12 MARCH 1994, Page 9


Andrew Kenny argues that the misguided

belief in global warming will cost billions of pounds — and hundreds of lives

Richard's Bay, Natal COMPARE these two apocalyptic pro- nouncements:

Scradge is a substance found beneath the Earth's surface. This scradge radiates upwards, keeping level with the Gulf Stream, and keeps the pressure on the Earth's surface at an even level, thus preventing boots from exploding. Unfortunately Britain's scradge deposits are rapidly losing their potency, with results that have now become apparent.

If the whole world used fridges and cars the way the West does now, the resulting impact on the ozone layer would of itself make the world uninhabitable.

The first comes from The Goon Show and warns that a weakening of scradge could cause everyone's boots to explode. It was written by Mr Spike Milligan, who is a man of high intelli- gence. The second comes from the Guardian Weekly and warns that a weaken- ing of the ozone layer could destroy all life on Earth. It was written by Mr Gordon Brown, who is Britain's Shadow Chan- cellor of the Exchequer. The first is the more amusing, the second the more preposter- ous. Scientifically they are equivalent. Both are nonsense.

But forgive me if I do not smile. The more I look at the ozone scare, the more I suspect a gigantic fraud on the scale of Pilt- down Man or the Lysenko Affair. Unlike Piltdown Man but like the Lysenko Affair, the ozone hoax promises tragedy. The wicked ban on CFCs — the chemicals held responsible for global warming — which is promoted by drivel such as Mr Brown's will bring ill to man and his environment, and cause loss of life among the poor people in the tropical regions, like the one where I live. The scare linking CFCs to ozone deple- tion, rather like the mediaeval scare linking Jews with the Black Death, relies on repeated assertion rather than evidence. So let me quickly go through the facts.

Oxygen in the atmosphere is nearly always found in the stable molecule 0; which consists of two oxygen atoms. Ozone is a molecule of three oxygen atoms, 03, an unusual and toxic form of oxygen. (At sea level it is regarded as a pollutant.) Ultravi- olet radiation from the sun entering the upper atmosphere splits the 02 into two 0' atoms; in so doing the ultraviolet radiation is absorbed and prevented from reaching the ground. Each Oi atom then joins an 02 to make 03. The 03 can itself absorb ultra- violet radiation of a slightly wider spec- trum, splitting it back into 02 and O. And so the process repeats itself. Ultraviolet radiation is absorbed in the making of ozone and in the breaking down of ozone.

CFCs (chloro-fluoro-carbons) are stable, non-flammable, non-toxic, man-made chemicals used in refrigeration and other applications. The scare theory is that when released they rise into the upper atmo- sphere (which does happen despite their high molecular weight) and shed chlorine compounds, which then break down the ozone and allow more ultraviolet radiation to reach the ground, causing an increase in skin cancer, as well as contributing to glob- al warming — the infamous greenhouse effect.

So the first and most obvious question to ask is this: has there been an increase in ultraviolet radiation since CFCs came into production? When you put this question to the ozone scaremongers, there is a stricken silence. In fact no long-term increase in ultraviolet radiation has ever been record- ed. Measurements in the United States taken over 11 years between 1974 and 1985 show ultraviolet radiation decreasing.

This is the crucial, central fact of the whole debate — yet somehow the scare- mongers always forget to mention it. The instruments for mea- suring ultraviolet radi- ation are quite simple, CFCs have been made since the 1930s, and interest in the ozone layer has been with us for more than 30 years. That in all this time nobody has ever measured a significant long-term increase in ultraviolet radiation is reason to dismiss the entire scare.

What about the state of the ozone layer itself? Ozone levels undergo violent natural fluctuations from night to day and from season to season, which dwarf the worst predictions of ozone depletion by CFCs. From 1960 until 1979 there was an increase in ozone levels of about 2 per cent; from 1979 until 1990 there was a decrease of about 2 per cent. Now the stronger the sun shines, the more ozone is produced (if every ozone molecule were destroyed, the ozone layer would quickly be remade by the action of ultraviolet radiation on nor- mal oxygen), and solar activity can be mea- sured by the number of sunspots you can count. If you plot ozone levels against sunspots, you see an almost exact match. In other words the long-term rise and fall of ozone, small though it is, is caused by natu- ral fluctuations in the sun and has nothing to do with CFCs.

