April 22nd was Earth Day. It marked the anniversary of the new environmental movement which started in 1970. But what are we marking? The fact that the environment is in a state of devastation? That 2016 has already been the hottest year according to new data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration? Are we marking the fact that aerial surveys of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have undergone the worst bleaching on record, ever?
Are we improving or destroying?
What does this day mean now? We have done irreparable damage to our pristine planet. As Arthur Bloch, US writer once said and I quote “If you improve or tinker with something long enough, eventually, it will break or malfunction”. In our quest to industrialize and urbanize, we have taken forests, water, land and the skies for granted. You would wonder why I mention the skies. Because that is where the one of the most serious problem starts. That is where the ozone layer exists. Let me explain a bit about this for all to understand how serious the issue is.
Ozone – the antagonist or protagonist?
Earth, so far, is the only planet, known to have sustained life form. This is thought to be possible only due to the presence of oxygen along with other gases that form a blanked around earth. The earth’s atmosphere is divided into 3 layers – Troposphere, Ionosphere and Stratosphere. The Stratosphere extends from 15 to 50 kms from the earth’s surface. In this layer, a light blue gas exists which is made up of ozone molecules. An ozone molecule is made up of three atoms of oxygen. The formation and breakdown of ozone molecules into oxygen molecule and oxygen atom is a natural photochemical process which takes place in the presence of sunlight.
The delicate balance between breakdown and reformation of ozone molecules maintained in the nature has been drastically affected by the use of certain chemicals broadly termed as ‘ozone depleting substances’ or ODS. The ODS breakdown occurs at the same height where ozone concentration is thickest in the stratosphere. A series of chemical reactions occur, which destroy ozone in the vicinity. The ODS are basically man-made chemicals containing Fluorine, Bromine, Iodine and Chlorine. One atom of Chlorine can actually destroy up to 100,000 ozone molecules – that is the extent of damage that can caused.
Some of these are also called chloro-fluoro carbons or CFCs commonly found in refrigeration, aerosols, cleaning agents and many other things we use every day. Unfortunately this is mostly produced in industrialized nations. Estimates are that 90% of the CFCs are emitted by US and Europe and though many countries banned the use of CFCs in the late 90’s, scientists say it might take another 50 years for Chlorine levels to reach a natural state.
Effects of Ozone Depletion
Now why is this possibly the worst thing that is happening to planet Earth? Let’s look at the effects of Ozone layer depletion.
The first thing that happens when Ozone is destroyed is absorption of UV-B rays from the sun by earth’s atmosphere. UV-B rays are bad, real bad. They cause a multitude of diseases like skin cancer, eye damage and ageing of skin. So before you go off to sun-bathe, give it a serious thought.
The second effect to ponder over is the destruction of simple celled organisms like plankton. The UV-B rays are harmful for them as well so it has threatened their growth and survival. Why is this scary? Because these tiny creatures and many other such living things are the original food source for most of the life in oceans and their destruction threatens the entire food chain.
The third effect is directly related to global warming. Ozone absorbs infrared radiation emitted by Earth’s atmosphere and traps heat so destruction of ozone actually causes a cooling effect. But that is a limited occurrence. Majority of the polluting gases like Carbon dioxide have a much wider warming effect on the surface. CO2 is currently at 30% above than it was 150 years ago. These gases along with CFCs act like a greenhouse, absorbing most of the heat emitted by the atmosphere. This increase in pollutants also is man-made. Destruction of forests, industrialization, overuse of ground water and surface pollution due to garbage and electronic disposal is making sure that human kind will face tough times ahead.
The warming itself is causing other effects. Oceans are warmer because of which coral reefs are getting affected. There is a phenomenon called coral bleaching which occurs when algae living inside these corals leave due to higher temperatures. So the corals become white thus looking bleached. Scientists are saying that Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has recorded its worst bleaching with 93% of its reef affected.
What can we, most intelligent of all species, do?
As you see, the causes and effects are like a game of dominoes. One slight move and there is a tumble of effects across the world. While a lot of these are big on many government agenda’s, what can we do that will create an impact, albeit small?
- Plant more trees. An estimated 18 million acres of forest are lost each year and Nature Geoscience reports that forest losses contribute to 6 – 12% of annual global CO2 emissions. So let’s do our bit to make earth greener. Plan trees near you, grow small plans inside your houses and make gardening your hobby. I spoke of some ways in a previous article.
- Save water and paper. We all know that this is important. By saving water and paper, we are directly impacting the whole cycle of Earth’s slow destruction.
- Use few chemicals. This can be done on your daily products like shaving foams, deodorant and cleaning agents. Even waste like paints, electronic items and plastic should be disposed of correctly.
Let’s all think before we do something that has a direct or indirect impact on Earth. Even these small changes above in our lifestyle can buy us more time on the planet. Please write in if you think there are other ways to aid to saving the planet.