16 Sep 2021
Written by Amanda Katili Niode
Executive Coach & Mentor
Climate Actions & Sustainability Practices
In addition to triggering global warming and climate crisis, Greenhouse Gases (GHG) also cause thinning of the ozone layer. These gases in the Earth’s atmosphere trap heat, which means letting the sunlight passes through the atmosphere, but preventing the heat it carries from leaving the atmosphere.
This natural process that warms the Earth is called the Greenhouse Effect, which is in fact required so that Earth becomes an inhabitable place. It is called greenhouse because in principle, it is like a greenhouse shined by the sunlight during the day, warming the plants and air within. During the night, even though it is colder outside, it stays warm inside the greenhouse because its walls have trapped the sunlight.
What are the common GHGs?
The international world pays attention to the main GHGs produced by human activities and are calculated to address various crises, namely: Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4) and Dinitrogen Oxide (N2O). In addition, there are also gases from industries, particularly fluoride, such as Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC), Perfluorocarbon (PFC), Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) and Nitrogen trifluoride (NF3).
Other GHGs include water vapor and ozone. Water vapor is the most abundant GHG, but most scientists believe that water vapor directly generated by human activities contributes very little to the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere.
Ozone is technically a GHG, but according to the US Energy Information Administration, whether ozone is useful or harmful depends on where it is found in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Ozone on the ground’s surface, caused by using fossil fuels, contributes to smog and is harmful to our hearts and lungs.
Ozone also forms naturally at a greater height in the atmosphere (stratosphere) and blocks ultraviolet ray that is harmful for plants and animals from reaching the Earth’s surface. Human activities, especially using gases such as chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) in spraying canisters, refrigerators, and air conditioners, break down the ozone molecule in the atmosphere. As a result, the ozone layer is thinning, even becoming an ozone hole above the South Pole during the spring season of the Southern Hemisphere.
Ozone-damaging CFC is also a powerful GHG, despite existing in small concentrations in the atmosphere, namely several hundred parts per trillion, compared to several hundred parts per million for carbon dioxide.
Human activities have made the Earth warmer at an unprecedented level, at least within the last 2000 years. GHG concentration, particularly carbon dioxide, generally caused by using fossil fuels and land conversion, has now reached the highest level in the last 2 million years. Meanwhile, the sea surface level is rising with the fastest rate in the last 3000 years.
Extreme heat and heavy rain are becoming more often and intense; draught increases in several regions; weather that triggers fire occurs more frequently; while at the sea, events like warming, acidity rise, and oxygen loss occur, seriously threatening sea biota.
Global warming and climate change are closely related, and these two terms are sometimes used interchangeably. However, technically, these refer to two different things. Global warming is the increase of the Earth’s average temperature due to rising GHGs in the atmosphere. Climate change is the long term change of the Earth’s climate that reflects the fact that greenhouse gases do more than just warm the planet.
Changes in the weather is not the only negative impact of climate change. Changes in rainfall pattern and rise in sea level tend to have a significantly greater impact than just higher temperature. These various impacts not only damage the quality of the environment, but also endanger human’s health, food security, economic development activities, natural resources management, and physical infrastructures.
Climate Change and Ozone Layer Thinning are global issues impacting all countries in the world. Therefore, addressing these two problems requires international agreements approved by the world’s countries, and also global resource and funding source mobilization. International agreements are usually ratified into laws and regulations in each country.
The Montreal Protocol regulates the production and consumption of almost 100 man-made chemicals called the ozone damaging materials. The setting is done gradually by progressively reducing the consumption and production of different ozone damaging materials, with different schedule for developed and developing countries. As a successful international agreement, the Montreal Protocol can reduce 99% of CFC, a dangerous ozone damaging material.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, with the Paris Agreement as its derivative, regulates the global response against the threat of climate change to maintain the global temperature rise this century to be under 2ºC compared to the pre-industrial temperature, and try to reduce it to 1.5ºC. One of the ways to do that is by reducing GHGs. The implementation of Paris Agreement is still being negotiated, including to develop countries’ capability in facing the impact of climate change. As for GHGs included as ozone damaging materials are specifically provided in the Montreal Protocol.
What can each individual do in addressing the climate crisis and ozone layer thinning?
UN declares the “Act Now” campaign for individuals to address climate change and achieve Sustainable Development Goals through the mobile application called AWorld.
A series of actions that can be done by individuals can begin with 10 things, namely only taking 5 minute showers, bringing their own shopping bag, reducing the use of motor vehicles, turning off the light, using local products, consuming plant-based food, recycling, refilling, and reusing, unplugging unused electric plugs, and participating in non-waste fashion.
As for ozone layer thinning, UN said that even though currently well protected by the ozone layer, we must all be cautious of the exposure to UV radiation. Some of the things we can do to help protect ourselves and our families are avoiding excessive sunlight exposure, and using equipment responsibly.
Avoiding excessive sunlight exposure can be done by using sunglasses and sunscreen, paying attention to the ultraviolet index, and using our shadow to examine the ultraviolet level. If the index is high, there is a risk of skin damage, while if our shadow is taller than us, the ultraviolet exposure is low.
Using equipment responsibly includes purchasing refrigerators labelled ‘ozone friendly’ or ‘HCFC free’ or “energy efficient.” Air conditioners used must be appropriate with the room size, also using curtains if there is too much sunlight. Condensers and evaporators must be cleaned regularly. Air conditioners and refrigerators must be routinely checked to detect leaks, so that they can be fixed.
Basically everyone, as a part of the community, can help guard planet Earth, by changing their habit and making choices that reduce the threat to the environment.