Ozone over the Antarctic was first mea- sured by a British scientist, Gordon Dob- son, in 1956. (The units of ozone concentration are called Dobsons' after him.) It was he who discovered the 'Hole in the Sky' 38 years ago. Since then, nothing much has changed about the 'hole', which is in fact just a seasonal thinning of ozone. (Most of the CFCs are released in the northern hemisphere but there is no com- parable hole at the Arctic nor, more signifi- cantly, over the equator.) The atmosphere over the South Pole is characterised by extremely low temperatures and a powerful vortex which occurs in September and October and breaks up in November. These two natural conditions work on the complicated chemistry of the upper atmo- sphere and cause a sudden thinning of ozone in September and October and then a sudden recovery. It happens year after year like any great season of nature, and like any great season of nature it is attend- ed by rituals and prophecies from the superstitious.

The question of scale is important in the ozone debate. If you put urine at body tem- perature into a bucket of sea-water at ambient temperature, there certainly will be a warming of the sea-water. But it does not follow that if you pee into the ocean you will melt the polar ice caps. Similarly, although chlorine from CFCs certainly can break down ozone, it does not follow that small quantities of CFCs released by man have any significant effect on the ozone layer, especially since nature releases thousandsfold more chlorine into the atmosphere through volcanoes and salt spray.

Suppose for the sake of argument that, despite all logic and evidence, the scare- mongers are right. Surely then the ban on CFCs would be justified? And this is pre- cisely the argument the Greens use. Recently the green American Vice-Presi- dent, Albert 'Al' Gore, sacked his director of energy research, Dr William Happer, because the doctor insisted on being impar- tial about the evidence against the ozone scare. Gore believes we should act without evidence because by the time we have got the evidence it might be too late. Some people in the 16th century thought the same: better to burn the old woman now because by the time we have got conclusive evidence to prove she is a witch she might have caused a lot of crop failures. So what would be the worst consequence if the ozone scare were true?

Well, nothing very much. The worst pre- diction of the depletionists is that uncon- trolled use of CFCs would produce a 10 per cent decrease in the ozone layer. The American National Academy of sciences (NAS) has found that your chances of get- ting skin cancer increase by 1 per cent with every six miles you move towards the equa- tor (because of the fiercer sunshine). It also estimates that a 1 per cent decrease in ozone increases your chances of skin can- cer by 2 per cent. In other words a 1 per cent decrease in ozone is equivalent to moving 12 miles closer to the equator. So, if the worst fears of the ozone depletionists come true, every individual will increase his chances of getting skin cancer by the same amount as if he had moved 120 miles towards the equator — from Sheffield to London.

On the other hand, the consequences of banning CFCs will certainly be disastrous. I am an engineer working in Africa on a chemical plant that uses industrial refriger- ation. We use a CFC called R22. I must tell you that I bless this wonderful chemical. It is clean, safe, stable, cheap and efficient. The proposed replacements are less effi- cient and some of them are toxic, endan- gering the health of fridge workers and people nearby. In 1929, 100 people were killed in a hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, from gas leaking from a fridge plant. All would have lived if the plant had been using a CFC, and indeed it was this danger that prompted the invention of freon, the first CFC, in 1930. The Montreal Protocol, `He had too much to drink last night.' which bans CFCs, takes us back to the 1920s.

In Africa, refrigeration saves lives, not only by protecting food against decay and disease but by preserving medicines, notably vaccines. Anything that makes refrigeration more expensive or more diffi- cult will cost lives in Africa and add to poverty; and anything that adds to poverty in Africa increases the destruction of the African environment. CFCs such as R12 and R22 can be made by anyone. The replacements can only be made under licence from big companies such as Du Pont, making them far more expensive. For example, R134A, a new ecologically correct refrigerant, is over five times as expensive as R22, which is more efficient and safer. How many millions of people will die because of the ban is difficult to estimate, but it is certain that the casualties will be mainly among the poor of the world.

