A stitch in time for the Ozone Hole, a cause for celebration?

Katharine and David Lowrie

lowrie 300x225 A stitch in time for the Ozone Hole, a cause for celebration?As I wake up inside our puffy down-feather sleeping bag, the body aches from running a marathon yesterday and the mind aches with the reality that Katharine, my fellow adventure runner and I will do it again today and tomorrow too. We are running the length of South America in a year, hauling our trailer as we run to raise awareness of the threatened wild places and wildlife here.

Our bodies need more rest, but whether or not we deserve it is irrelevant, we have to get out and take down our expedition tent. I have the voice of Petra Hilleberg our tent manufacturer ringing in my ears, “Be careful with the sun in the deep south of South America, the UV rays down there are really strong and are the only thing that will destroy the tent!” Until we reach the 35 degree line of latitude, 300 miles north of our current position, we are in the area of the Ozone hole.

This morning, because we are at altitude, the canvas is home to a beautiful fringe of frost, refracting the new sun that is breaking over the serrated ridge to the east. Our hands freeze pulling the canvas from the poles, we bemoan the hole that is allowing the fierce power of UV rays to strike us without a filter, unrestrained. We bemoan man’s course that could allow us to destroy our own protective layer in order to enjoy a cool glass of wine from the fridge. Why didn’t we just make do with opening a window instead of inventing air-conditioning? Because now I have to get up to pack up the tent instead of enjoying a long lie-in!!

Soon enough the grogginess wears off, we are fed and watered; thick layers of SPF 50 suncream are applied. A different perspective floods in with the morning sun. This is 2012 – I have a hazy memory of the news from 1987 from some place in Canada (I was only nine) – it must be the 25th Anniversary of the Montreal Protocol! The scientist had only really discovered that man-made gases (predominantly CFCs) were causing the Ozone in the stratosphere to collapse a few years before and things looked smelly, really serious. We were going to fry ourselves, the ice would melt and oceans die, we’d be mutated by horrendous cancers.

Then something curious happened that gives us cause to celebrate… the world, the world, acknowledged the problem, (great first step!) then went ahead and unanimously agreed to work together: rich and poor, East and West, small and large, to solve it. Governments regulated, manufactures adopted new technologies, consumers played their part too (mostly by putting their old fridges in their gardens at first!) Councils managed the impacts (they took the fridges out of the gardens and stored them in big ugly piles). It took a broad spectrum of stakeholders but it happened or is happening.

According to NOAA (USA National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) “Since the Montreal Protocol came into effect, the atmospheric concentrations of the most important chlorofluorocarbons and related chlorinated hydrocarbons have either levelled off or decreased”.

Its not all good news of course. There is still a significant hole, damage is being done each year to the earth’s surface and plant life. The volume of Pytoplankton decreases and that impacts food chains we depend upon. It even changes the chemistry of the sea water itself. My nose burns daily. Experts predict that an estimated 10 per cent reduction in the ozone layer will result in a 25 per cent increase in non-melanoma skin cancer rates for temperate latitudes by the year 2050. Ow.

A close Chilean friend, Jose, tells me that his company issues all its staff with a sun glasses allowance to shield them from the sun and mitigate any future court cases no doubt. Other companies provide suncream to their employees for the same reason, while warnings in public places indicate risk levels.

So, the sun burn, the premature aging (God-forbid), the proliferation of skin cancer in humans and other wild animals, our much-needed sleep this morning being eroded… the damn tent being destroyed – why are we calling this a good news story? Well, like our expedition itself, today’s very small steps strung together can make a significant difference; we’ll be a marathon towards our goal before the tent comes out again tonight (after sunset, of course).

As we run we consider that the world made a change at Montreal, 25 years ago and that with the will, our generation can do it again an take those first most critical steps, despite the odds, to solve other big, seemingly irresolvable global problems. Let’s not dwell on the little voice of those who say there is no point in starting because it’s too difficult –let’s take hope from what we have achieved and tackle today’s burning issues, lets take climate change and protecting biodiversity for starters. Now, let’s get running!

You can follow Katharine and David on their world first expedition at:, or Facebook and Twitter

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  • greggf

    “Its not all good news of course. There is still a significant hole, damage is being done each year to the earth’s surface and plant life.”

    What do you mean by damage?
    Damage is a subjective term whereas Nature sees it as change.
    Are you scientists or what?

    Oh, and don’t forget the apostrophe in it’s!

  • forber

    Our natural world – and most life – rely on an effective barrier for UV. ‘Change’ in this case is not a viable option

  • julianzzz

    Nature doesn’t “see” anything! Nature is a category not an entity, and certainly doesn’t possess eyes, an integrating cortex or a method for evaluating sensation. As for damage, a structure that we have evolved to rely on is disrupted, for us yes that is damage and also for the plants and animals that will die because of the change. They will experience it as damage.

  • solsbury hill

    Why do you say 35 degrees?
    I’m in Uruguay South. That’s 34 degrees.
    The sun is ferocious right now. It is considered common knowledge that the sweet little hole in the ozone layer extends to here. And believe me, I’ve been in Spain, India, Italy, Morocco, Mexico, Chile, Indonesia, Australia…. you feel the ‘power’ of the sun i.e. there is something unusual about the way it hits you.
    The hole above ‘us’ doesn’t seem to be getting any better. I’ve talked with the farmers out there in the country. The old ones simply say that you can’t work in the fields nowadays like you could in the past. I can feel what they mean.
    I’m picking up that there is some debate about whether, just if, how quickly the hole might be being repaired.
    My perception of my experience here suggests to me that there might be just a suggestion of over-optimism in the air.
    If you’re passing here then by all means mail me, you can pick up my email from Disqus.. you have my permission.

  • greggf

    There is plenty of evidence that life itself was triggered by suitable em radiation, and even now mutations of which some are beneficial and aid evolution may be caused by em radiation including UV.

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