A thin layer of gas called atmosphere surrounds the Earth. The atmosphere serves two important purposes: it is a filter for the suns dangerous ultraviolet radiation rays and keeps the heat, necessary to maintain life on earth, within the stratosphere (Vorlat 361). Ultraviolet light is incredibly dangerous to all the organisms within the Earth's ecosystem because it causes skin cancer, effects the immune system, and harms plant and animal life. For that reason the atmosphere and the ozone layer within it are crucial to a stable life on this planet. The ozone layer is in danger, however. It is facing depletion by a toxic man-made substance called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Together the international community is working through treaties and conventions to stop this environmental problem.
To understand the problem behind ozone depletion we first must understand what ozone is and how it works. Ozone is a thin protective layer that starts nine miles up in the air and continues up in the sky thirty-one miles (Kellner 20). It serves as a screen against the sun’s harmful UV rays by protecting plants and animals, as well as people from skin cancer, immune system problems, and eye disorders, such as cataracts (Ozone Treaties). Ozone is a gas, often a bluish color, made up of three oxygen atoms instead of the typical two. Ozone forms when solar ultraviolet rays and oxygen molecules meet. The result of the meeting is free oxygen molecules that form to regular oxygen molecules to create ozone molecules. Thus the process repeats (Vorlat 361). So in essence the sun’s rays are destroying oxygen molecules to create the ozone that is going to serve as a filter for the planet. It is a cyclical process that was working until man invented CFCs, an ozone-destroying chemical, in 1928 (Ozone Treaties).
CFCs are a very heavy, very stable chemical often found in things such as air-conditioners, refrigerators, fire- extinguishers etc. Upon release it can take the chemical up to five years to reach the ozone layer. Once there the sun’s rays split the chlorine atom causing it to bond with the ozone atom and in turn destroying it (Kellner 20). A single pound of Freon, a CFC, can destroy as much as 70,000 pounds of ozone (Kellner 20). CFCs are responsible for depleting five percent of the three billion metric tons of ozone in the air, that loss contributed to a twenty to twenty-five percent decrease in the ozone over the uppermost northern region of Earth. Not to mention that every time the ozone decreases the increase in skin cancer is two-fold (Kellner 20). All of the CFCs being inputted into the atmosphere are causing the depletion of the ozone layer and the result is a hole forming over the Antarctic region.
The hole forms every September to November, during the Antarctic spring. In 1998 however, the hole showed up in mid-August and in September reached a record size of ten and half million square miles. That is three and a half times the size of the United States. The hole is not really a hole but rather a thinning of the ozone layer. The ozone layer has thinned so much though that patches are left unfilled, giving the appearance of a hole. In 1998 the layer was close to record thinness (Kloor 8). When the hole was discovered in 1985 it gave the international community the proof it needed to try to repair the damage that they had done.
The first step was The Vienna Convention on the Protection of Ozone Layer. Vienna was a framework treaty, which allowed governments to declare their commitment to protecting the ozone layer. The governments agreed “to take appropriate measures” to protect human health and the environment against adverse effects resulting or likely to result from human activities which modify or are likely to modify the Ozone Layer (The Vienna Convention). The problem with the convention, however was that it-lacked specifics. It did not declare what measures would be taken nor did it really establish what the cause of...
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