F. Sherwood Rowland in his lab, 1976 (photo: UC-Irvine)

In 1995, shortly before F. Sherwood Rowland (1927-March 10, 2012) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for collaborative work two decades earlier on the fundamental chemistry of stratospheric ozone depletion, a House Science subcommittee held a hearing, chaired by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, on “Stratospheric ozone, myths and realities.” The committee heard testimony from Majority Leader Tom DeLay on his proposal to repeal the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to implement the 1987 Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting substances.  S. Fred Singer and Sallie Baliunas were among the witnesses called by the committee to question the international scientific assessments of ozone depletion. 

[March 16 post:  Sherwood Rowland Senate testimony on IPCC, science censorship, and the need for climate action]

Like so very many others, we were saddened to learn of the death of the legendary and admirable atmospheric scientist F. Sherwood Rowland.  See:

UK Guardian/Associated Press March 12, “Ozone layer scientist who ‘saved the world’ dies – F Sherwood Rowland won Nobel prize for raising the alarm over CFC gases destroying Earth’s ultraviolet shield”

Andy Revkin at DotEarth, “The Passing of F. Sherwood Rowland,” and his links to additional sources

Joe Romm at Climate Progress, “Remembering Nobelist Sherry Rowland, ‘Who Sounded Alarm On Thinning Ozone Layer’

RealClimate, “Sherwood Rowland, CFCs, ozone depletion and the public role of scientists

It’s well-known that, between the fundamental scientific work in the early 1970s on the impact of CFCs on Earth’s atmosphere and the adoption in 1987 of the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer, there was a long battle to get government and industry, both national and international, to recognize the problem and take steps to deal with it.  Of course, the industrial interests that would be affected by regulation, and anti-regulatory ideologues, had motivation to question the accumulating scientific evidence and forestall political action.

And, as RealClimate notes:

In the public debate, many of the climate contrarians (such as Fred Singer) got their start denying that CFCs were affecting ozone, using many of the same arguments they now use about climate change…, and for much the same reasons. But through this all, Sherry Rowland strode tall (literally – he was 6 ft 5 in), and played a large role in debunking some of the wild claims (such as the idea that it was all volcanoes).

Singer wrote in National Review magazine (June 30, 1989, p.37):

“…[E]vidence is firming up that volcanoes, and perhaps salt spray and bio-chemical emissions from the oceans, contribute substantially to stratospheric chlorine, and thus dilute the effects of CFCs.”

This argument was picked up by the Lyndon LaRouche organization as part of their conspiracy theory on the ozone-depletion problem (e.g., The Holes in the Ozone Scare, 21st Century Science Associates, 1992)

Dr. Rowland cited this in his AAAS President’s Lecture in 1993, in discussing at some length how 15 years of work by the international scientific community had already rejected volcanoes as an important source of chlorine (and fluorine) for the stratosphere at the time this assertion was still being put forth.  He cited this as an example of how “the combination of some but not enough intelligence, plus considerable anounts of both ignorance and arrogance, can easily lead to being badly wrong in full voice and, worse yet, with a considerable following.”  That’s a diplomatic way of putting it.

Dr. Rowland’s “President’s Lecture: The Need for Scientific Communication with the Public,” delivered at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on February 14, 1993, is a multifaceted gem. Uploaded here in PDF: Rowland-AAAS-Lecture.  It includes this:

“…some of the doubters are not prepared to accept that there has been any springtime loss of ozone over Antarctica and put their dissent as an assertion that volcanoes are the primary source of stratospheric chlorine, totally overshadowing any possible effect from man-made compounds. Asserting this to be so, they then conclude that there cannot be an Antarctic ozone hole and therefore the whole ozone depletion story is a hoax. In discussing this scientific situation in some detail, I am ultimately raising a cause for great concern over the role of science in a democracy in which the general population has not enough understanding of science itself; does not entirely trust “science experts” and does not want to; and is left with no way to distinguish between the competing claims of apparent experts on both sides of any question.”

Two years later, just weeks before Dr. Rowland received the Nobel Prize, House Republicans – under the leadership of Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay – were using taxpayer dollars to hold a hearing on “Stratospheric Ozone: Myths and Realities.”  (Full title: Scientific integrity and public trust : the science behind federal policies and mandates : case study 1, stratospheric ozone, myths and realities : hearing before the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment of the Committee on Science, U.S. House of Representatives, One Hundred Fourth Congress, first session, September 20, 1995 (1996).)  The hearing report, with written testimony, full transcript, and supporting documents, is here.

