Last Thanksgiving, a friend invited me over to their place. Not being one to turn down a feast, I gladly accepted. Fast-forward and I'm speaking to one of her uncles and he asks what I do. When I told him I'm an environmental scientist, he let out a sigh of disappointment that could be heard from the mountaintops. What followed was the typical bashing of environmental science, which I have no problem with because, at this point, I'm used to it. However, this time it was different. He tried to explain the hole in the ozone layer as a hoax; something that only came about to give the people a common enemy. Normally, I would let this slide, but with all eyes on me at the dinner table, I decided to feast on his argument.
By the way, the recap of our conversation has extra information added because at the time I didn't have my portfolio with me. Also, all expletives have been removed.
What is the ozone layer anyway?
The ozone layer is a layer of the Earth's atmosphere that sits about 15 miles above the Earth's surface. The high concentration of ozone (O3, three oxygen atoms bonded together) gives the ozone layer its name.
Well, I can't see it. How do you know it exists?
Scientists have been observing the ozone layer for years now with help from satellites. The majority of images come from The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or as most of us call it, NASA. Technology has actually come so far that you can see the satellite images on your phone. NASA has even gone the extra mile and combined the daily images to make an ozone movie.
Just because people wasted their money to look at it doesn't mean it's important.
If you've ever been outside you've probably noticed the sun, you know that bright ball of light in the sky. Anyway, the sun's light comes to the earth in waves. The waves have different wavelengths (the distance between two crests), some of which are harmful to humans. One example is UV-B which has a wavelength of 280-350 nanometers.
UV-B has been shown to cause non-melanoma skin cancer and has also been linked with the development of cataracts, which is a clouding of the eye's lens. Although some UV-B is always reaching the Earth's surface, the amount is quite small thanks to the ozone layer which absorbs these harmful rays.
If it's so important, why don't we hear about it anymore?
The ozone layer has fallen from glory, in terms of mainstream attention, because it is healing. Though the process is slow, the American Meteorological Society reports that the ozone layer won't return to 1980 pre-thinning levels until 2040. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the ozone layer's healing is the result of human intervention, not luck or Mother Nature. To keep things brief, there are a number of chemicals that deplete the ozone layer. These are known as ozone-depleting substances and they were commonly found in everyday products such as aerosol cans, refrigerators, and cars. That was until the Montreal Protocol was finalized in 1987. The Montreal Protocol phased out 99% of the production and consumption of oxygen-depleting substances. With over 197 countries signed on as of 2023, we can safely say "crisis averted".
With the flashback finally over, I only ask you to do one thing. There is nothing wrong with asking questions. However, when you ask a question, be willing to hear the answer. If not, you get what we got, an unhappy Thanksgiving.
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