By Paul Young :
SPRING 2060. In dark glasses, a wide sunhat and with what little exposed skin left caked in sun cream, a child stares at the woodland across from their house. It looks scraggly and stunted, and with far fewer leaves than in the old photos she has seen. Still, no time to dwell on it: there’s a UV index of 20 and she’s already spent five minutes outside.
Thankfully, this is not our future. Due to steps the world took in the 1980s to protect the ozone layer, a region of the upper atmosphere that absorbs the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation, we have one less environmental problem to worry about. In the mid-1970s, scientists realised that the ozone layer was being depleted by the growing use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as refrigerants and as propellants in aerosol cans, among other applications. With the 1987 signing of the Montreal Protocol, which was later strengthened by numerous amendments and ratified by 197 countries, the world phased out CFCs.
Today, CFC levels in the atmosphere are falling and the ozone layer is beginning to recover. But what if the Montreal Protocol was never signed? What would the world we managed to avoid have looked like? This is the subject of a new study led by me with an international team of collaborators. In earlier research, scientists showed there would have been thousands more skin cancer cases in such a world, where the ozone layer is thinner and higher levels of UV radiation reach the planet’s surface.