The Earth is wrapped in a blanket of air called ‘atmosphere’, which is made up of several layers. About 19 to 30 kilometers above the Earth is a layer of gas called ozone, which is a form of oxygen. Ozone is produced naturally in the atmosphere.
The ozone layer is very important because it stops too many of the sun’s ‘Ultra-Violet rays’ (UV rays) getting through to the Earth; these are the rays that cause our skin to tan. Too much UV can cause skin cancer and will also harm all plants and animals. Life on Earth could not exist without the protective shield of the ozone layer.
Every year, a hole as big as the USA develops in the ozone layer over Antarctica, in the South Pole. A smaller hole develops each year over the Arctic, at the North Pole. And there are signs that the ozone layer is getting thinner all over the planet.
Scientists have discovered that the ozone hole over Antarctica started in 1979, and that the ozone layer generally started to get thin in the early 1980s. The loss of the ozone layer occurs when more ozone is being destroyed than nature is creating.
One group of gases is particularly likely to damage the ozone layer. These gases are called CFCs, Chloro-Fluoro-Carbons. CFCs are used in some spray cans to force the contents out of the can. They are also used in refrigerators, air conditioning systems and some fire extinguishers. They are used because they are not poisonous and do not catch fire.
Most countries have now stopped using new CFCs that can be released into the atmosphere, but many scientists believe we must stop using old ones as well.
The ozone layer is like a sunscreen, and a thinning of it would mean that more ultra-violet rays would be reaching us. Too many UV rays would cause more sunburn, and because sunburn causes skin cancer, this too would increase deaths.
These UV rays are also dangerous for our eyes and could cause an increase in people becoming blind. That is why sun cream and sunglasses are very important.
TWO-FACED OZONE GAS
Ozone found between 19 and 30 kilometers high in the atmosphere is one of the reasons why we are alive on Earth. But when the gas ozone is found lower down where we can breathe it in, it becomes very dangerous for our health. This ozone is caused by a reaction between air pollution and sunlight and can cause modern-day smog. This is different to the smog that formed in the early 20th century from smoke and fog.
WHAT CAN YOU DO
There are many things we can do to help reduce air pollution and global warming.
Use buses and trains instead of cars, as they can carry a lot more people in one journey. This cuts down the amount of pollution produced. Walking or cycling whenever you can, will be even better, as it does not create any pollution.
If your parents must use the car, ask them to avoid using it for very short journeys if possible, as this creates unnecessary pollution. Try to encourage them to share their journeys with other people, for example when they go to work or go shopping. Also encourage them to drive slowly as this produces less pollution and less carbon dioxide.
Energy is produced to generate electricity and to keep us warm. Most energy is produced by the burning of fossil fuels, like coal, oil and gas, which release carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Fuel burnt in our cars also releases carbon dioxide. As an individual, you do not have a lot of control on how your energy is produced.
However, you can control the way in which you use that energy. Using less energy means less of it needs to be produced. So less carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere.
We can also help prevent pollution from our own homes which may contribute to acid rain and poor air quality, and increases emissions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Turning off lights when they are not needed and not wasting electricity will reduce the demand for energy. Less electricity will need to be produced and so less coal, oil and gas will have to be burnt in power stations, which means less air pollution and less carbon dioxide!
Pollution formed indoors can be reduced by ensuring that all gas appliances are working correctly. Good ventilation will improve indoor air quality by dispersing biological pollutants like dust mite, and other pollutants such as cigarette smoke.
Most of the rubbish we throw away can be recycled, such as glass bottles and jars, steel and aluminum cans, plastic bottles and waste paper. Recycling used materials uses less energy than making new ones. Composting fruit and vegetable waste reduces the amount of rubbish buried at rubbish dumps.