Protecting the ozone layer is not just about protecting ourselves, it’s about safeguarding our planet for future generations. Education and awareness among the youth are key to preserving this vital shield
Today is World Ozone Day. It is celebrated on September 16th each year. It was established by the United Nations General Assembly to raise awareness about the importance of protecting the ozone layer.
You’ve likely overheard the grown-ups talking about phrases like ‘global warming,’ ‘carbon footprint’ and ‘ozone layer.’ These may sound like big, complicated words, but they’re not as mysterious as they seem!
Imagine Earth as our big, beautiful garden and these words as the tools we use to take care of it. You know how you use different tools for different jobs, like a shovel for digging or a hose for watering? Well, understanding these words helps us use the right tools to make our garden even more beautiful.
So, let’s embark on the exciting journey to explore what these words mean and how we can make our Earth the best kind of garden it can be!
Mother Earth acts like our very own superhero mum, taking care of us every day, giving us clean air to breathe, fresh water to drink and beautiful nature to explore. But sometimes, we unintentionally do things that can hurt her and that’s not cool at all. Do you want to know what we do that hurts her? Let’s find out!
Global warming: It’s Earth’s temperature going up because of too much heat-trapping stuff in the air, just like how you might feel hot in a blanket on a warm day. That’s why we hear about things like ‘climate change’ — our superhero mum getting a bit too toasty.
Carbon footprint: This is all about the things we do, that leave a ‘footprint’ on Earth. Not the footprints we leave at the beach, but the effect of all the stuff we use and things we do. Like when we use cars that run on fossil fuels (which are not so eco-friendly), the harmful effects of the gases released due to the burning of the fossil fuel is like leaving dirty footprints behind.
Depleting ozone layer: Consider the ozone layer as Earth’s sunglasses, protecting it from the sun’s strong and harsh rays. But sometimes, we use things that poke tiny holes in those sunglasses. Let’s say those sunglasses have cracks. Of course you don’t want your mum to have cracked glasses with hot sunlight hurting her eyes, and it hurts you to see her get hurt, right?
So, now you know how these things are connected to harming our Mother Earth. Let’s shift our attention to the ozone layer: what it is, how it benefits the Earth and us, what has caused its depletion and how we can ensure its safety for ourselves and all future generations.
The ozone explained
The ozone layer is like Earth’s very own shield, way up high in the sky like a cosy blanket made of something called ‘ozone’, that wraps around it but it’s not for warmth, it’s for protection!
This special blanket, or ozone layer, lies approximately 10 to 25 miles above the earth’s surface and is made of invisible stuff called ‘ozone molecules’ (let’s call them ‘O3 buddies’). These buddies are actually Earth’s bodyguards against something not-so-friendly, the sun’s powerful rays called ‘UV-B and UV-C.’ If these rays reach us on Earth without our ozone buddies to help, they can be quite mean and hurt our skin, eyes and overall health. And not only this, they can damage all the other living things on Earth too.
But the cool part is that the ozone layer doesn’t make it happen and acts as an actual superhero. So when those unfriendly rays from the sun try to get through, the ozone layer says, ‘No way!’ It catches those rays and gives them a big bear hug, so they can’t hurt us. However, if they do, they can play havoc with our health, nature, environment and every living thing, as a chain reaction.
Health and environmental impacts
Sunburn: Have you ever had your skin turn all red and hurt after being in the sun for too long? It’s not a pleasant feeling, right? Well, if we don’t have our ozone layer to help, that can happen even faster and, trust me, it’s going to result in many skin-related diseases!
Other health-related hazards: Excessive UV radiation from the sun can harm our health in various ways. It can lead to the development of cataracts, where the eye’s lens clouds, causing vision issues. Additionally, UV radiation weakens our immune system, making us more susceptible to infections. It accelerates skin aging, causing premature wrinkles and age spots. Moreover, it can harm our skin cell DNA, raising the risk of skin cancer and other health problems.
Therefore, it’s crucial to protect ourselves from excessive sun exposure to prevent these health issues.
Upset nature: Our Earth isn’t the only thing that gets affected. The oceans, our big underwater neighbourhoods with lots of fantastic creatures also suffer. Some of the smallest ones inside, called ‘phytoplankton,’ are like the little helpers at the bottom of the ocean’s food chain. Now, without our protective shield, they get too much sunlight, which can disturb their homes. This isn’t good for them or the other sea creatures who depend on them for food.
Consider phytoplankton’s homes like a cosy underwater garden. Normally, the sun gives just the right amount of light for their garden to thrive. But when there’s too much sunlight because of our damaged protective shield, the ozone layer, it’s like leaving the garden lights on all night. Just as excessive light can make it difficult for us to sleep, the extra sunlight can also create challenges for phytoplankton as they try to thrive in their underwater homes. Consequently, they begin to wither and die.
See, our ozone layer isn’t just about protecting us from sunburns; it’s like a bodyguard, making sure we all stay healthy and our planet’s nature stays happy too!
Unfortunately, in the past, some scientists and researchers spotted damage caused by humans. In the 1970s and 1980s, scientists found out that people were making products that used ‘chlorofluorocarbons’ (let’s call it by its short form ‘CFCs’) and ‘halons,’ used in refrigeration, air conditioning and aerosol propellants, or in my words the sneaky villains.
Yea, these sneaky villains literally started hurting this powerful shield that our Mother Earth was holding tight by making their way to the stratosphere (the Earth layer) and breaking down ozone molecules, resulting in the formation of the ominous ‘ozone hole,’ particularly over Antarctica.
But the good thing was that people all around the world realised that they needed to fix it on an urgent basis. Therefore, they made a promise in 1987 called the ‘Montreal Protocol,’ in which 197 countries teamed up and said, “Let’s stop using those bad things that hurt our ozone layer!”
And guess what? It worked! Thanks to this promise and people using safer things afterwards, this shield started to get better just like when you put a band-aid on a scraped knee and it starts to heal. Scientists say that if current policies remain in place, the ozone layer is expected to recover to 1980 values (before the appearance of the ozone hole) by around 2066 over the Antarctic, by 2045 over the Arctic and by 2040 for the rest of the world. That’s amazing, right?
What’s even more awesome is that if we didn’t have this special agreement, our world would have been much hotter and many more people might have gotten sick from the strong sunlight. The heroes at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) say that in the United States alone, there could have been 280 million more cases of skin cancer and 1.5 million skin cancer deaths! Plus, 45 million more people could have had trouble with their eyes.
So, thanks to this agreement and everyone working together, our superhero shield is getting stronger, and our world is safer and cooler. Because we have satellites and specialised tools on the ground to ensure the strength and health of this shield.
Steps for the good
Technological innovations: Scientists and engineers have been hard at work to develop more environmentally-friendly alternatives for various products, including air conditioners and sprays. Just like discovering a new, healthier and more delicious flavour of ice cream, they have found innovative solutions to create products that are not only better for the environment but also perform well.
For air conditioners, they have been working on improving energy efficiency and using refrigerants that have a lower impact on the climate, such as hydrofluorocarbon (HFC)-free options. These advancements help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to a greener and more sustainable future.
In the case of sprays, scientists have developed alternatives that don’t contain harmful ingredients like ozone-depleting substances or volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These eco-friendly sprays are designed to have a minimal impact on the atmosphere and human health while still being effective.
Published in Dawn, Young World, September 16th, 2023