During the 1990s several think tanks began casting doubt on the evidence that a build up of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were causing ozone depletion and an ozone hole over the antarctic each year.
The Cato Institute published Eco-scam: The False Prophets of Ecological Apocalypse by Ronald Bailey. In it Bailey argues that scientists working for NASA have promoted the ozone depletion theory in order to bolster its budget. Like the critics of the global warming theory, and usually these are the same people, Bailey and others emphasise the uncertainties surrounding the theory and the natural fluctuations in ozone levels that occur over time:
the impact of man-made chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) on the ozone layer is a complex question that turns on murky evidence, tentative conclusions, conflicting interpretations, and changing predictions....it turns out that ozone depletion, like the other environmental dooms analyzed here, is less a crisis than a nuisance....
The think tanks also exaggerated the cost of dealing with the problem. The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), argued that the phasing out of CFCs would cost “$44.4 to $99.4 billion over the next decade”.
The British Institute of Economic Affairs published A Contrarian View of Environmental Problems by Matt Ridley which argued that “global temperatures may actually be falling” and “the ozone layer is getting thicker, not thinner, over temperate latitudes.” This argument was meaningless since ozone depletion is occurring close to the Earth’s poles.
A related criticism was that there had been no measured increase in UV radiation detected in cities in the US as a result of ozone depletion. These critics ignored the evidence of increases in UV radiation at ground level in Australia.
Since about 1993 a series of publications came out suggesting that ozone depletion was a scam or a hoax or at least grossly exaggerated. Most of these were based on the claims of a handful of scientists based at corporate-funded think tanks. Perhaps the most quoted of these is Fred Singer, executive director of the think tank, the Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP). SEPP has argued that global warming, ozone depletion and acid rain are not real but rather are scare tactics used by environmentalists.
He is an associate editor of 21st Century Science and Technology which, according to the journal Science, is published “by supporters of Lyndon LaRouche”. Maduro wrote a book entitled The Holes in the Ozone Scare: The Scientific Evidence That the Sky Isn’t Falling with writer Ralf Schauerhammer, published by 21st Century. In it they argued that most chlorine in the stratosphere comes from natural sources such seawater and volcanoes. Atmospheric scientists, however, pointed out that the chlorine from these sources is washed out of the air by rain long before it reaches the stratosphere whereas CFCs are not soluble in water.
Drawing on these few scientific ‘experts’, who prefer to publish their dissent in think tank and right wing publications rather than peer reviewed scientific journals, conservative and business magazines and radio talk back hosts, such as Rush Limbaugh, spread the idea that ozone depletion was not really a problem and that no action needs to be taken. For example Business Week quoted Fred Singer and Ronald Bailey it its article entitled What’s Flying out the Ozone Hole? Billions of dollars in which it argued that “the propaganda of the Chicken Littles has prevailed over science—and the cost of needlessly replacing cooling equipment will be staggering.” Another Business Week article a year later quoted Fred Singer as saying that the CFC phaseout was “based mainly on panicky reactions to press releases... “ The articles were written by Paul Craig Roberts, the chairman of a Washington think tank and a Distinguished Fellow of the Cato Institute.
The surge of backlash publications also reached the mainstream press. The Washington Post reported that “the problem appears to be heading toward solution before [researchers] can find any solid evidence that serious harm was or is being done.”
’t the first time that the media has serviced those seeking to discredit ozone depletion theories. In the 1970s when the connection between fluorocarbons from aerosol spray cans and ozone depletion were first made:
the aerosol industry launched a PR campaign that emphasized ‘knowledge gaps’ instead of gaps in the Earth’s atmospheric shield. Industry press releases formed the basis for articles in numerous newspapers and magazines that questioned the ozone depletion ‘theory’, enabling aerosol spray manufacturers to buy additional time before their product was banned. In this case, industry profits were deemed more important than the prevention of skin cancer.
This time, think tanks and their scholars have provided the Republicans in Congress with the rhetoric to oppose a more general CFC phaseout. The Republicans have sought to retract US agreement to the terms of the Montreal Protocol, the international convention aimed at phasing out CFCs worldwide. And a bill was introduced to repeal the provisions of the Clean Air Act relating to production and use of CFCs. New Scientist reported in September 1995:
America’s Republicans thumbed their noses at the vast majority of the world’s scientists last week by claiming there is no proof that CFCs are destroying the ozone layer. Without proof, they argued, there is no good reason why the US should rush to ban the manufacture of CFCs by the end of the year.
The appropriately named Republican, John Doolittle, told the House of Representatives Science Committee that ozone depletion was debatable, based on pseudo science and that “we’re not giving Mother Nature enough credit for being able to replenish the ozone layer.” He dismissed peer-review as “mumbo jumbo.” Also writing in New Scientist, Jeff Hecht argued that:
What the Republicans are doing is playing lawyers’ games with science. They demand that theories that they consider inconvenient be proved beyond any doubt—something that is impossible in science...
The theory is so widely accepted that is originators received a Nobel prize for chemistry. Yet the Republicans don’t like this because it implies the need to regulate industrial production of the harmful chemicals that damage the ozone layer....
If they could find a few scientists who weren’t 100 per cent convinced that CFCs depleted ozone, they seemed ready to abandon the Montreal Protocol.