“The early ‘80s were a very different time. Crazy hair, crazy clothes, we didn’t know we were heading towards a planet-wide disaster. And if nothing had been done about it, this is what the world would have become in 2065: Crops fail, livestock farming fails, aquaculture fails, and cancer rates are through the roof. Step outdoors in Washington DC, you’ll get a severe sunburn in 5 minutes.
But lucky for us, NASA had our backs in the ‘80s. That’s right, this is basically a real-world Armageddon story, but without the asteroid ... and, BONUS, it’s scientifically accurate.
NASA might be famous for exploring space, but that’s not its only job. The agency studies Earth, too. Which helps it track how our environment works and catch when something goes wrong. And in 1985, things had indeed gone terribly wrong.
Teams of scientists from NASA and the British Antarctic Survey discovered a severely damaged section of Earth’s ozone layer over Antarctica.
Here’s why that’s a problem: The ozone layer is a region in the stratosphere that absorbs harmful UV light from the sun. It’s basically our planet’s natural sunscreen. And it had grown extremely thin over Antarctica. So the ozone hole, as it became known, was absorbing less UV light than normal.
In fact, from Sept. through Nov. of that year, the ozone levels in the hole dropped by up to 67%. That’s like if you used only a third of the sunscreen you were supposed to before going to the beach. Thankfully, NASA had a pretty good idea of what was happening. For years prior, scientists had been sounding the alarm on chemicals called CHLOROFLUOROCARBONS, or CFCs for short.
They were common in products like aerosol sprays and refrigerators and were chosen specifically because they were non-toxic to humans. But scientists soon discovered that didn’t matter because these molecules were extremely toxic to the ozone layer!
Turns out, when UV light hits a CFC molecule, it releases a chlorine atom which basically goes on a killing spree to celebrate. Turning ozone molecules into oxygen which are worthless when it comes to protecting your planet from UV radiation. One chlorine atom, for instance, can destroy over 100,000 ozone molecules before it binds with another molecule and becomes inert. And the worst part? Chlorine atoms are especially destructive to the ozone in cold temperatures. Making Antarctica especially vulnerable.
But if CFC's continued to go on unchecked, cold regions wouldn’t be the only casualty. By 2020: 17% would be gone worldwide and a similar ozone hole forms over the Arctic. By 2040 70% would be gone. By 2050 After the poles, the tropics lose their ozone layer completely. And in 2065 We’re doomed!
UV radiation levels on Earth’s surface double, which sparks all sorts of problems.
“If that UV were coming all the way to the surface, we would get skin cancer, we would have cataracts on our eyes, animals would get cataracts, our crops would die! So life on Earth —life on Earth for humans — really wouldn’t be possible. It sounds like some kind of horrible Hollywood disaster movie.I think we would have been in for a —well, it sounds pretty extreme —apocalyptic consequences. But really, we might have been.”
Fortunately, none of that happened. That's because scientists across the world banded together. The Montreal Protocol was signed into effect in 1987, lowering production of harmful CFCs.
“The policymakers listened to science, they were informed by science, and they made a great decision….And it worked!”
By 1996, CFCs were banned completely in developed countries. And today, Now satellite data indicates that the Ozone hole is on the mend. And if we keep it up, it could be completely healed by the end of this century.
So it looks like the world won’t crumble by 2065 anymore. Well, at least not from a depleted ozone layer.”
How NASA Actually Helped Save The World (5 minutes):