Illegal factories in China are releasing a type of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) into the atmosphere, threatening the ozone layer that shields us from most of the sun’s UV light. The CFC, called CFC-11, is being produced to make rigid polyurethane foam – used as building insulation – in the cheapest possible way. This is driven by the race for profit.
CFCs are chemicals useful in insulation, refrigeration and electronics. They were produced in large quantities from the 1970s onwards. In the 1980s, scientists at the British Antarctic Survey discovered a seasonal hole forming in a part of the Earth’s atmosphere called the ozone layer. The hole is caused by CFCs, and it lets deadly UV radiation through to the ground.
This led to a global agreement to phase out CFCs from 1989-2030. In 2009, simulations showed that if it weren’t for that agreement, CFCs would have led to a 67% drop in ozone levels by 2065, causing drastically increased cancer rates across the planet.
The ozone hole still reappears every spring, as CFCs can stay in the atmosphere for 50-100 years, but CFC levels have been declining. Because of CFC production in China, this decline has slowed.
The Environmental Investigation Agency, an NGO, found that factories in China sell CFC-11 because it is up to $150 a tonne cheaper than the alternative. Making CFCs is illegal, but factories are alerted when government inspections are happening so they can hide the evidence.
As long as production is for profit, there will be incentives to pollute. The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) allows a profit-hungry capitalist class in China. The CCP officially supports the CFC ban, but they could later choose to favour higher profit margins.
This is only the latest environmental disaster brewing in China. Neither the CCP nor capitalism can be trusted. Democratic control by ordinary people is needed. The only way to protect our environment is for workers in China and elsewhere to fight for a democratic socialist system.
By David Elliott