Take That, Ozone Hole!
Drop what you’re doing and give yourself a pat on the back. As the most destructive species on the planet, I reckon we’ve done a pretty good job of salvaging this particular carcinogenic situation. The latest report from UN scientists has shown that the ozone layer has, for the first time in decades, stopped thinning! Although it hasn’t started to recover yet, scientists think that levels of atmospheric ozone should return to pre-1980 levels by the middle of the century, which is quite a bit earlier than mathematical models initially predicted.
Scientists first noticed that the ozone layer was thinning above Antarctica back in the ‘70s, and by the middle of the ‘80s the situation had gotten serious. Scientists discovered that the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in refrigerators, aerosols and foams were causing ozone depletion. In an impressive, unprecedented international treaty (‘The Montreal Protocol’), the use of these gases was banned in 1987 and now, more than 20 years later, the first signs of success are in the air (excuse the pun).
Although poisonous to breathe, ozone is a very important gas in the upper atmosphere, reflecting dangerous solar radiation (particularly in the harmful ultra-violet spectrum) back into space, away from all of us delicate little earthlings below. Without this gaseous sunscreen, exposure to UV can cause sunburn, skin cancer and cataracts in animals, and also damage the plants we rely on for oxygen production and food. We of the southern hemisphere have been particularly burned by this excessive solar exposure, thanks largely to our proximity to the South Pole. As a consequence, Australians have the highest rate of skin cancer anywhere in the world, can be identified overseas by our ubiquitous wearing of sunglasses, and all know the words to the ‘slip, slop, slap’ song in perpetuity.
Thanks to high quality scientific evidence, strong leadership and decisive action, this calamity of global proportions has been quelled. As well as being great news for beach-goers of the future, this is a brilliant example of how, when properly informed and adequately led, people can understand, address and solve major environmental problems. So well done us! Why not take some of this positive green momentum into 2011 and have a happy, sustainable New Year!
To hear more from Alex and get a weekly fix of scientific, environmental and health-related info, tune-in to ‘Boiling Point’ on 89.7 FM Eastside Radio every Tuesday at 6.00pm. You can also stream online at www.eastsidefm.org, find her on Facebook or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.