Who Needs an Ozone Layer Anyway?

Ozone (O3) is a molecule made up of 3 atoms.  Unlike it’s cousin O2 that is essential for life on the planet Ozone is much less stable and can pose a threat to inhabitants at ground level.

 

Diagram illustrating the ozone-oxygen cycle NO...

Image via Wikipedia

 

However, when found in the upper atmosphere it benefits humans and all animal and plant species by serving as a barrier to protect us against excessive solar UV rays.   It is mostly the results of the sun’s UV rays combining with O2 in our stratosphere but when found closer to earth it develops when sun light reacts with air containing hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides.  Though always present even before the Industrial revolution it now exists in higher concentrations than historical records reveal.

Ozone only makes up 0.00006% of the earth’s atmosphere but it’s utility to prevent catastrophic conditions on earth make it a vital natural barrier to preserve our ecosystem and by default, our very way of life.  The fear three decades ago was that the man-made green house gases (GHGs) of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) from aerosol cans and freon then being used for cooling units in our homes, cars and refrigerators were literally burrowing a hole in the Ozone layer, allowing excessive UV rays to reach earth’s surface and amplifying global warming conditions around the planet.  This amplified heat in turn breaks down Ozone in the atmosphere, further reducing it’s solar reflective abilities needed to sustain life here.

This latter indication reveals the link between climate change and the depletion of the ozone layer.  As the global temperatures warm up it creates a weakening effect on the Ozone layer above us.  Natural occurrences of global warming over the history of the planet are a factor that are beyond our control.

However, the rapid increase of measured global warming that climate scientist are detecting today appear to be coming from our two and half centuries use of fossil fuels.

Carbon dioxide variations over the last 400,00...

Image via Wikipedia

As we burn energy sources from coal, oil and natural gas we emit the spent CO2 from these elements into the atmosphere at an alarmingly increased level, thus effecting a man-made amplification that heats our planet faster than nature intended.

It is this warming effect that produces climate changes unlike any we have seen in our life times.  As more heat occurs and warms the oceans water, moisture is generated and intensifies flooding conditions in warmer climes and snow storms in more frigid northern regions.  Where this intensified heat occurs over land we are witnessing greater drought periods that produce more fires.  These fires destroy vast areas of plant life that absorbs CO2, thus reducing a component in our ecosystem that aids in sustaining a natural balance.

It’s a cycle that becomes harder and harder to stop and reverse as Western economies expand, emitting most of the CO2 from fossil fuel use.  But it becomes even more difficult as the expanding economies of China and India enter the fray with their use of coal-powered plants and increased use of carbon burning automobiles and machines.  In fact, China has advanced so fast over the last decade that it has surpassed the U.S. as the highest emitter of GHGs, primarily consisting of CO2 from fossil fuels.

This all adds a burden to the fragile Ozone layer in the stratosphere.  Climate scientist have found that CO2 levels currently exist at about 390 part per million (ppm), a number that is above what they feel is a safe and life-sustaining level of 350 ppm.  In order for us to have a fighting chance of preserving this barrier between us and excessive solar rays that will more rapidly effect disastrous climate changes for us all, it becomes imperative that we do what we can as a race to prevent its destruction.

Man’s contribution to global warming is a real threat.  Most of the nations contributing to the increased CO2 levels from finite sources of  fossil fuels have recognized this and are taking steps to converting their base energy to cleaner, renewable sources like wind, solar, geo-thermal and marine.

Currently the biggest polluter, China, is in the lead as it replaces it’s thousands of coal-powered plants with renewable sources and establishes standards for new development that replaces dated fossil fuel products with 21st century green technology.  The U.S. is making changes in this area too but has run into resistance from Industry lobbyists who continue to advance more coal, oil and natural gas sources to power our economy.

Time however is not on our side.  Even if we were to completely remove fossil fuels as the primary energy source for our economy tomorrow, it would take 30-40 years before the CO2 already emitted from this source would dwindle back down to levels below a safe and sustainable 350 ppm.  The damage to the Ozone layer by then may or may not be reversible but inaction is not a likely course we should gamble our future with.

 

RESOURCES:

Tango in the Atmosphere: Ozone and Climate Change

 

 

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