Mr Brown's phrase 'If the whole world used fridges and cars the way the West does now . . . ' is characteristic of the way the Greens regard the poor countries. Somehow it is all right for people in the West to benefit from modern technology but wrong for poor people in Africa and Asia. It is more wholesome for black Africans to die in infancy of 'natural' agents such as malaria and food poisoning than to be safeguarded into healthy old age by unnatural agents such as pesticides and CFCs. The outstanding feature of the Greens is that they are rich. The outstand- ing feature of their victims is that they are poor.

The Greens need environmental scares as arms manufacturers need wars. A scare must satisfy two essential requirements. The first is financial: it must attract fund- ing. The second is ideological: it must demonstrate the evil of modern industry. The world's worst actual threat to the envi- ronment is the destruction of the African ecology by desperately poor black people who have many children because they want to ensure succession amidst high infant mortality, who chop down trees for fire- wood because they do not have electricity, who foul the rivers because they do not have modern sewerage, and who destroy the soil by over-grazing and over-planting because they do not have modern agricul- tural technology. This is of no interest to the Greens. It satisfies neither require- ment. The threat of CFC depletion of the ozone layer, scaring rich westerners with skin cancer and blaming modern industry for making new chemicals, satisfies both. Big business is ideologically passive, and simply follows the political lead of whatev- er it regards as the strongest faction. Busi- nessmen have been happy to deal with communism, anticommunism, Nazism, African nationalism, apartheid and now ecological correctness. In the CFC debate, big business has been able to demonstrate ecological correctness by echoing all the fraudulent nonsense of the Greens and yet place itself to make enormous profits from the ban on CFCs. The replacements for CFCs are not only very much more expen- sive, they are incompatible with the existing refrigeration machinery, which will have to be scrapped and replaced at huge cost. Seekers after truth do not turn to politi- cians, businessmen or Greens. But they do turn to scientists, and it is the behaviour of certain scientists that has been the most disappointing in the whole ozone hoax. In times of tightening science budgets and in an age where scientists feel misunderstood and unloved, some of them are being seduced by money and popularity to encourage or at least acquiesce in the latest well-funded, well-publicised Green scares. Moreover, the traditional hard scientific methods of observation, measurement and experiment have been joined by a soft method susceptible to abuse, the computer model. Here extremely complicated real systems, such as the atmosphere, are approximated and fed into a computer to make predictions. With the right assump- tions, these models will give you any pre- diction you want, and the temptation is to choose assumptions that will produce a prediction that will win funding. Predicting catastrophe is a good way of getting money to continue your researches and showing what a compassionate scientist you are. The vast ignorance of science and tech- nology among journalists places a difficult responsibility on scientists to be accurately heard. Interest in the environment among the general public is minimal, and editors believe it can only be sustained by pho- tographs of cuddly animals and predictions of doom. Editors like the drama of Cher- nobyl, not the detailed, irrefutable (admit- tedly rather boring) evidence that nuclear power is the safest means of generating electricity we know; they like warnings that an ice age is about to freeze us or that global warming is about to roast us, not tentative and inconclusive discussions of the history of our planet's weather; they like the 'Hole in the Sky', not complicated chemical reactions in the upper atmo- sphere. It is the difficult modern duty of scientists to reach the public through this sensational and distorting medium.

There are genuine scientists, such as Pro- fessor Sherwood Rowland, the proposer of the chemical mechanism by which CFCs might attack ozone, who believe we should take the ozone scare fairly seriously. But none of their arguments reaching me is the slightest bit convincing when weighed up against the evidence that the scare is non- sense and the ban on CFCs will cause far more harm than good. My sympathies lie with the poor people of Africa, Asia and South America who desperately need cheap, safe, reliable refrigeration. My advice to these people is to ignore the Montreal Protocol, which has the smack of a 19th-century imperial congress, and pro- duce their own CFCs in whatever quanti- ties they need.