Finding hope for the planet in an old sweater
It’s no secret anymore that most of us have been spending a lot more time at home. To pass the time, some of us have started tackling projects that have been on our to-do lists for months, even years. For me, that meant cleaning out our spare rooms, which led to unearthing a number of treasures, including a sweater I thought I’d given away. Pulling it out of the storage bin, memories (and the overwhelming smell of dust) flooded back. I resolved to wash it and wear it as soon as I could, because although it is old and ill-fitting, that sweater holds for me a message of hope and resilience. It’s a great reminder of the power that global action can have on the health of our environment.
You see, stamped across the front in bold white letters are the words “Protect the ozone.” Beneath them is an image of the top half of the Earth as seen from space. Arching over it is a thin dotted line with a gap in it, meant to represent the hole in the ozone layer. A relic of the early 1990s (some might even call it “retro”), I wore it with pride over my school uniform on my way to school on chilly mornings. For me, it was a symbol of my growing awareness that our collective actions were having a significant impact on our natural environment.
Earth as seen from space (Photo by Pixabay)
Now I’m not saying that I did anything super inspiring back then, like form an environmental club in our high school or petition the government to ban the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that were degrading the ozone layer. But I did start to become more conscious of the impact of my individual actions, such as choosing CFC-free deodorant and hairspray. The sweatshirt also represented my growing personal mission to raise awareness about the impacts of our actions on the environment. My school writing assignments started turning more toward topics such animal testing and environmental issues. I began to think about a career where I could use writing to communicate the importance of protecting our natural world.
Eventually, the sweatshirt was packed away and I forgot about it, thinking I’d given it away. I went to university and studied biology, English, then environmental communications. Then, I found my way into a career where I was doing exactly what I’d planned to all those years ago: communicating about the importance of protecting our natural world.
Yet still I secretly hoped that one day I’d come across the sweater in a thrift shop. Because by now, I realized it held a message about the power of collective global action.
Recently, NASA announced that, last year, the hole in the ozone layer was the smallest it had been since its discovery in 1985. The reduction is thanks in part to warmer weather and changing wind patterns. But it’s also partly due to global action by citizens, and forward-thinking business leaders and politicians to ban CFCs under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, signed in 1987.
It took another 23 years after the protocol was signed for these substances to start decreasing in the atmosphere. Since 2000, they have been decreasing gradually, but have still remained in high-enough levels to cause ozone loss. Even with these decreases, because ozone-depleting substances like CFCs persist in the environment for a long time, scientists predict it will be another 50 years until the ozone layer recovers to its 1980 levels. But we know that if we stay the course, together we will get there. The hole in the ozone will only be fixed through sustained, long-term, collective global action.
Along with the success of global actions to curb acid rain, the hole in the ozone layer represents one of the best examples of international cooperation to solve complex environmental problems, some might even say at the 11th hour.
Like the hole in the ozone layer, climate change and conservation of nature are two examples of global issues that require worldwide action at all levels. We need the concerted commitment of governments, corporations and citizens if we want to ensure a sustainable path forward.
Thinking back on it, the timing of the rediscovery of my high school sweater couldn’t have been more perfect: found again during a time of global slowing down during a pandemic, it’s a reminder of the importance of taking time to reflect about the world we want to return to, and what the new normal could look like.
With a collective slowing down of society and a decrease in travel, scientists have reported drastic reductions in emissions worldwide. Many of us have had more time to notice the animals living alongside us. What can we do, collectively and individually, to ensure the gains made during this time continue, once society begins a gradual reopening? How can we continue to live more slowly and deliberately, to be more aware of the impact of our own actions?
As we return to the next normal, the decisions we make will have global, long-lasting repercussions. We can start in our own homes, even now — whether by planting native plants in our backyards to provide habitat for native pollinators, sharing our wildlife sightings through citizen science apps or supporting a conservation organization like the Nature Conservancy of Canada or others. Even taking five minutes with nature each day can help us reconnect with it.
No one can do it alone, but together our collective efforts can lead to a groundswell of positive impact. Nature has been with us through all this time. Let’s make sure that this time of reflection means we are there for nature, too.
As I write this, the sweater has just come out of the wash. It’s sitting in my laundry bin, to be folded and stacked in my closet; ready to wear the next time I need a reminder of why my individual actions matter in our global efforts to protect the natural world around us. In fact, I think I’ll pull it out tomorrow for our communication team’s video call.