Fears Rise as Ozone Levels Drop

Dr. Hugh Ross

Like the friends of the boy who cried, "Wolf!" many people ignore news of impending environmental disaster, thinking it to be environmentalists' hysteria over distorted scientific data. My experience in environmental research at the University of Toronto tells me that environmental data is usually good, but because of the enormous complexity of environmental problems, it is difficult to draw really definitive conclusions.

The global warming problem provides an example. There are so many factors both natural and man-made influencing temperature trends that no one can yet make secure predictions as to when or whether the current warming will cease.

The ozone problem is different. Yes, it is complex, but less so, and the body of data is far more complete. Measurements have been made over Antarctica (where the atmosphere is most stable and its constituents are most accurately measurable) every year since 1956.1

rapid depletion
What alarmed atmospheric physicists in the '70s and '80s was how rapidly the ozone layer appeared to be thinning. Through the '50s and '60s minimum levels of stratospheric ozone over Antarctica had measured to be a stable 225 Dobson units (these units are the recently adopted standard for describing measures of the quantity of atmospheric ozone). During the '70s, however, the quantity dropped dramatically downward.1 When it fell into the low hundreds, researchers began to talk about "the Antarctic ozone hole." By 1987 the hole had deepened. The ozone layer was as thin as 121 Dobson units.2

initial response
This precipitous depiction was found to correlate perfectly with man's increased use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). These chemicals did not exist in the earth's stratosphere until after the '50s. Each measured increase of CFCs in the stratosphere was complemented by a proportionate decrease in ozone.

When news of this undeniable correlation was released to the public in the '80s, the governments of many nations enacted legislation to limit the manufacture and use of CFCs. Unfortunately, there is a considerable time gap, ranging from two to thirty years, between the release of CFCs on the earth's surface and their arrival in the stratosphere. Therefore, a swift response to the problem brings neither swift nor swiftly measurable results.

problem worsens
There was a momentary sense of relief in 1989 and 1990 when the minimum ozone level appeared to hold steady at about 125 Dobson units. Researchers clung to hope that the ozone crisis had been abated.

However, just two weeks ago the figure for 1991 was released. On October 6 the Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer on the Nimbus-7 satellite detected a scant 110 Dobson units in that thin spot over Antarctica.3 This drop came in a year when the typical two-year pattern of fluctuation in ozone levels led to expectations of an increase.4

Further cause for alarm this year comes from balloon measurements revealing a significant ozone loss not just in the lower stratosphere over the South Pole but also in a layer from 27-29 kilometers in altitude. 3 Researchers also see the possibility of a negative feedback loop. Ozone destruction leads to colder polar temperatures. These colder temperatures produce stable airflows that prevent the mixing of ozone depleted air with ozone-richer midlatitude air. Thus, greater ozone depletion occurs, leading to even colder temperatures, and so on.3

problem widens
Still greater concern arises from the discovery that the problem is not confined to the polar regions. This was also the first year when summertime ozone decreases were detected over midlatitudes.5 In fact, a United Nations science panel announced in late October that ozone levels have been decreasing everywhere except over the tropics. In an Environmental Protection Agency (USA) report last April the ozone layer over heavily populated regions of the Northern Hemisphere was said to be thinning at twice the previously reported rate. As a result the EPA adjusted upwards its estimates of new cases of skin cancer in the U. S. by several million.6 Dupont, the world's leading producer of CFCs, announced that it would phase out its manufacture of CFCs by 1996.5

Additional concern surrounds the impact of the Mt. Pinatubo volcanic eruption in the Philippines. The dust cloud from this eruption, the largest of the century, could possibly chill the earth sufficiently to hasten the destruction of the ozone layer over large portions of the world, primarily the tropics and lower latitudes.7 Though this will be a significant factor for only the next few years, we cannot ignore the prospect of future eruptions of Mt. Pinatubo and/or of other volcanoes.

environmental consequences
As a result of the accumulating evidence in the last several weeks, virtually all ozone researchers agree that we are facing a major environmental problem, most would say "crisis." The levels of damaging ultraviolet radiation in Antarctica have already reached twice their normal values.8 To put this change in some perspective, Drs. John Frederick and Amy Alberts of the University of Chicago assert that the Antarctic may be experiencing its highest level of ultraviolet radiation since the ozone shield first formed about a billion years ago.8

One of the first and worst environmental consequences to be seen may be the large-scale destruction of certain species of phytoplankton. Since these species form the base of the polar food chain, the loss of fish, birds, and sea mammals could prove considerable.

Certain food crops are sensitive to even slight increases in ultraviolet radiation. Wheat, rice, corn, and soybeans are notable examples. And, as the EPA has pointed out, skin cancer, melanoma (much more deadly), and eye disorders can be expected to drastically increase.

warnings from the past
As I mentioned in an article three years ago (Facts & Faith, v. 2, no. 4, p. 5), all these catastrophes were man-made disasters were predicted not just a few decades ago, but thousands of years ago. The Bible clearly foretells a time when loathsome and malignant skin sores will break out on much of the world's population (Revelation 16:2), when everything in the oceans will die (Revelation 16:3), and when grain supplies will drop catastrophically (Revelation 6:5-8). The prophet Isaiah placed the blame squarely on man's shoulders. He declared that a day would come when man's foolishness and greed would grow so far out of control that man would literally pollute himself and his environment to death (Isaiah 24).

believers' response
From both a physical and spiritual standpoint, what are God's people to do? From a physical standpoint, we need to be wise in providing whatever ultraviolet protection we can for ourselves and our loved ones--sunscreen, hats, etc. We can also curtail our use of CFCs and whatever other chemicals we learn do damage to the ozone shield.

From a spiritual standpoint, we can prepare ourselves to address people's fears and their attempts to escape those fears. Some will pretend that the problem doesn't exist, believing that a few wild-eyed radicals are simply out to scare everyone. Some will console themselves with the fantasy that if there is a problem, someone will surely come up with a solution in time--at least in time to save us from any major discomfort. Others will rush to join one of many environmentalist groups and devote themselves to the cause of sociopolitical reform.

In our encounters with each of these types of individuals and others, we can gently, respectfully, and prayerfully point to the truth--that the problem is real, that political action (though necessary and good) will never be adequate to solve it, and that God is offering, free of charge, the one Son-screen that gives perfect and lasting protection--Jesus Christ Himself.

Our loving God uses man-made disasters to turn people's attention, and their hearts, away from self-destructive beliefs and actions, and toward Him and the eternal, indescribably wonderful life He has planned and prepared for us in His presence. Let's be ready to talk about it.


  1. Monastersky, R. "Ozone Hysteria?" Science News, v. 138 (1990), p. 307.
  2. Monastersky, R. "Antarctic Ozone Hole Sinks to a Record Low." Science News, v. 140 (1991), p. 245.
  3. Holden, Constance. "Antarctic Ozone Hole His Record Depth." Science, v. 254 (1991), p. 373.
  4. Monastersky, R. "Antarctic Ozone Hole Sinks to a Record Low." Science News, v. 140 (1991), p. 244.
  5. Monastersky, R. "Summer Ozone Loss Detected for the First Time." Science News, v. 140 (1991), p. 278.
  6. Monastersky, R. "Ozone Decreasing over U. S." Science News, v. 139 (1991), p. 231.
  7. Peterson, I. "Volcano Could Cool Climate, Reduce Ozone." Science News, v. 140 (1991), p. 7.
  8. Science News editors. "UV Pours through Ozone Hole." Science News, v. 140 (1991), p. 214.

Copyright (c) 1991 Reasons to Believe. All rights reserved. Used by permission.