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The Ozone Problem

In the mid 1980s, it was realized that the ozone in the atmosphere is being depleted. There is only a very small quantity of this gas. If all the molecules of ozone were brought together at normal pressure they would make up a layer around the earth less than 3 mm thick. Yet ozone performs the extremely important function of blocking out much of the ultraviolet light that comes from the sun and is harmful to life. Life on earth was only able to emerge from the seas on to the land after plants had released enough oxygen to create an ozone shield. In the late 1980s scientists observed a large hole forming each year in the ozone over the Antarctic. More recently another hole has appeared over the Arctic. By the early 1990s there had been about a 3-5% reduction in the amount of one in the whole atmosphere. The main destructive gases, CFCs, remain active in the atmosphere for 100 years. The ozone problem illustrates the most important aspect of the general environment problem, i.e., the damage being done to the life support systems of the planet. Increased ultraviolet light coming to earth will have undesirable effects on various biological systems, including the productivity of broad leaf plants (and therefore agriculture) and the micro-organisms in the sea which account for a considerable proportion of the worlds ,oxygen and which take much carbon from the atmosphere. Processes such as these are crucial in maintaining the conditions necessary for the health of the entire planet, and the most worrying aspect of the environment problem is that in many ways human activity is degrading these systems and processes that. make life on earth possible.