One of the Earth’s most dangerous manmade problems is slowly going away because of our own proactive efforts. The massive hole in our Ozone Layer is healing because of the phase-out of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) from technology and consumer goods.
About 40 years ago, chemists Mario Molina and Sherwood Rowland discovered that CFCs that propel the ingredients in aerosol spray cans seep into the atmosphere and collect into the stratosphere. Actions of the Sun’s radioactivity disintegrate the CFCs into its primary parts, which in turn, destroyes Ozone molecules. The more the Ozone disintegrates, the thinner the Ozone Layer within the Stratosphere. As the Ozone diminishes, more hazardous UV waves reach the Earh’s surface. UV light from the Sun causes cataracts, skin cancer, and various immune diseases.
Molina and Sherwood helped inform the public about an impending health catastrophe if CFC use continued. However, the corporations that manufactured the substance reacted by denying the science, smearing the scientists, and predicting economic disaster. (Does this sound familiar?) The two chemists worked with government agencies and other organizations to eventually enact CFC bans in the US and overseas.
Congress finally added Ozone Layer protections as amendments to the Clean Air Act and President Jimmy Carter signed them into law. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a special statement in 1980, saying use of CFCs in refrigerators, air conditioning, and industry also causes a major threat to public health.
In September of 1987, international agreement was reached on the Montreal Protocol. Three years later, the agreement was amended to include the global phase-out of CFCs. The US Congress also fortified Ozone safeguards to the Clean Air Act.
Climate scientists and epidemiologists now say that a large scale, catastrophic human disaster was avoided. Not only were millions of cancers prevented and millions of lives saved, also agricultural collapse was avoided. UV light has a destructive effect upon plant life.
While these accomplishments are great, there is still much to bring under control. This is the motivation behind the United Nations’ International Day for the Protection of the Ozone Layer. Today was chosen because the signing of the Montreal Protocol took place on September 16, 1987.
The UN Environmental Programme urges educators and officials to learn more about the Ozone Layer, ozone depletion, and global climate change. We are reminded that much work remains to further protect the Ozone Layer and the environment.
Even though most nations are committed to eliminating CFC and other ozone depleting chemicals, there is still the problem of procrastination by many nations. Compliance with the Montreal Protocol is excellent, overall. On the other hand there are a few rogue lawbreakers and criminal smugglers who continue a black market in harmful CFC trade.
Furthermore, research and work needs to take place to phase out one group of CFC replacement chemicals, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Climatologists have determined that HFCs are super pollutants that are much more potent than carbon dioxide. HFCs could possibly account for 19-percent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 if their current rate of manufacture remains unchecked.
It’s important to remember that we cannot fix one thing without affecting other aspects of the Earth’s environment because everything is interconnected. One aspect affects the whole, just as the whole affects singular features. Other emissions, such as those from industry and motor vehicles contain harmful Ozone Layer depleting chemicals. Other forms of air pollution cause damage and slow the natural repair processes of the Ozone Layer.
Besides internal combustion powered ground transportation, we must consider high altitude aviation. Airplanes are an obvious source of hydrocarbon ejection directly into the upper reaches of the atmosphere. Opportunities abound to improve the technologies of air transport and rocket flight.
NASA scientists say that the Ozone Layer is around 6-percent thinner than it was in 1980 despite efforts to correct our harmful emissions. We still have far to go to continue the reversal of Ozone Layer damage that people have caused. These are all topics to think about today, the International Day for Protection of the Ozone Layer.