These days we’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Montreal treaty. It was an unique (and unrepeatable?) event: all countries agreed to reduce the use of CFCs (Chlorofluorocarbons) to try to eliminate the hole in the ozone layer. Can you imagine all countries agreeing on something today?
But this is a story with many sides. Let’s tell some of the more curious ones, for better or worse.
The hole and the holes.
There are 4 “holes” in the ozone layer: in the Arctic, over Antarctica (the first to be discovered), in the Arctic, over Tibet, and at the equator.
- The first seems to be under control, although it varies with the seasons: it gets bigger between August and October, smaller outside those months. Mind you: in 2020 it was among the largest on record! In 2021 it was the 13th largest… but perhaps the longest lasting.
- The next 2 are smaller. The one in the Arctic has decreased quite a bit, although it also varies.
- The one in Tibet, it seems, is a consequence of natural atmospheric phenomena, and is now almost gone.
- There is another one over the equator that is of concern because it affects a large world population (Antarctica, Arctic and Tibet have very low population density).
What creates it
There is a lot of talk about CFCs, and it is true: they are the main cause… but not the only one.
NOx also causes it, and this is a very serious problem that nobody talks about.
NOx is caused by cars, motorbikes, planes, trucks… all internal combustion engines. This is not the only effect they cause, by the way, and each one is more and more harmful.
Can you imagine why almost nobody talks about the NOx problem? It’s easy to guess, isn’t it?
The other big problem is that CFC emissions do not go away. In other words, everything that was emitted into the atmosphere until the 1990s is still damaging the ozone layer.
There is a “bad guy” in this story: Thomas Midgley, whose story has a lot to tell!
He was the creator of CFCs, and he put them in many products. CFCs are not harmful to humans, so they spread quite quickly despite some reluctance.
Not content with that, he was the one who put lead in petrol to improve engine performance! Lead, which has now disappeared from road vehicles (it is still used in small planes and light aircraft), causes many ills, including insanity.
He believed that lead was good. And to prove it, he poured it on his hands and snorted it: he poured tetraethyl lead on his hands, put a bottle of the same substance in his nose for 1 minute, all to prove that it was not a problem. Of course, he called the petrol ethyl, avoiding the word lead as it is known to be harmful to humans. Privately, it is said, he hated lead.
He was also an inventor of mechanisms: he contracted polio (said to have been caused by the lead he was so fond of breathing in for years), lost mobility, invented a device to enable him to move… and died strangled by his own mechanism.
It seems that both his story and that of his discoveries are associated with death… Not all advances are beneficial.