Uh-oh, not another serious one...
Date: Wed, 15 Sep 93 15:03:11 PDT
Subject: Uh-oh, not another serious one...
The following article is retyped without permission
from the September, 1993, issue of _Lies of Our
Times_ (the lies refer not to the content of this
magazine but to reporting in mainstream media,
particularly the New York Times, that the editors of
L.O.O.T. feel is biased or deliberately inaccurate).
NASA's Assault On The Ozone Layer
By Christian Parenti
On April 8, 1993, Florida's night sky was
pierced by the fiery arc of the space shuttle Discovery,
burning its way to the stratosphere on a mission to
"study the ozone layer". What did Discovery find up
there? As usual, not much ozone. And what did the
media report? Just about every mundane detail
imaginable, but not a word about the most startling fact
of all, that the shuttle vehicle itself, sent to measure the
depletion of ozone, is an important destroyer of ozone.
The National Toxics Campaign, which
obtains much of its information from the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) itself,
reports that three shuttle launches release as much
ozone-destroying chlorine into the atmosphere as the
single largest industrial producer of chloroflorocarbons
(CFCs) generates in a year. The annual output of
DuPont's West Virginia facility is 800,000 pounds of
CFCs, which contain 450,000 pounds of chlorine.
Each shuttle launch deposits 150,000 pounds of
chlorine into the stratosphere, according to NASA.
NASA now averages about nine shuttle flights a year,
making it the single largest destroyer of ozone in the
Because the shuttle burns solid, not liquid,
rocket fuel, it leaves hydrogen chloride in its wake.
This is quickly broken down into hydrogen and
chlorine. In the lower atmosphere, hydrogen chloride
becomes an ingredient in acid rain and the chlorine
does its damage in ways that spare the ozone layer. But
when chlorine is released as a byproduct of solid
rocket fuel combustion, the chemical is dumped high
in the sky, where it goes straight to work on the earth's
protective ozone shield.
Media Don't Make the Connection
A recent sampling of articles in the _New
York Times_ and the _Boston Globe_ in the U.S. and
_The Independent_, _The Guardian_, and the
_Financial Times_ in England revealed that none of
these papers mentioned the fact that the shuttle's solid
rocket fuel is hamrful to the ozone layer. While stories
of shuttle liftoffs and landings often appeared on the
front page, none linked the flights to the reports of
unprecedentedly low levels of stratospheric ozone,
which were relegated to the inside pages--3 inches in
_The Guardian_ on page 5 (April 23, 1993), 6 inches
in the _Boston Globe_ on page 22 (April 18), and a
comparatively generous article in the _New York
Times_ on page B7 positioned just above a feature on
the discovery of dinosaur fossils (April 15.)
Blaming Individuals is a Coverup
The media's lack of interest in NASA's adversarial
relationship with the environment is indicative of the
mainstream media's standard approach to the ozone crisis
itself. Most of the media in the U.S. and England continue to
treat the issue of ozone depletion in an overly measured
way that fails to portray the urgency and magnitude of
the problem. Ozone depletion thus becomes just one more
bothersome aspect of modern living, like litter, noise pollution,
Framing the global ozone crisis in terms of individuals
helps to bury the problem. Americans are regularly chided by
corporate media for environmentally unsound practices such as
owning airconditioners that use CFCs as a coolant. Or else the
public is informed that replacing CFCs presents "difficult
tradeoff[s]" and that it will be "more than an inconvenience" (John
Holusha, "Ozone Issue: Economics of a Ban," _New York Times_,
January 11, 1990, p. D1). But when it comes to corporate or
government responsibility--such as the intransigence of the DuPont
company (which holds the patent on CFCs and is dragging its
feet on abandoning these ubiquitous chemicals) or NASA's
hypocrisy--the presses fall silent.
The consequences of the ozone crisis are presented in
the same individualistic terms. One EPA study even went so
far as to estimate the costs Americans may incur due to increased
solar radiation's damaging effects on plastic lawn furniture. Many
articles in the U.S. press mention increased incidence of cataracts
and melanoma, but fail to point out the broader implications and
ultimate consequences of ozone destruction (e.g., Clare Collins,
_New York Times_, August 11, 1991, sect. 12, p. 3).
Ozone Damage is Accelerating
"We predicted lower ozone in 1992, but nothing like the
values we actually observe," said atmospheric scientist Dr. James
Gleason, who has been analyzing the data from NASA's Nimbus 7
satellite (Tim Redford, _The Guardian_, April 23, p.5). A 10 percent
ozone depletion over northern latitudes, predcicted in 1990 to
occur by the century's end, has instead taken place in a scant two
years. NASA confirmed that ozone levels over Europe and North
America had fallen 11 to 12 percent by March 1993. So, as has
been discovered each year since 1990, stratospheric ozone
depletion is accelerating.
While most media coverage noted these scientific findings,
none spelled out the conclusions suggested by NASA's terrifying
new data. Instead, ozone depletion has been presented as just
"another issue" when conceivably it is the most important threat
facing the planet.
Food Chain Is Being Destroyed
Already scientists have discovered holes over both
poles and a 50 percent thinning of the tattered Antarctic ozone layer.
Below these swathes of unshielded sky researchers have measured
unprecedented levels of ultraviolet (UV-B) light, which many say have
caused a 12 percent decrease in the reproductive rate of Antarctic
phyloplankton--the phyloplankton being the basis of the aquatic
food chain. The prognosis for these delicate life forms is getting
worse. It has been discovered that UV-B solar radiation penetrates
as deep as 100 feet below the surface of the sea. Bad news for small
organisms in Antarctica and any other life form that can't, as Ronald
Reagan once suggested, "wear sunscreen and a baseball hat."
Widespread crop failures and depression of the human
immune system are also forecast as likely consequences of ozone depletion.
Although study of the ozone layer is indeed required, much of it
can be done--as it has in the past--with high altitude ballons,
liquid-fueled rockets that do not devour ozone, or airplanes such as the
Given the awesome magnitude of the situation, overpriced
adventures such as NASA's April joyride through the upper
atmosphere are simply suicidal.
Christian Parenti is a student at the New School for
Social Research in New York City.
© 1993 Peter Langston