I'm not a hippie but…

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Our resilient ozone: When science spoke and we listened

In the 1980’s scientists discovered the devastating effect we were having on our ozone layer. By using various chemicals in manufacturing, and particularly in aerosols, we were inadvertently chipping away at our precious shield from the worst of the sun’s damaging radiation. Wasting no time, these savvy scientists educated us as to the importance of the ozone layer and warned us that its existence was threatened if we did not act.

Put aside for a minute the hilarious image of an 80’s scientist; yes, they existed. It wasn’t all crimped hair and leg warmers, some people were off being intelligent and learning things! Thank God for these serious souls too, because without them we likely would have happily continued to spray away our entire protective coating.

Fortunately, we didn’t continue living in ignorance. We were alerted to our unwittingly destructive behaviour and could therefore make the necessary changes in order to save our skins (literally).

And what a good news story we have today!

We are now seeing the direct benefits of our action as NASA reports the hole in the ozone layer is closing. What’s more, if our resilient ozone continues to repair itself at this rate the hole could be entirely gone by the end of the 21st century. Oh happy day!

Having successfully saved the day, it’s not surprising that those blessed scientists believe the triumph of this swift issue-to-action model should inform our future approach to environmental action.

Everyone except Tony Abbott would likely agree there is a blindingly obvious comparison to the pressing environmental issues (or ‘incoming environmental catastrophes’ for the scientists among us) we have today.

As part of the team that confirmed our ozone layer depletion problem three decades ago, Jon Shanklin of the British Antarctic Survey was quick to point out this comparison, as he warned that the world isn’t treating this issue with the same seriousness.

“Yes, an international treaty was established fairly quickly to deal with the ozone hole, but really the main point about its discovery was that it shows how incredibly rapidly we can produce major changes to our atmosphere and how long it takes for nature to recover from them … Clearly, we still do not understand the full consequences of what we did then because we are still inflicting major changes on the atmosphere. Then it was chlorofluorocarbons; today it is greenhouse gases.”

The moral of this story is clear. Science spoke, we listened and we are now reaping the real-time rewards of our action.

Now if only we could learn from our successes, lest we need to learn from our mistakes.

ozone

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