Whatever happened to the ozone layer?

“Don’t, don’t you worry about the atmosphere or any sudden pressure change. ‘Cause I know that it’s starting to get warm in here and things are starting to get strange.”
—Andrew Bird, The Mysterious Production of Eggs

I’ve participated recently in a couple of embarrassing talks about the ozone layer. One occurred last semester in a graduate-level class with fellow students of environmental literature, no less. Sadly, none of us could say with certainty whether the ozone layer was getting better or worse, whether it was still ebbing away—or slowly being nursed back to health.

Ah, blissful ignorance.

A couple of decades ago, our undies were a’bundlin’ about the depletion of stratospheric ozone, the layer of the atmosphere that protects the Earth from harmful ultraviolet ray levels. Forward-thinking legislators solved the problem with the passage of the Clean Air Act, which began to regulate a long list of ozone-depleting gluppity-glup.

Then we forgot about the problem. When’s the last time you heard a news story on the status of ozone depletion?

After the uninformed class discussion, I meant to investigate the status of ozone. But I forgot.

And then, there I was just last week, having the same discussion with another group of educated humans—none of us armed with any real knowledge.

It’s a sad state of affairs, really. So much information—so few cold, hard facts.

I don’t blame myself. Who was surprised last week when U.S. government scientists testified that they’ve been pressured to eliminate references to climate change in their research? A Union of Concerned Scientists survey done by the Government Accountability Project reported that scientists working for the Bush administration on global warming and ozone depletion issues have seen their work changed to misrepresent findings. Climate-related research materials have disappeared from Web sites. Reported The New York Times: “Almost 60 percent of the scientists who responded to the survey said they had personally experienced such an incident in the last five years.”

Thank heavens we have a robust and independent media to set the record straight.

Finally, this week, I got around to looking up journal articles on ozone depletion. It seems that the decline hit a plateau between 1996 and 2002, according to a 2005 study in the Journal of Geophysical Research. In the past few years, the ozone layer may have increased incrementally in parts of the Northern Hemisphere.

That’s good news.

A 2006 study by NASA and two other U.S. agencies finds that the ozone hole is, however, “taking longer to recover than previously thought.”

The study projects that the ozone layer over Antarctica would take almost 20 years longer to fully mend. Early forecasts put recovery around 2050; now it’s 2068.

Oddly, not much media coverage on these findings.

Funny how something that seems so urgent fades over time.

Now the smart kids at CNN and USA Today warn us daily that our planet is heating up. But no one really asks us to change our lifestyles.

Stop driving so much. Turn down the heat. Stop eating meat. Yeah, you heard that right. A report published late last year by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization calculated that livestock production not only crappifies land and water, but it also generates more greenhouse gas emissions (18 percent) than transportation.

Of course, millions of people make their living raising critters. So there’s that.

I expect some kind of Global Warming Act of 2007 to come along. Then we can take a deep breath and stop worrying about melting polar ice caps. And the media can move on to more important topics, like tracking down Aqua Teen terrorists.