Our Ozone Layer and The Montreal Protocol

By Eloise Callaghan

The largest hole ever recorded in our ozone layer was approximately 28.3 million square kilometres on September 3rd, 2000.[1] To try and visualize what that number means, Canada’s entire landmass is 9.98 million square kilometres, meaning the hole was almost three times the size of the entire landmass of Canada.

What does this hole mean for us?

To understand what this massive hole in our ozone layer means for us as humans we are going to start by going over the basics of the ozone layer. Ozone is a molecule that is made up of three oxygen atoms. These molecules make up the ozone layer which forms in the stratosphere level of our atmosphere. The ozone layer absorbs some of the ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, which prevents it from reaching the earth’s surface. There are two major types of UV rays, UVB and UVA. UVB rays are the ones that cause sunburns and play the greatest role in causing skin cancer. UVA rays were historically thought of as less harmful because they did not cause burns, but we now know they are in fact more harmful than UVB rays. UVA rays penetrate deeper into our skin and play a role in skin cancer formation as well as causing premature skin ageing.

What is causing the hole?

There is no true “hole” in the ozone layer, rather it is thinning out to the point where there are not enough ozone molecules to effectively block the UV rays. This thinning is due to chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). A CFC is a molecule that contains the elements carbon, chlorine and fluorine. When CFCs are released in the atmosphere they drift up to the stratosphere and are broken up by the UV radiation: this releases chlorine atoms that are able to destroy the ozone molecules. CFCs are non-toxic, non-flammable and inexpensive so they have been a molecule commonly used in refrigeration, fire suppression, foam insulation and aerosol sprays.

What did we do about it?

A global agreement was set in a place called The Montreal Protocol. This called to phase out the production and consumption of ozone-deleting substances. The protocol was finalized in 1987 and signed by 197 countries, making it the first treaty in the history of the United Nations to achieve universal ratification.[2]

Unfortunately, the projected path of recovery has not gone as originally projected, and there have been setbacks along the way. Since the global ban, there has been a decrease in the number of CFCs in our atmosphere, but new studies are showing a significant slowdown in that decline. Studies are showing that the use of CFC-11 has been increasing significantly in recent years which caused the rate of decline of CFCs to slow down by about 50% after 2012. The emissions of CFC-11 have been traced back to eastern China and are equivalent to about 35 million tonnes of CO2 being emitted into our atmosphere every year. Since this discovery, the Chinese have started to clamp down and investigate these producers.

Even with the unexpected presence of CFC-11 in our atmosphere, our ozone layer is on its way to recovery. In September and October of 2019, the hole in our ozone layer was the smallest that had ever been recorded, at 10 million square kilometres.[3]

What The Montreal Protocol showed us

While the hole in the ozone layer does not lead to climate change, it is a stratospheric problem of global concern, and CFCs are greenhouse gasses (atmospheric build-up of greenhouse gases lead to climate change). The Montreal Protocol was the first time we came together globally to address a collective concern affecting the health of our earth. If it was not for The Montreal Protocol in the US alone, we would have seen an additional 280 million cases of skin cancer, 1.5 million skin cancer deaths, 45 million cataracts and the world would be at least 25 percent hotter.[4] The Montreal Protocol shows us that change is possible.

Sadly, The Montreal Protocol was so far the first and last time that we were able to come together in this way to address climate change. We have yet to meet that level of collaboration and agree upon significant enough actions to address the problem. That being said, let’s not make this the last major global action we took towards climate change. We must continue to educate ourselves and others and demand better from our governments and corporations.

[1] https://visibleearth.nasa.gov/images/54991/largest-ever-ozone-hole-over-antarctica#:~:text=A%20NASA%20instrument%20has%20detected,largest%20such%20area%20ever%20observed.

[2] https://www.epa.gov/ozone-layer-protection/international-actions-montreal-protocol-substances-deplete-ozone-layer

[3] https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2019/2019-ozone-hole-is-the-smallest-on-record-since-its-discovery

[4] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/ozone-depletion/

Biomimicry: Looking To Nature For Innovative Solutions To Our Human-Caused Problems.

By: Magnus de Pencier

By: Magnus de Pencier

Nature, and more importantly humans’ complex and disingenuous relationship with it, is a topic that is contentious, frightful, and relentless. The quote, “We envision a world in which people view nature not as a warehouse of goods but as a storehouse of knowledge and inspiration for sustainable solutions.” By Janine Benyus makes me wonder about the true solution to peaceful coexistence with our natural world. How can humans attempt to restore and replenish ecosystems and species that are on the verge of extinction? 

