It is October, spring is around in the southern hemisphere, the weather is getting better and so is our mood. But what is going to worsen right now is the hole in the ozone layer, which is situated right above Antarctica and hence affects the closest countries such as Australia as well. And this year’s hole looks to be a bad one.
‘Better a hole in my backpack than in the ozone layer!’ was written on our backpacks in primary school. It was back in the 1990s and after the tremendous discoveries in the 1970s, followed-up by global actions in the 1980s, we were extremely conscious about the hole in the ozone layer. Especially because of the ozone layer protects us against the dangerous UV-radiation of the sun, which does not only cause skin cancer, but as well failures of crops, and damage to animals and plants.
I remember the plea of my primary school teacher never to use a deodorant spray, but a roller. ‘Gros!’ was our initial reaction, but it must have worked because I still feel criminal if I were to use a spray can.
Nowadays, spray cans don’t contain the bloody CFCs anymore, nor do fridges, air conditioning, and fire extinguishers. The chemicals were banned because they broke down the ozone layer. Those tiny molecules were as strong and inert that they could reach the highest layer of the atmosphere: the stratosphere. At an altitude of 30 to 35km above the earth, they were finally broken down by UV-radiation, but the liberated chlorine atoms attacked the ozone layer and caused the famous ozone hole.
Although this process happens in the entire world, it is worse above Antarctica, and the closest countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Chile, share the burden.
Luckily the scientists who discovered the ozone hole alerted not only other scientists but policymakers and media as well. The result: global binding regulation that forbade CFCs, the Montreal Protocol. Later other harmful compounds were included, and so the protection of the ozone layer continues.
The result: the savour of the ozone layer! Since the ban of CFCs, the ozone layer has recovered year after year. But still, in September, the start of the Antarctic spring, the hole is at its worse.
Moreover, scientists of the European Copernicus institution have discovered that this year’s hole in the ozone layer is bigger than previous years. Damaging chemicals off unknown sources might be the cause if this sudden setback. It could be old stock that suddenly is released, or in worse case scenario it could be the case that some companies or countries are not complying with the rules of the Montreal Protocol.
Considering the crucial protective function of the ozone layer, it is crucial to continue the fight for the ozone layer as well as implement controle and accountability mechanisms in every environmental multilateral agreement.
In the end, I still rather have a hole in my backpack, than a hole in the ozone layer. Don’t you?