Is the Crisis Over?

Ozone Depletion and Industrial Output

by Katherine Athanasiades


            For years, we have heard about the ozone crisis: that because of industrialization and the lack of pollution-consciousness by our industries, governments, and academia, we have put so many environmentally harmful products into the atmosphere that our ozone – the good kind, the kind that protects us from harmful UV radiation – is becoming dangerously damaged.  It is becoming thinner and developing holes, like the large hole over Antarctica.  Predictions made expected the ozone hole to continue to increase and for the general thickness to get continuously thinner, so that the harmful UV rays of the sun would pass right through our atmosphere and fry our skin if we went outside for ten minutes fifty years from now.  (I was actually told this in elementary school, except that we were told that this was an inevitable scenario, and there was really nothing that we could do about it other than buy SPF 250 sun-block.  As a tech fix, this would probably be entirely possible!)  However, recent evidence has shown that the rate of expansion of the ozone hole is actually decreasing; that the ozone is not being destroyed as quickly as experts thought it would.  In fact, the ozone held its own and showed very little damage for a few years at the end of the 1990s.  Why?  Perhaps it is because emissions that damage the ozone are being reduced internationally, therefore resulting in an overall reduction of damage done annually to the ozone, allowing it to begin to repair itself.


            Before it was known that they would cause great damage to the ozone, many factories not only released uncontrolled amounts of polluting emissions, but they also developed products that were very damaging to the atmosphere.  A prime example of this was early refrigeration technology.  Companies developing refrigerators and refrigeration technology found that chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, were very effective in refrigeration and had no observable short-term side-effects in the environment when tested in evaluative experiments.  However, the interaction of CFCs with the relatively unstable O3 that makes up ozone caused a depletion of this molecule in the atmosphere – thus diminishing the total amount of protective ozone.  Once CFCs were realized to be destructive and responsible for a great deal of damage to the ozone, measures were put in place to reduce the amount of CFCs in products.  These reductive measures are probably responsible for stemming a lot of ozone depletion.  Pure chlorine is another particle that is seriously accountable for ozone damage because of the reactions it makes with O3 (Kerr).  Bromide and halocarbons are other key damagers (Fahey/Ravishankara and Kerr).  A crucial component in the reduction of ozone damage is to decrease the emissions of these and other harmful materials, both in product development and production, as well as in product functioning itself.


            One of the measures instituted to reduce destructive emissions was the 1987 Montreal Protocol.  This international document provided guidelines for the reduction of ozone-damaging chemicals on a timeline that would be helpful for ozone repair.  It seems as though the reductions that have already taken place have had beneficial effects.  The importance of continuing to follow the protocol cannot be understated, because if emissions of halocarbons and other ozone damaging products do not continue to be reduced, ozone recovery could be stalled for decades or longer (Kerr).


            Although the reduction of damaging emissions is a positive step in helping our atmosphere, there is still an inherent problem in our actions: we are reacting, treating a problem that is already present.  This means that although we may be reducing our emissions and the damage done to the atmosphere, we are still doing damage to some extent.  I think that a more conscientious alternative to emission reduction that can and should be phased in to industry is the use of green technology.  Green technology is beneficial in that it is preventative rather than reactive technology.  The Montreal Protocol provided a precedent to follow in this when it instituted the replacement of CFCs by compounds that don’t affect the ozone layer significantly.  Basically, green technology provides materials and methods that are alternatives to the intrinsically hazardous particles and processes used today in academia, government, and industry.  By removing these hazards, the new materials will not only be more environmentally beneficial, but they will also not be regulated by current environmental policies (Poliakoff et al.).


            Unfortunately, there are some problems with green technology.  First of all, there has not been enough time for green chemistry principles to be systematized into industry.  In addition, the government currently has implemented taxation systems that punish polluters but do not reward clean technologies.  Also, there is a big economic difference between reducing emissions and instituting different systems.  These facets of green chemistry implementation make it hard for groups to see the economic (and sometimes environmental) benefits of new technologies over older, cleaned up methods (Poliakoff et al.).


            If current systems can change, and people can be enlightened as to the benefits of green technology (and rewarded for defraying the initial cost), then there will be an even greater chance that harmful emissions will be reduced by industry and other sectors of society.  Reducing harmful emissions will not only continue to help lessen damage to the ozone, but it may also help with other current environmental problems like terrestrial and oceanic pollution and global warming.  However, if people cease to recognize the ozone as being in a crisis state anymore, and therefore do not find it important to continue to reduce damage done to it, there is the realistic path of dangerously continuing to destruct our atmosphere.  Basically, cleaning up technology and industry in order to reduce emissions and other problems is an uphill battle, but a very feasible one if enough people recognize it as worthy.  If industry continues to reduce emissions, and is given incentives to institute greener technologies rather than just cleaning up old ones, I think that we will well be on our way to ceasing ozone damage and perhaps also to help eradicate other environmental problems.



Works Cited


Fahey, D.W. and A.R. Ravishankara. Summer in the Stratosphere. Science, v.285, n.5425, p.208-210, July 1999.


Kerr, Richard. A Brighter Outlook for Good Ozone. Science, v.297, p.1623-1625, September 2002.


Poliakoff, Martyn et al. Green Chemistry: Science and Politics of Change. Science, v.297, p.807-810, August 2002.


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last updated 5/22/03