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Ozone Blog

A blog written by Rajendra Shende, Former Head of the OzonAction Branch, in his personal capacity. This blog does not reflect the policy or position of UNEP or the DTIE OzonAction Branch.
Aug 3

Written by: ozonAction
8/3/2007  RssIcon

Science-driven policy making requires that legislators fully understand science. My many years of experience with bureaucrats have shown that there is a need to de-mystify science and explain the intricacies in a simple language. One of my numerous encounters during international meetings resulted in the following questions from a top-level bureaucrat: "Mr Shende, this is all fine. But how do you explain the science of ozone depletion to a mother?"

I presumed that he believed that mothers do not understand the intricacies of science unless explained in household terms. I, of course, disagreed with his assumption, but decided to take up a challenge. I developed the following dialogue between a mother and a school going child and gave to him in the next 45 minutes.

Mother: What is this ozone layer? I only know about 'chocolate layers' in the cakes I make.

Child: Mother, you do make extremely tasty chocolate layer cakes. But "Mother Earth" has made another kind of layer called the "ozone layer" - about 20-40 km above the earth! It is certainly not as thick as a chocolate layer! In fact it is very thin. Out of 1 million air molecules, less than 10 are of ozone.

Mother: I cannot believe that such a small amount would make such a difference to life on earth.

Child: But it does. Imagine making a pot of soup. Just a very small amount of herbs or spices make that soup spring to life. It's the same in the case of ozone molecules. And Mother Nature always keeps the ozone layer in balance, just as you always keep your tasty soup in delicious balance.

Mother: OK, so that tasty layer makes life possible on earth.

Child: Exactly, it blocks the deadly UV rays from the sun and saves us from skin cancer. But, the CFC-based aerosol that you sprayed on your hair when you were young, and the CFC-based air-conditioner that I used in my first car damaged the ozone layer and thus the ozone hole was created.

Mother: How could a hair spray, affect the ozone layer enough to make a hole in it?

Child: Don't you recall when father cooks pasta down in the kitchen, and we are upstairs playing cards, how just the smell of the pasta drifting upstairs makes us feel hungry? Well, it's the same process.

Mother: Oh my dear! So now I can never go to the beach to bathe in the sun, because the UV rays will strike me!

Child: Well, thanks to the global agreement called the Montreal Protocol, the wealthy countries of the world have stopped production and consumption of CFCs.

Mother: But who gives the money to assist all these developing countries?

Child: I knew that you would ask this question, Mom! The money is given by the rich countries who were mainly responsible for damaging the ozone layer. Do you recall when I used to mess up my room - you used to say "You messed it up, now you clean it "! Well it's the same idea ….and developing countries are showing tremendous progress the way I am showing now in my studies!!

Mother: So why is it not showing a continuous decline, if this programme of yours has really done good work?

Child: Mom, atmospheric chemistry is very complex and even chaotic. Imagine, when all of your friends meet for a party, they make a lot of noise. Can you possibly pinpoint (or hear) what one of your friends whispers in the ear of another friend during the party? This is the same case. But thanks to the collective actions by the world community , at least we have arrested the rising trend! The risk is diminished. That's the rare success!! United nations is proud of it.

Mother: Wow …. So, now I can go to the beach!….

Child: Well, hold on, not so fast! It's like when you go for a long hike. You are on the right track according to the map, but you have still not reached the destination.

Mother: That sounds like UN language! Nothing is sure … everything is vague.

Child: Nothing is sure because we have made this world uncertain. Your and my generations have released so many CFCs in the atmosphere that they are still traveling to the ozone layer and will still continue to cause damage. We still drive cars and use fossil fuels to generate electricity….that causes climate change… and this climate change may delay ozone layer recovery.

I thought how useful it will be if mother of this top level bureaucrat would also be explained in similar simple language the way the bureaucracy works.

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Categories: 2007
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