A Brief History of the Ozone hole and How startup innovations are helping fight Environmental Issues
This month held the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer and in honour of that, we thought it'd be a good time to go over a brief history of the ozone layer and look into how the latest startup innovations are helping the good fight against environmental damage.
What is the Ozone?
In basic terms, ozone is three oxygen atoms linked together. 90% of ozone floats around our stratosphere and absorbs harmful Ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. Acting as a protective barrier, without the ozone layer - we cannot live.
What is the Ozone hole?
Contrary to popular belief, the damage to the ozone layer thins out the layer, rather than causing a physical gap or 'hole'. The biggest area of damage is the antarctic, which is why our ice caps have been melting at a fast rate.
The main culprit of the damage are Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). CFCs are found in many products of our modern lives: refrigerators, aerosols, and even plastic products. Although CFC isn’t harmful to us humans, when the CFC gas reaches the stratosphere and comes into contact with ultraviolet rays, the molecules break down and damage the ozone layer.
A Timeline of our Understanding of damage to the Ozone layer
- 1912 Antarctic explorers record observations of unusual clouds in the polar stratosphere, this is the beginning of the discovery of the ozone layer.
- 1928 Thomas Midgley, Jr of General motors invents CFC.
- 1957 Scientists begin measuring the ozone layer. Over the Earth’s surface, the ozone layer’s average thickness is about 3 millimetres thick ( ~300 Dobson Units ).
- 1969 Chemist Paul Crutzen publishes a paper describing how toxic gases are affecting ozone levels.
- 1985 The Natural Environment Research Council's British Antarctic Survey observes monumental losses of ozone over Antarctica.
- 1987 The Montreal protocol is signed: an international agreement planning to phase out the use of CFCs. The Montreal protocol would go on to become the first universally ratified treaty in United Nations history.
- 1996 CFCs are officially banned.
- 2018 Goodnews, everyone! The World Meteorological Organization's assessment of ozone shows that the ozone layer is recovering at a rate of 1-3% per decade since 2000. At these projected rates, the Northern Hemisphere and mid-latitude ozone is predicted to recover by around 2030, followed by the Southern Hemisphere around 2050, and polar regions by 2060.
Where are we now?
The biggest revelation has been the proof that taking action works. Environmental damages aren't irreversible as long as we act fast. The healing of the ozone layer is not some miracle of nature but a universal effort by humankind.
However, it's not all positive news. The downside is that we’ve since replaced the CFC gases with Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs don't harm the ozone, but they are greenhouse gases that directly contribute to global warming. Nevertheless, if there’s anything to be learnt from this ozone victory, it’s that we are truly capable of listening to evidence and making changes to a planet in need.
What's the next challenge?
With ozone out of the danger zone, the replacement of CFCs with HFCs has brought greenhouse gases to the forefront of our list of challenges as a united planet.
Just take a look at this year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 to see how young innovators are leading the charge for changing their future for the better.
Tackling plastic pollution in the UK is Ellenor McIntosh, an award-winning scientist who has invented plastic-free wet wipes that break down in water in just three hours, or biodegrade in landfill in 7 days. She describes her eco-friendly wet wipes as "another way that consumers can make positive eco-focussed changes in their lives without having to change their behaviour. If you just switch your product purchase to an eco-friendly alternative, you can continue with your ordinary behaviours without hassle."
This method of people changing their products and behaviours to a more eco-focussed lifestyle is also advocated for by Emily Penn, a skipper and Sky Ocean Rescue Ambassador. Emily has co-founded SHiFT, which she describes as "a new methodology where people ‘shift’ their patterns of behaviour and reliance on single-use plastic to alternatives." The SHiFT platform includes an easy to navigate website with countless solutions to combating plastic waste.
Further afield in India, Dr Binesh Desai has converted nearly 2000 metric tonnes of landfill into alternative usage using a new research facility that is investigating new uses for recycling and waste management methods.
These innovations demonstrate how the future may still be bright, but it is not just reliant on these young innovators - the public must also hold our leaders accountable for their actions, in order to allow investments in healthier products and habits for our planet. Let us protect our planet in the way the Ozone protects us.