It could be said that the first pollution started with the lighting of the first fire. In 1869, the declaration of the Massachusetts Public Health Committee gave the first important scientific warning that highlighted that environmental concerns had reached threatening dimensions. Today, environmental problems arise for the most part from industrialization and unplanned urbanization that is the consequence of industrialization.
Cleanliness and economy are fundamental precautions that need to be taken to protect the environment. In the Holy Qur’an and in the hadiths cleanliness is given great importance:
Truly God loves those who turn unto Him, and loves those who have a care for cleanliness. (Baqara 2:222)
In this verse, we are being told that the people whom God loves are those who regret their wrongdoings and turn to Him and those who are clean. Thus, a moral cleanliness with penitence is stressed alongside physical cleanliness.
Environmental problems are wide ranging: Global warming, the destruction of forests, erosion, desertification, the depletion of the ozone layer, the contamination of lakes and rivers, accumulation of solid waste, air pollution in major cities, electromagnetic pollution, radioactive pollution, noise pollution, etc. All those are of importance and require special attention, one by one. The most important environmental problems which face our world today are:
1. Global warming
2. An increase in the depletion of the ozone layer
The ozone layer that surrounds our world is a subject that has to be approached seriously. The Earth’s crust is the layer that consists of the atmosphere, the oceans, and the solid part of the Earth on which we live that extends 17 kilometers down. The most plentiful element on the surface of the Earth is oxygen; its mass is at a rate of 49.5%. Oxygen is found in metal ores, plants, animals, humans, water, and in the atmosphere. In its free state it usually exists in a diatomic molecule; that is O2. The molecule that consists of three oxygen atoms is called ozone. Ozone is an allotrope of oxygen, and thus has a different structure. If a certain amount of energy is given to diatomic oxygen molecules, then triatomic ozone molecules are formed, as seen in the following formula:
3 02 (g) + 68 Kcal --> 2 03 (g)
While oxygen makes up 20% of the atmosphere in volume, and 21% by mass, the average amount of ozone is 0.02% ppm by volume; that is equal to 1/10 billionth the amount of oxygen. Due to its higher oxidating effect in comparison to oxygen, a high ozone concentration would be very harmful to living beings. Ozone concentration, which in low altitudes is low, increases with altitude, until 30 km; in the stratosphere it reaches a tenfold concentration, 0.2% ppm. In altitudes that are higher than 30 km, the ozone concentration decreases gradually, with no ozone being found in altitudes higher than 80 km.
This high concentration of ozone in the atmosphere at altitudes of 30 km is what is known as the ozone layer. The ozone layer acts like a curtain that protects living beings from harmful effects of high energy sun radiation, and is therefore vital for human life. The sun protects us by filtering the harmful UV rays of the sun and preventing them from reaching the surface of the Earth. If this rate of prevention of UV rays falls below 99% the consequences in nature are critical. The most basic of such results would be an increase in cases of human skin cancer. In the long term, the high energy rays would destroy the C – H and 0 – H bonds that are found in living organisms, and thus would mean the destruction of life.
In chemistry books we can already find chemical equations that show us why ozone exists at 30 km high and why certain industrial chemicals decompose and destroy the ozone layer; we can also discover why this activity is occurring at the North and South Poles. Preventive measures are also listed in such books so that we can take to prevent this from happening.
The most important aspect of this topic for us is that it is totally impossible for these molecules to cause such consequences by their own will and choice; this is due to the great mercy and wisdom that is inherent in the creation of the Earth. While this substance is harmful to living creatures in low altitudes, its existence in higher regions of the atmosphere is vital to all the life on the Earth.
In chemistry books, the abundance of hydrogen in higher regions of the atmosphere is explained by its small molecule weight (2g), but not a single word is mentioned about the miraculous formation of the ozone layer at 30 km! But, logically one would presume that due to its being 24 times heavier (48g) than hydrogen, ozone should be found in its highest concentration nearest to the surface of Earth.
The “ozone curtain” is truly a curtain. It is a test for us: A curtain that hides the truth of a protective hand; a curtain beyond which we should try to see.
1 Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Rays, Fourth Ray, Sozler Publications.