Eco-Problems Seem Solved Then Return
Unprecedented Arctic Ozone-Thinning Drifts South
There’s no question that the Arctic ozone thinning was caused by human chemicals banned by the Montreal Protocol. This 2011 article is from Science News, Apr 6.
by Janet RaloffIn mid-March, our online story about the thinning of stratospheric ozone over the Arctic noted that conditions appeared primed for regional ozone losses to post an all-time record. On April 5, World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Michel Jarraud announced that Arctic ozone had indeed suffered an unprecedented thinning.
Ozone losses this year “still don’t compare to what occurs in the Antarctic,” says Bryan Johnson of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. It would be really big news, he says, if the Arctic polar vortex stayed stable long enough to permit a near disappearance — a proverbial hole — in ozone at certain altitudes.
Because stratospheric ozone protects Earth’s inhabitants from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, regions impacted by the thinned ozone can face exaggerated sunburn risks. At the April 5 WMO press briefing, Markus Rex of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Potsdam, Germany, reported that ozone-depleted Arctic air masses are on the move -- and recently drifted down over southern Finland.
In coming days, Rex said, the ozone-shy stratospheric air masses could cover parts of Russia and perhaps extend to the Russian-Chinese border. Portions of Central Europe might also be affected, he said, including regions as far south as the Mediterranean.
A low-pressure ring of winds known as a vortex forms over the poles each winter, isolating air masses in these regions from mixing with mid-latitude air. The destruction of ozone, which occurs in these isolated air masses, can worsen until the vortex breaks up.
The spring thinning of Arctic ozone commences in February and has been far less severe than the hole that begins developing over the Antarctic each October, owing to a host of factors that affect ground-level weather in and around the poles. This year, however, conditions aligned to make the Arctic stratosphere especially cold -- below minus 78 degrees Celsius [108 degrees blow zero Fahrenheit] -- a key requirement for heavy ozone losses. In some parts of the polar stratosphere, temperatures plummeted to below minus 85 degrees Celsius [121 degrees blow zero Fahrenheit].
Rex suspects that global warming played a role in why the Arctic’s high altitudes were so cold in 2011. When greenhouse gases trap heat near Earth’s surface, that energy doesn’t rise to warm the stratosphere. Additional factors can conspire to keep that heat from rising, he adds, such as a paucity of winds and active atmospheric waves that might breach into the stratosphere and destabilize the polar vortex.
There’s no question that the Arctic ozone thinning was “caused by human chemicals,” says Ross Salawitch of the University of Maryland in College Park. The ozone’s destruction is driven by chlorofluorocarbons and related pollutants, production of which was banned by the Montreal Protocol. What causes ozone depletion to differ from one year to the next is temperature. And this year, he notes, the polar vortex was very stable and its temperature especially frigid.
“When this happens,” Salawitch explains, “chlorine is converted from a benign form (known as reservoir species), to a very reactive form, which we call radicals.” And 2011 saw very high levels of radicals in the polar vortex, he says, triggering lots of ozone depletion.
When the vortex is cold and stable, polar stratospheric clouds of ice crystals can form. These cloud particles serve as the platform on which those radicals unleash unusual reactions that break apart ozone. This year proved a good year for cloud formation. And even after the vortex breaks apart, Rex says that it could take weeks for the radicals to dissipate, eventually halting the destruction of ozone.
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JJS: The chemical companies who released the fatal pollutants, saving themselves some unwanted expenses, did not break the law. In fact, since polluters generally have more money than pollutees, government usually takes the polluter’s side. Chemical companies have more money than they should because they benefit from limited liability; they don’t have to pay the full cost of imposing risk on other people.
Limited liability exists in its widespread form today because powerful manufacturers wanted it at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. The reason those manufacturers had power is twofold: They made weapons of war, and governments like that, and they were owned, in part, by members of the government, by the vast landowners who constituted the nobility -- the hoarders of land rent.
So, if society never made the mistake of letting land rent be hoarded by a few who became the ruling elite in all parts of the world, but instead shared rents with all members of society, then such steep hierarchy would never have arisen; society would have remained as egalitarian as it was during the era of hunter/gatherer.
It’s not too late to create rough parity among members of society. All we need do is recover all the rents and share them (and at the same time lose counterproductive taxes and addictive subsidies). Then, with our economy on a level playing field, we could engage in politics on a level playing field. We could muster the force to eliminate corporate welfare in all its guises, including limited liability for culpable polluters.
Instead of pollutees having to prove that they’ve been harmed and pollution is dangerous, polluters would have to prove that nobody is at risk and their products and byproducts are safe. That’s the sort of world children should be able to grow up in. One in which markets are not just free but also responsible.
How to bring about this geonomic transformation of revenue policy? Begin with repealing corporate welfare. Everybody now is debating government waste.
On the taxing side, get public revenue from the rents we spend for land, resources, EM spectrum, etc. Recovering rents actually grows the tax base, as would ridding ourselves of taxes on our efforts. And such de-taxing makes it more affordable for corporations to invest in outcomes that don’t eat up ozone -- a win/win/win for producer, consumer, and nature.
Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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