In the discussion threads of one of the answers to this meta question How much can we trust peer reviewed scientific literature? EnergyNumbers alleged that James Lovelock had originally denied that ozone was destroyed by CFCs and was now trying to backtrack:

James Lovelock is a good example here: his work in popularising the ecosystem & symbiosis research of Lynn Margulis in the late 1960s was very good pop science. However, he has frequently gone outside that speciality, and written an awful lot of tosh, which, at various times subsequently, he has admitted he was very wrong on, such as his 1970s refusal to accept the science of how CFCs were damaging the ozone layer, creating a major hazard.

My memory was different and I thought that the supposed denial that CFCs were harmful came before any serious work on their effect on ozone. Lovelock had, after all, invented the key analysis technique that allowed us to track the low levels of CFCs in the atmosphere so he was talking about them a long time before worries about ozone depletion started.

But my memory isn't perfect. So the question is did Lovelock resist the science suggesting that CFCs were bad for the ozone layer?

  • 1
    didn't those discussions already cover that his objections were those of scale?
    – Ryathal
    Jan 31, 2013 at 16:19
  • @Ryathal I'm not sure I understand your comment. My memory was that the timing of what look like denialist comments occurred before the science was clear. EnergyNumbers seems to think he resisted the science for some time after it was clear.
    – matt_black
    Jan 31, 2013 at 16:49
  • I thought he was claiming that there were many exaggerating the harmful effect, not denying that it was harmful.
    – Ryathal
    Jan 31, 2013 at 16:59
  • @Ryathal My interpretation was he was not challenging the effect but arguing that a lot of shoddy science was done around the details. I always assumed he had impeccable environmentalist credentials which is why his criticism of the quality of the science was so significant (though that is a different question).
    – matt_black
    Jan 31, 2013 at 17:18
  • no, he never had "impeccable environmentalist credentials". At least, at no point since the early 60s. I don't know about before then.
    – 410 gone
    Feb 2, 2013 at 11:31

1 Answer 1


Yes, Lovelock continued well after the damage was known, denying the significant damage to the Ozone layer from CFCs.

Here he is in 1978, at Fluorostrat 78, a conference sponsored by the chemical industry: (New Scientist, 12 October 1978, p94)

Professor Jim Lovelock ... commented that already observations of stratospheric ozone show that as yet no detachable [sic] influence of CFCs on the ozone layer had been found.

And here he is again in 1989 (New Scientist, 23 September 1989, p64 )

... how about the ozone layer? Most of the world believes that CFCs from aerosol cans, refrigerators and the like are causing a hole to form in the ozone layer over Antarctica (and perhaps the Arctic too) each spring. But not Lovelock. He believes that the giant volcanic eruption of El Chichon in Mexico in 1982 threw so much dust into the stratosphere that chemical reactions involving these particles were primarily to blame for the opening of the ozone hole.

  • Note that I've written about the claim I actually made, and not the rephrasing of it that appears in this question's title
    – 410 gone
    Feb 2, 2013 at 12:00
  • Feel free to suggest alternative phrasing of the question or refinements to the detail of it.
    – matt_black
    Feb 3, 2013 at 11:28
  • I'm very nearly convinced that you are right on this and I am wrong (I guess my memory is faulty). Your first quote doesn't do it, though, as I think he was reflecting real scientific uncertainty at the time. But the second looks convincing. I'd be interested to see a slightly longer perspective on his opinions, but unless I find something surprising, it looks like you were right.
    – matt_black
    Feb 3, 2013 at 11:31
  • There was another New Scientist article, from I think 1987, on Lovelock; and a UK Guardian interview with him from around 2009 too, I think, which covered it in greater depth; and in the latter, he admitted he'd been wrong on Ozone - a U-turn that he seems to be reversing again currently. But I can find neither of those currently, which is a little frustrating. Sorry. If I do come across them again, I'll edit them in.
    – 410 gone
    Feb 3, 2013 at 11:33

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