Fear Mongering 101
Posted May 11, 2010on:
1969, The SST: A plan to develop high altitude supersonic airliners with the Boeing 2707 as a concept vehicle. The very high cruising altitude of the SST raised environmental alarms that included both climate change and ozone depletion.
1969, Climate change: An alarm is raised that chemicals and aerosols in the exhaust of the SST jet engines will cause climate change.
1970, Ozone depletion: The climate change theory is quietly shelved after critical reviews by skeptics and a new alarm is raised. Water vapor in the SST jet exhaust will cause a 4% depletion of ozone in the ozone layer causing 40,000 additional cases of skin cancer every year in the USA alone.
1970, Ozone depletion: The water vapor theory is quietly forgotten after critical reviews by skeptics who produced data showing that higher levels of water in the stratosphere is coincident with higher levels of ozone.
1970, Ozone depletion: A new ozone depletion theory emerges. Nitric oxide (NOx) in the SST jet exhaust will cause ozone depletion because NOx acts as a catalyst to destroy ozone without being consumed in the process.
1971, Ozone depletion: A computer model is developed to assess the impact of NOx in SST exhaust on the ozone layer. The model predicts that there will be a 50% ozone depletion and a worldwide epidemic of skin cancer. Animals that venture out during daylight will become blinded by UV radiation. It was an apocalyptic scenario.
1971, Ozone depletion: NOx in the fireball of open air nuclear tests provide a ready laboratory to test the ozone depletion properties of NOx. The computer model predicted 10% ozone depletion by NOx from nuclear testing. Measurements showed no ozone depletion; but the model won anyway and the ozone depletion scare endured.
1972, Death of the SST: We were so frightened by the ozone depletion scare that the SST program was canceled although America’s skies soon became filled with supersonic fighters and bombers spewing NOx without any evidence of ozone depletion or of skin cancer or of blindness in animals.
1972, Nuclear summer: Although not confirmed by the data, ozone depletion by nuclear bombs predicted by the computer model took on a life of its own and morphed into a new catastrophe theory called the nuclear summer.
1972, Nuclear summer: The phrase “nuclear summer” is everywhere in the media. There is a doomsday forecast that the immediate result of a nuclear war will be the total annihilation of the ozone layer. All life on earth will be wiped out by UV radiation. Therefore there can be no winner or loser in a nuclear exchange of sufficient intensity. Mutual assured destruction.
1973, Nuclear summer: Report by the National Academy of Science: An exchange of thousands of megatons of nuclear bombs will increase NOx in the stratosphere by an order of magnitude. The NOx will destroy 30%-70% of the ozone in the northern hemisphere and 20%-40% of ozone in the southern hemisphere. Within a few months we will be blinded and roasted by UV radiation with blistering of the skin. The atmosphere will take 30 years to recover. All of these findings were derived from a sophisticated computer model and these findings were supported by a broad consensus of scientists.
1973, Nuclear summer: Skeptics of the ozone scare point out that the study of nuclear testing did not show any ozone depletion and also that vast amounts of NOx – more than man could ever inject into the stratosphere – is made by nature when solar wind strikes nitrogen in the atmosphere; and therefore that there must be something wrong with the computer model that causes it to over-estimate the effect of NOx on ozone.
1973, Space Shuttle: Unperturbed by the skeptics and emboldened by their SST success, fear mongering scientists turn their attention to the proposed Space Shuttle program. The shuttle design included two solid fuel rockets that emit hydrogen chloride (HCl). Scientists calculated that 50 flights per year would deposit 5000 tons of HCl per year in the stratosphere that could cause a 10% ozone depletion over Florida and 1% to 2% elsewhere. Although the scare was hyped it never got to the SST levels and the space shuttle miraculously survived the ozone scare.
1974, Ozone depletion: The ozone depletion game was now in full gear. Having tasted the power of being able to inflict debilitating fear of ozone depletion, the scientists embarked on a fishing expedition to find other chemicals generated by human activity that could get up to the stratosphere and catalyze the chemical reactions of ozone depletion.
1974, CFC: A new candidate agent for ozone depletion is found. Chlorofluorocarbons are synthetic chemicals used in aerosol sprays and in refrigerant for air conditioners and refrigerators. CFC emissions to the atmosphere accumulate in the stratosphere because there are no sinks to remove them from the lower atmosphere. Up in the stratosphere they are able to catalyze the destruction of ozone. The ozone depletion game was thus begun anew.
1974, Doomsday Theory: When CFCs rise to the stratosphere they are decomposed by UV radiation to release chlorine. The chlorine ion can then catalyze thousands of ozone destruction cycles without being consumed. Up to 40% of the ozone will be destroyed. The chlorine theory was old but its ready supply from CFCs was a completely new angle and so a new doomsday scenario was quickly sketched out for dissemination.
NY Times, September 26, 1974, A big day for Doomsday journalism. The NYT predicts ozone depletion of 18% by 1990 and 50% by 2030 by CFCs will cause skin cancer epidemic, mutation of frogs, blindness in animals and people. The whole world is frightened. The ozone scare had begun anew this time with CFC as the agent of ozone depletion. The scare was very successful and it appeared in various forms almost every day in newspapers and television for the next two decades.
1983, nuclear winter: Carl Sagan and co-authors publish an article in Science that, based on their computer model, a nuclear exchange between the Cold War rivals or even a single preemptive strike by one upon the other would spew enough particulates and aerosols into the stratosphere to occlude sunlight for weeks causing temperatures worldwide to drop by 30C. Social and human settlement infrastructures will collapse and throughout the world there would be starvation, hypothermia, disease, and death.
1983, nuclear winter: Skeptics point out flaws in the nuclear winter computer model saying that it does not include the effect of oceans and of weather phenomena such as hurricanes that would clear the mist out of the stratosphere; but the nuclear winter scare continued to get top play in the media.
1985, nuclear winter: Sagan and co-authors finally admit that they may have exaggerated the nuclear winter effects of their model but that they did it for a good cause and that was to preserve the deterrence property of nuclear weapons that was thought to be in jeopardy due to improvements in nuclear weapons technology and the dangerous idea contained in the Star Wars program that a nuclear war was winnable.
1980, global warming: scientists detect rising carbon dioxide levels coincident with rising temperatures since the industrial revolution and conclude that the increase in CO2 comes from our use of fossil fuels and that it cause temperatures to rise.
1992, Scientists discover large quantities of chlorine monoxide in the stratosphere above the Arctic circle and announce that it will cause an ozone hole over the Arctic with dire forecasts of UV related disease and destruction to follow.
1992, Scientists announce that the ozone hole problem over the Arctic is worse than previously thought because along with high concentrations of chlorine in the stratosphere they also found unusually low concentrations of NOx in the lower atmosphere. This is bad because “NOx is the immune system of the atmosphere” because it protects ozone from destruction by chlorine.
Epitaph: So now we have come full circle with NOx, a chemical that started out in this story as a bad guy that caused ozone depletion until they found NOx depletion and then it became a good guy that protects ozone from destruction by chlorine.