Subcommittee Chair Dana Rohrabacher (R-California), who was already a full-blown contrarian-denialist on global warming when I started working on the professional staff of this committee in 1991, heard testimony from and questioned House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas). DeLay had earlier introduced a bill, H.R. 475, titled “To repeal provisions of the Clean Air Act dealing with stratospheric ozone protection.” The text in the body of the bill consisted of a single sentence: “Title VI of the Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. 7401 and following) is hereby repealed.”

p. 27
Mr. ROHRABACHER. Thank you very much, Mr. DeLay. The legislation that you have offered will come to grips with many of the problems that you brought up today.  Before I ask some of our colleagues to comment, you’re basically saying that this ban, the environmental impact of what we have to do because of the ban, could be worse than the problem itself. Is that right?  When you say that the energy requirements on the alternatives are increasing, and would increase the necessity of using more fuel, what you are actually saying, then, is more carbo—they’re not carbohydrates. Carbohydrates is what you eat.

Mr. DeLay. Hydrocarbons.

Mr. ROHRABACHER. Hydrocarbons are going into the atmosphere.

Mr. DeLay. Well, certainly. I’ll tell you, Mr. Chairman, and I said it during the debate of the Clean Air Act of 1990. Hardly anyone was listening, about 35 members were. And warned about some of the things that were being done with very little scientific basis to it. …

Mr. ROHRABACHER. … And actually, I’ve read somewhere where there might be some increased cause or risk of cancer by some of the alternatives to CFCs. Is that correct?

Mr. DeLay. Well, I think you’re going to have some panels of scientists that probably speak to that better than I will. But I think it’s pretty clear, or at least there is another school of thought that is not tied to Chicken Little approaches to the environment, that suggest that particularly the CFCs are not doing the damage to the ozone layer that has been claimed.

Mr. ROHRABACHER. So, just in summary, the ozone may not be threatened as we are being told, and even making the matter worse, some of the solutions for this problem that may or may not exist, actually may cause more damage to the environment. And that’s what you’re worried about.

Mr. DeLay. And that’s what I’m worried about.

Mr. ROHRABACHER. Thank you very much.

The Subcommittee also heard from Rep. John Doolittle (R-California), who also was sponsoring legislation to block action on the CFC phaseout.  Called down by Rep. Lynn Rivers (D-Michigan) on why he appeared to ignore and be unfamiliar with the existing scientific assessments of ozone depletion, and with the peer-reviewed scientific literature, Doolittle said, “I’m not going to get involved in peer-review mumbo-jumbo.”

I attended that hearing, viewing with dismay the deterioration of the committee following the change in leadership after the 1994 election.  As for the proposed legislation, it seemed appropriate to refer to it as “Delay and Doolittle.”

The committee chair heard friendly testimony from S. Fred Singer, identified as professor emeritus of environmental science at the University of Virginia, and founder and president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project in Fairfax, Virginia; and Sallie Baliunas, identified as research astrophysicist and chair of the science advisory board at the nonpartisan George C. Marshall Institute.

Those two were countered with state-of-the-science testimony by the co-chairs of the UN Ozone Science Assessment Panel: Robert T. Watson, associate director of environment at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and former director of NASA’s Stratospheric Ozone Program, and Daniel Albritton, director of the NOAA Aeronomy Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, as well as Margaret Kripke of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cencer Center.

Then a final blow to the whole charade came during the second panel, when the director of the industry alliance told the panel that the game was already over, the deal had gone down, industry had accepted the science and was moving forward on alternatives:

p. 203

Mr. Fay. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. …

The decades-long examination of ozone science is well understood and supported by expert industry scientists. From our perspective, while we may disagree on the rates of change or estimates of environmental effects, we long ago reached an agreement on the appropriate course of action.

Political opportunists continue to try to take advantage of this issue. … such as CEI [the Competitive Enterprise Institute] has done … to somehow link the deaths, as he tried to do recently in his op-ed piece, the deaths in the Chicago heatwave, is shocking in its irresponsibility. …

The realities are the fundamental scientific basis for the CFC phase-out is credible and has remained basically unchanged since the original policy decision to phase out production of the compounds. The producer and user industries acted responsibly in moving quickly to develop and implement safe and effective substitute technologies that allowed that phase-out to be accelerated….

The legislation went nowhere, the hearing went nowhere, Dr. Rowland received his Nobel, and the denialists went back to sabotaging action on global warming, as they continue to do.