An Eco-Modernist, for example, would tell you that humans’ mastery over and separation from nature through relative and absolute decoupling is fundamental to sustainable longevity. This, along with intensified agriculture, urbanization, and investments in modern day technologies they consider to be the only way for humanity to flourish while preserving the biodiversity of the natural world. A Deep-Ecologist/Eco-Feminist on the other hand, would thoroughly disagree, stating that the earth, along with all of her resources, should not be interfered or tampered with by human activity, which is inherently destructive. Agriculture, they would argue, and the mechanized technology and pesticides that accompany it today, must be scaled back to local and traditional farming methods.

Then, there is Biomimicry: Technologically innovative practices that are inspired by nature. Biomimicry imitates nature by emulating its models, systems, and elements in order to effectively solve human-made problems. The Biomimicry Institute, founded in 2006 by Janine Benyus and Bryony Schwan, state that the goal of Biomimicry is to “create products, processes, and policies-new ways of living-that solve our greatest design challenges sustainably and in solidarity with all life on earth”. (Biomimicry Institute). Here is an example of one of the more famous Biomimicry examples in the real world, and the positive impact it can have on the environment and human race. 

Eiji Nakatsu and Japan’s Shinkansen Bullet-Train. 

The Shinkansen bullet-train, stretching from Shin-Osaka to the ward of Hakata, was built to carry passengers at exceptionally fast speeds (167 mph travelling over roughly 300 miles). However, there was one issue that had to be dealt with. The atmospheric pressure buildup from the train rushing through a tunnel, and out the other end, resulted in a deafening and unpleasant sound that exceeded the maximum decibel limit in the residential neighbourhoods in which it passed. 

Eiji Nakatsu, the head of the engineering team that was delegated to solve this problem, was inspired by the aerodynamic characteristics of a number of birds that ultimately made the new 500 Shinkansen series quieter and more efficient. The trains pantograph wing was modeled after the feathers of an Owl, its pantograph base after the body of an Adelie Penguin, and most consequently, the trains nose very much mimicked the bill of a Kingfisher. Here are a couple of tables from Eiji Nakatus’ lecture on biomimicry.

Table 1:

The pantograph, a piece that connects the train to its power source, vibrated and made a loud noise.OwlThe owl has a concave face capable of absorbing sound. Its body has ample down to absorb fluttering sounds. Tiny serrations on its primary feathers minimize the vortex generated by movement.The pantograph was reshaped like an owl’s wing, including small serrations, which resulted in no vibrations and a quieter impact for residents near the tracks.
The supporting frame for the pantograph had a high degree of wind resistance resulting in aerodynamic noise.PenguinThe body of the Adelie Penguin is shaped like a spindle which allows it to move effortlessly through water to catch fish.The pantograph’s supporting shaft was reshaped like a penguin’s body to lower its wind resistance.
When the train would enter a tunnel, a loud bang would occur due to the fixed air volume of the tunnel and the sudden increase in pressure from the entering train.KingfisherThe shape of the Kingfisher’s head and beak allow it to glide through the air and precisely dive into water to snag fish. It is the most efficient animal on earth to transition from low pressure (air) to high pressure (water).The nose of the Shinkansen train was reshaped in the form of the Kingfisher to eliminate the sudden pressure increase. No more bang.

(“Eiji Nakatsu: Lecture on Biomimicry as Applied to a Japanese Train.” It Is Alive in the Lab, labs.blogs.com/its_alive_in_the_lab/2012/04/biomimicry-japanese-train.html.)

Table 2:

Pantograph WingWing_beforeWing_after
Pantograph BaseBase_beforeBase_after
Train NoseBeforeAfter

(“Eiji Nakatsu: Lecture on Biomimicry as Applied to a Japanese Train.” It Is Alive in the Lab, labs.blogs.com/its_alive_in_the_lab/2012/04/biomimicry-japanese-train.html.)

Through these new “design” amendments influenced by animals we encounter in our daily lives, not only was the new 500 Shinkansen series bullet-train under the legal decibel limit when passing through neighbourhoods, it was also 10% faster and used 15% less energy (Vox). In today’s world, we have reached an unprecedented level of high connectivity and uniformity. Through just a click of a button, technological information and material resources can flow between people, companies, and markets. Similarly, manufacturing plants, garment factories, and financial institutions no matter where they are located around the world primarily use the same ideas, designs, processes, and product cycles that allow for a just-in-time delivery and an instant gratification way of life. This level of high consistency and connectivity around the world means that, if we have learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, things (whether it be a infectious disease or an ideal) can rapidly transmit and disrupt every corner of the globe. Design systems need to be diversified and more resilient to the shocks and disturbances of our natural world. Learning from nature’s models and ecosystems, that have been continually adapting and surviving the earth’s elements for 3.8 billion years, may be a necessary and practical solution to the longevity of humans on earth. 

For other cool Biomimicry projects check out these links:

  1. Learning from Prairies how to grow food in Resilient ways
  2. Learning from mosquitos to create “a nicer needle”
  3. Learning from dolphins how to send signals underwater
  4. Learning from termites how to create sustainable buildings

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