1986 the prestigious science journal "Geophysical Research Letters" asked forty-six of the world's leading climatologists and meteorologists to submit individual papers on their research and findings on the subject of the "Antarctic Hole" The overview of those findings includes
.."despite the number of public announcements, no clear link between manmade pollutants and ozone depletion over Antarctica has been established; indeed, a number of papers in this issue present serious alternatives to and constraints on the suggested chemical scenarios..The appearance of the South Polar total ozone minimum (the Hole) and higher values at mid-latitudes in the spring has been observed since the late 1950s, well before man-made pollutants could have had important impact on the stratosphere."
The introduction went on to suggest that the hole was apparently a natural phenomenon, affected by climatic shift in the upper atmosphere.
Dr Joseph Scotto, of the Biostatics Branch of the US National Cancer Insititute has found that UV light levels reaching the ground has decreased at the rate of 0.7% a year over a ten year period in the northern hemisphere, at the same time as ozone depletion has been recorded. It is a different story according to Dr Richard McKenzie who claims that "sunburning UV has increased 15% since ozone depletion began in the late 1970s." So who is one to believe?
Perhaps in the case of increased melanomas found to have been occurring in New Zealand; the increase in population is a factor to be considered and the obvious fact that less per capita than in years past now spend their working lives in the open air, resulting in a decreased average immunity for New Zealand skins. Also, family doctors used to instruct young mothers to put the baby in sunlight for longer and longer periods, to build up melanin which would function as an immunity. These days doctors tell everyone to cover themselves with cream and to stay indoors. The population no longer has a natural immunity as a result. And that has nothing to do with ozone.
One Hole is Larger than the Other
Let's look at one last factor, so often reported; that the Antarctic hole is larger than the Arctic one. One would think that even if inert heavier-than-air substances could make it up into space, that they would do it more around the densely populated regions of earth — the northern hemisphere; and affect the Arctic Hole more than the Antarctic. No one is disputing that the hole over the Antarctic is definitely much bigger. The Southern hemisphere has a longer winter than the Northern hemisphere because Earth is further from the sun in July than in January. Longer winter means bigger hole. But also maybe, some chlorine is coming from some other source, instead of CFCs. Let's look around.
Aha! Just a few miles upwind from the Antarctic camp where all the readings about ozone-depletion originate from, is a rather large hill called Mt Erebus. Mt Erebus is an active volcano, which first erupted in 1982 (coincidentally about when the bigger hole was discovered). Mt Erebus spews out over 1,000 tons of active chlorine every day. Go there and look — it is puffing away all the time. This chlorine, far from being as cold as CFCs, comes out as superheated gas which shoots straight up into the stratosphere. This chlorine does break down the ozone. And Mt Erebus puts out more chlorine per year, all by itself, than all the cars and aerosol cans on earth put together could do in a decade.
It is a little tidbit of science that esteemed experts seem to have overlooked. Moreover, Erebus is not the only active volcano in the world. There are hundreds, thousands, throwing chlorine upwards every second. We can't cap all the volcanoes.
Let's get it in perspective.
Imagine if in every supermarket in the country, the shelves were totally filled only with cans of fly spray. Imagine further, that they could be triggered magically all at once. Picture how much CFC would be involved, to be released into the atmosphere, supposedly to destroy ozone. Now cast your mind to a jumbo jet streaking across the city sky. The unfortunate truth is that every time one jet takes off and flies somewhere, it destroys more ozone than you could ever destroy by squirting all those spray-cans. We are talking 80 tons of pollutant per plane; a volume of exhaust emission equivalent to the volume of Waitemata Harbour. And that is just one jet. Tens of thousands of flights occur around the world every day. Is anyone researching an electric aeroplane?
I've saved the best till last. The Sun shines, in New Zealand, from the north. That's why all the houses mainly face north; to catch the day's warm sunshine. New Zealand is therefore south of the Sun, at all times. The South Pole is south of New Zealand, at all times. For the Sun to shine through the ozone hole in the south-polar skies and onto New Zealand to cause skin cancer, is utterly impossible unless the Sun scoots around under the south pole or Antarctica races up to sit next to Fiji. Never mind the ozone thing; what great headlines that would make. Hard as it may be to believe, no-one's ever noticed that occurring.
What we seem to have is a very handy Designer-Hole, capable of being over whichever country scientists who are seeking research funds desire it to be. Is there a connection to the Moon? Yes, the average size of the hole varies with the 18.613 year lunation cycle. Has ozone a shelf-life? Yes, incredibly short. 03 converts very quickly back to 02. It is getting made all the time as the Sun hits warm air. The total amount stays constant so it is continually destructing.
Finally, a word from a reliable expert. Robert Pease, Professor Emeritus of Physical Climatology at one of America's leading universities, sent a disclaimer about what he called the "media-endorsed ozone-depletion theory" to many United States newspapers. Only a handful published it.