So let’s talk climate change. It’s certainly not a new word, in fact, it’s been around for a long time now. So why are we hearing more and more about it today than we did say…four or five years ago?
Starting off our string of Climate-Change related articles, I figured it would be a good start to consider two vital things: firstly, where did Climate Change come from? And secondly, why are people voicing their opinions about it now more than before? Is it a generation thing? Or is it simply because it’s too little, too late? Stick around together I’m sure we’ll figure it out.
Lets cover what we probably already know. It’s time to take a trip back in time to High School and jog our memories of the basics. Climate change is caused by greenhouses gases that we produce as we go throught our everyday life. These gases are released into the air, where they basically produce one large gassy blanket, trapping the heat from the sun. Sounds great in theory. A bit of sun is great! But not too much, and that’s exactly the issue. This is global warming, and the point is we’re warming the earth more than it wants or needs. And there we have it, the bitezise explanation of Climate Change. But that’s not good enough is it? It’s time to zoom into this picture a little more.
Introducing…The Ozone Layer
Remember how I mentioned a large gassy blanket that traps heat on earth? Well it has a little something to do wih another figurative blanket called the Ozone Layer, which is something you probably knew already. It’s located around 12-25km above the earth’s surface, and was first discovered by French scientists Henry Buisson and Charles Fabry in 1913. It’s made of a gas called Ozone that has a chemical formula of O3. (If you have any recollection of high school science, you may remember that the chemical formula of Oxygen is O2 which is two oxygen molecules bonded together. So Ozone is literally three oxygen molecules bonded together.)
The ozone layer is crucial to protecting earth by significantly reducing the amount of UVB radiation that the Earth gets to meet. So when the sun shines down us from where it is in the sky, it gives us UV radiation. There are two types of this radiation, UVA and UVB. I’m sure you can gather where this is going; UVB is the bad guy in this equation. So the ozone absorbs a lot of that UVB, so that the Earth only comes into contact with UVA and a little UVB. Increased exposure to UVB can result in skin cancer, cataracts and even a reduced immune system.
Humanity’s Holy Contribution
Spoiler alert. We didn’t help. 99% of all human beings that were ever alive are alive today and I’m sure youre well aware by now…humans can be kind of greedy. If it benefits us, great! So long as our life is improved, the environment can just grow along with us. After all, the idea of nature is that it should be left alone. Which is all well and good, except we pushed the limits. Because what we do isn’t natural, and along the way we started harming the very thing that provided us to much.
Fossil Fuels are a big one. You’ve heard of them. We burn them every day to do a variety of things from cooking to driving to the shop. You may remember from high school that these are one of the main kickers when it comes to climate change. These fuels are exactly the pesky gases that I mentioned, and while theoretically greenhouse gases are great, they’re also kind of awful.
As I mentioned earlier, they trap heat on earth, heating the lower atmosphere. But what does that mean for the upper atmosphere i.e. the Ozone? Well, that hole I mentioned. That’s what it means. The warming of the lower atmosphere ends up cooling the Ozone layer. This cooling results in the Ozone layer depleting, and it was thanks to the work of Jonathan Shanklin in 1950 that the Earth realised it’s invisible protector the Ozone Layer had a slight issue - one in the shape a large hole. Dobson and Harrison were able to demonstrate that their was a close correltaion between low strasopheric ozone and high surface air pressure. For context, high surface air pressure typically tends to influence clearer skies and warmer weather, due to it evaporating a lot of water vapor.
If you’re wondering what exactly a whole means for us…well it means a lot. Everything the ozone layer does for us, it now does a worse job. It causes an increase in UV radiation which have been correlated to effects on Biogeochemical cycles; that is, the balance between the production and destruction of organic matter. UV radiation also has an effect on a variety of plant related things such as growth, photosynthesis, redproduction of plankton and their protein content.
Too little, too late?
Now I have to say, the concept of something as important as climate change being more widely considered in modern-day circles is something that has intrigued me for a long time. When I was growing up, climate change was like something that was mentioned once a year at school and then laughed off with a ‘we’ll consider it later’. And then all of a sudden, it’s become a hot topic in a variety of circles.
One thing that certainly pushed the buttons was the Coronavirus. I think spending so long locked indoors gave people an opportunity to really think about the damage they were doing to the planet. I remember sitting on my sofa for the twentieth day in a row, reading an article about how wildlife was thriving without human populations around. But that’s wildlife. What about the climate? I mean, Corona gave everyone a chance to think about a lot of things. From who we are, how we do things, and how we process things, it was definitely a taxing time. Everyone was reacquainting themselves with things from their past, and despite being quite possibly some of the most mentally-draining few years of the modern world, it certainly gave people a fresh perspective on life. And of course, the climate. That’s not to say that some people didn’t leave lockdown almost the exact same person as they went in - because let's be truthful here, old habits die hard, don’t they?
But I think at least subconsciously, most of us were thinking a little deeper about things. How to be a better person, how to treat others, and even the Earth with equal kindness. I remember when paper straws were introduced, and suddenly it became the norm to buy reusable metal straws. Personally, I never went so far, but I did acquire a habit of always keeping a spare paper straw in my bag, should the paper straw I was using at the time meet the same soggy, unfortunate end that many of them do.
And I think really, that’s one of the best ways we can tackle climate change. Because as much as it sounds like I’m trying to promote a Tesco, every little really does help. It’s in the little steps that we start to see broader changes.
Parson, E., 2003. Protecting the ozone layer. Google Books. Available at: https://books.google.co.uk/books?hl=en&lr=&id=VNkJCAAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PR11&dq=the%2Bozone%2Blayer&ots=n_asCxETTJ&sig=e5CmGB4skpIdraGxP2l68kgGFWI&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=the%20ozone%20layer&f=false [Accessed September 27, 2022].
Fahey, D.W. (n.d.) TWENTY QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ABOUT THE OZONE LAYER. Available at: https://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/assets/documents/ozone-uv/Unep_11_qa.pdf (Accessed: September 30, 2022).
Anon, 2017. Is there a connection between the ozone hole and global warming? Union of Concerned Scientists. Available at: https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/ozone-hole-and-global-warming#:~:text=This%20warming%2Dcooling%20dynamic%20creates,the%20upper%20atmosphere%20(stratosphere). [Accessed September 28, 2022].
Christie, M., 2001. The Ozone Layer. Google Books. Available at: https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/The_Ozone_Layer/yFvmtOrUUgYC?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=ozone%2Blayer&printsec=frontcover [Accessed September 28, 2022].
Rosenberg, M., 2020. How does air pressure affect the weather? ThoughtCo. Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/low-and-high-pressure-1434434 [Accessed September 28, 2022].
Anon, n.d. Stratospheric ozone depletion. Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs, UK. Available at: https://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/research/ozone-uv/ozone-depletion#:~:text=Impact%20of%20low%20stratospheric%20ozone,and%20destruction%20of%20organic%20matter. [Accessed September 30, 2022].