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The Ozone Belt

It is usually accepted without question that there is a "hole" in the ozone layer of the Earth's atmosphere, and that this "hole" is growing in size as a result of man's interference with nature. The entire argument for this is based on fear and ignorance.

Little was known about atmospheric ozone until the mid-1950s. It's role as an absorber of ultraviolet light became clearly understood only in the mid-1960s. It is true that, if the ozone belt about 25 miles high in the atmosphere somehow did not exist, ultraviolet radiation from the sun would sometimes reach intolerable levels. Beginning about the 1980s, claims began to be made that refrigerants such as Freon were wafting up to the level of the ozone belt and catalytically causing ozone to rapidly decompose. Support for this idea was claimed from the observation that there is very little ozone over the north and south poles of the earth. Is it possible that man's activity is desroying this gas 25 miles up?

While laboratory experiments did show that it was possible to decompose ozone using the breakdown products of Freon and similar materials, there has never been any clear evidence that the same thing would happen in the thin upper atmosphere. Such laboratory measurements have proven to be very difficult, with serious errors resulting from such things as the walls of glass containers used for the experiments. While the exact conditions of the upper atmosphere have been difficult to reproduce in the laboratory, mesurements in the upper atmosphere itself have been inconclusive because of the very low concentrations being measured, and the instruments themselves introducing contamination. In other words, there were suspicions that refrigerants could cause ozone depletion, but no proof.

Because of these suspicions and fear being whipped up by environmetalists (eager to attach themselves to any idea that mankind's actions are devastating to the planet), certain refrigerants became extremely heavily taxed and controlled, raising the price to ten times or more of the open market value. Older refrigerators, air conditioners, and industrial equipment became useless discards worldwide, because they could not use the "safer" replacement refrigerants.

Meanwhile, observations and experiments concerning the upper atmosphere were being conducted using the space shuttle. These experiments arose from the fact that the movement of the space shuttle through "empty" near-earth space produced an unexpected glow, and NASA atmospheric scientists were eager to understand this. As it turned out, their experiments inadvertently showed that it was virtuall IMPOSSIBLE to destroy the ozone belt, simply because the penetration of ultraviolet light through the current layer containing ozone would simply result in the production of more ozone still at somewhat lower elevations! It turns out that the production of ozone by ultraviolet light is much more robust than had been thought, making it very unlikely that all ozone could possibly be destroyed by stray refrigerants.

But, what about the "hole" discovered in the ozone belt? Since ozone is created by the energy from sunlight, one would expect to find it at highest concentration where the sunlight is most intense. It hardly should have come as a suprise to anyone that there was little ozone to be discovered over the earth's polar areas - there simply isn't any sunlight there to produce ozone. And neither is ozone useful there; there is little ultraviolet light to be protected from. Atmospheric scientists had pretty much always anticipated that ozone would exist in a belt around the equator, not in an even layer covering the earth. But, the "discovery" of a "hole" in the ozone made for great media hype and hysteria, and proved to be good at garnering larger television audiences to view advertising spots.

Nevertheless, the laws banning refrigerants had already been passed, at great cost to anyone living in a hot climate, or with an air conditioned car, or a now unrepairable refrigerator.

Why were the facts ignored? It turns out that the monopoly enjoyed by the world's largest manufacturer of the refrigerants in question was nearing an end, because their patent on manufacturing these refrigerants were soon to expire. They had already been working on a line of "replacement" refrigerants, which they claimed would decompose before reaching the upper atmosphere, but which were less efficient as refrigerants. Such newly patented "replacements" would have been impossible to sell unless the older refrigerants were banned, because after that time any chemical manufacturer could have made them very cheaply. After the ban, this company once again enjoyed the monopolistic protection of their patents on the replacements.

Manufacturers of air conditioners and refrigerators could not complain, as now every refrigeration unit in existence would sooner or later become obsolete and need replacement - creating a vigorous, wide-open market for new and very expensive refrigeration equipment!

This amazingly put the environmentalists in the position of doing the bidding of a chemical- and mechanical- manufacturing corporate giants! Since the proposition that refrigerants were somehow harmful has been mentioned without challenge so many times by the major mass-media companies, almost everyone accepts it unquestioningly, even though it is not true.

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This page last updated 11 July 1998.
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