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Page last updated at 09:12 GMT, Thursday, 6 May 2010 10:12 UK
Ozone hole discoverer's warning

Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer
British scientists discovered the ozone hole over Antarctica in 1985

By Roger Harrabin
BBC Environment Analyst

The leader of the team which found the hole in the earth's protective ozone layer has urged world leaders to do more to safeguard the environment.

Speaking to BBC News on the 25th anniversary of the reporting of the hole, Dr Joe Farman said the environment was still being recklessly damaged in many ways.

He criticised politicians for failing to lead on issues like climate change - it was "damned stupid" to keep increasing emissions of CO2 when we know it is a warming gas, he said.

But, in a nod to climate sceptics, he also blamed the scientific establishment for failing to take specific criticisms of detailed climate science seriously enough.

When Dr Farman's team at the British Antarctic Survey reported the ozone hole in 1985, it became a symbol of the earth's fragility and a rallying point for environmentalists. The ozone layer protects creatures from most of the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays.

CFC-free logo
Though CFCs are banned, some replacements are not

It was learned that the ozone was being eaten by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), a family of chemicals used mostly in aerosols and refrigerators.

Some manufacturers fought a rearguard action but the making of ozone-depleting chemicals was controlled within two years under the Montreal Protocol.

The limited use of ozone-depleters is still permitted, though, and the chemicals are long-lived in the atmosphere. So although the ozone damage has been halted, the hole may not fully heal until 100 years after it was discovered.

Dr Farman has strongly criticised governments for failing to ensure that all the ozone-depleting chemicals are tracked down and destroyed, adding that some of the replacements for cfcs are potent greenhouse gases, too.

He says governments have failed to learn the lesson that they need to move swiftly and boldly on global threats to the environment like climate change.

We do not need complex computer models to tell us we need to cut CO2 emissions, he says. We cannot predict exactly how the climate will change in future but we know CO2 is a warming gas, so we should quickly reduce emissions.

"You ought to be able to convince people it's a damned stupid thing to increase CO2 - clearly that must trap more energy," he says.

Science criticisms 'brushed aside'

"But we are up against the financial recession. It's possible that we won't do anything about global warming until it's irreversible - human nature seems to think we need that sort of signal. Politicians have got to ask themselves where do these things stand in scale of human affairs?"

Some of his views are shared by his team members in the ozone hole discovery, as my colleague Richard Black reports.

But in a typically outspoken move, Dr Farman also criticises some of the ways in which climate science is being conducted.

Too much too much money is going into expensive climate modelling computers, and not enough into basic observational science, he says.

"There are so many variables that computers can't possibly forecast what will happen exactly with the Earth's climate," he says.

"People are forecasting how various parts of Australia will be affected by climate change in the future. This may be fun but looking at this level of detail is simply not worthwhile and it diverts funds from observation." This complaint will be echoed by some other scientists who fear that super-computers swallow too much research funding.

You ought to be able to convince people it's a damned stupid thing to increase CO2
Dr Joe Farman

Dr Farman also blamed the science establishment for "brushing aside" specific criticisms of climate science. It is impossible, for instance, properly to peer-review computer climate projections from the Met Office, he says.

"Show me paper from the Hadley Centre and invite me to peer review it - I simply can't… it took 2,000 man years to write it!" The fact that other models reproduced the findings was not in itself conclusive, he says, adding "It's getting peer review into bad odour."

He said the teams investigating the controversy at the University of East Anglia should have invited some climate sceptics on board. "Lord Oxburgh's review (which cleared researchers at the Climatic Research Unit of any wrong-doing) was not convincing, he said.

Lord Oxburgh has been criticised for completing his review too quickly. But he stressed at the time that his remit was to determine whether the researchers had conducted their work honestly, not to make judgements on the quality of their science.

He told me he had not chosen to put a climate sceptic on his review team because their meetings would have degenerated into polar arguments on the science, rather than concentrating on the key issue of probity.

Dr Farman's comments may sound a warning to the scientific establishment, though. If the review teams cannot command the full support of maverick eco-heroes like the discoverer of the ozone hole, they may struggle to command broad public support. And that could be far more damaging to the future of climate science.

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