I’ve always hated the term “Climate Change''. It made what’s happening seem like a change we can ignore. Then, my AP Environmental Science teacher Ms. Meadows (yes, that was her actual name) gave me a term that I thought was much more fitting: Climate Disruption. I’ll be discussing heavy contributors to the forward motion of Climate Disruption: the two types of ozone pollution.
Ozone and the Atmosphere
I’m going to give a quick lesson about the atmosphere. I promise it isn’t too technical. The atmosphere is composed of five distinct layers. From lowest to highest, they are named the troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere, and exosphere. When it comes to ozone pollution, we need to look at the first two layers.
Troposphere Pollution Explained
Troposphere pollution causes issues with air quality; for example, whether it’s safe to step outside and breathe, or if you can see down the street. When we put pollutants out in the air they typically stay at that level. Naturally, poor air quality causes various health problems and reduces life span by up to 9 years in the worst areas, namely central, eastern, and northern India.
Ozone pollution at this level isn't from it being emitted into the air. Instead, it is created “by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds” as specified by the EPA. Both of those come from industrial factories and car emissions, leading to laws on how companies can make cars and how much pollution factories are allowed to put out into the world.
Stratosphere Pollution Explained
Now, here’s the kicker: stratosphere pollution comes from the exact opposite issue; we don't have enough ozone. The ozone layer in the stratosphere is what protects us from being absolutely assassinated by the sun. It keeps out heat and UV rays, and because of us putting out certain kinds of chemicals in the air, we’re poking holes in that protective layer.
Let's talk technical for a moment again. The ozone layer is made by a repeating cycle of creating and destroying ozone particles called the Chapman cycle. Oxygen meets the UV rays and the two turn into the ozone, and then the ozone is then destroyed again by dealing with more UV rays, turning back into oxygen, and that goes on forever. Except now it isn't because of pollution.
(I’m done with the scientific terms, I promise.)
The Human Impact
Humans have polluted the stratosphere with a mix of chlorine, fluorine, and carbon, which make something called CFCs. CFCs destroy ozone, making it so the balance is gone. Ozone is being destroyed faster than it’s being made, creating holes in its layer.
The holes are the biggest around the north and south pole. Your reaction to this may have been like mine the first time I heard that: “How? There aren't any polluters in those areas?” This is because air travels throughout the atmosphere in cells. They cycle around, eventually ending up in those areas of the world, as shown in this diagram. This is how we got melting glaciers and rising temperatures.
You may now understand where my frustration comes from. How did we mess up this badly? How did we make it so there is both too much and not enough ozone? I can appreciate the efforts being made to fix these things. The Montreal Protocol in 1988 made it illegal to purchase or use CFCs, and there are inventions to limit ozone output like vent scrubbers and exhaust pipes. But we don’t know how long it takes for CFCs to leave the atmosphere, and oftentimes future laws proposed to put stricter bans on emissions are struck down for companies to make more money.
How You Can Help
The reason the laws are often struck down is money and politics. Big companies that have the biggest footprints give funding to politicians, so the politicians do what they say. If we ban cheap, pollution-heavy materials, it costs them time and money. It becomes more difficult for them to shortcut and means they must use more expensive materials. So, they tell the politicians not to let the laws pass, and most of the time, they listen.
The glaciers are melting, the ozone layer is depleting, and people, animals, and plants everywhere are dying. We shouldn’t let big companies keep politicians under their thumbs to keep helpful, impactful, and sustainable policies from being put into place.
Though most pollution comes from big companies, there are steps you can take to cut down on personal ozone emissions. I prefer walking or skating instead of using my car when it comes to quick trips. Try to buy from more eco-friendly businesses and support programs that cause positive net outcomes. I’ll list some at the end of this article. And if you happen to be eligible, do your best to get involved politically. Pester your local politicians, vote, and make the world listen.
In the end, do what you can. You won't be able to do it perfectly but do your best. That’s all we can ask for.