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Ozone holeAustralia is trying to save its skin

It doesn't take too long to get on the roof of the climate research station in Cape Grim, Australia. A narrow, steep staircase with well-worn wooden steps leads up from the first floor of the bulky, low-rise concrete building. Then it goes through a heavy security door outside into the cold morning air.

Jill Caney is the Cape Grim meteorologist on duty. The 41-year-old did her doctorate in atmospheric climate research, but here on the deserted northwestern tip of Tasmania everyone calls her "Miss Ozone". Every morning Jill reads the current weather values ​​from measuring devices on the gravel-covered roof and notes them in her climate logbook: dust particles per cubic millimeter of air, CO2 content and the concentration of various gases.

The air that passes Cape Grim comes straight from Antarctica. It is clear, pure and clean. The cleanest in the world. Unspoiled by industrial and car exhaust fumes and the smog of big cities. This is why the Australian climate research station is Ground Zero for observing the ozone layer - the invisible shell that protects the earth from the harmful rays of the sun.

The story of the ozone hole can be found in silver, 35 liter stainless steel cylinders. The 150 containers, around 80 cm high, packed in cardboard boxes and crackling plastic film, are an archive that is unique in the world. Filled with a special probe, they contain atmospheric air samples from the past 38 years: the chronicle of the destruction of the ozone layer.

"The first tanks were filled in 1976 when Cape Grim started operations - that's how far the air archive goes back. Four tanks are filled and stored every year. As with a library, we can use them to historically record every gas in the atmosphere."

When in the 1980s even experts argued about whether the ozone hole even existed, climate researchers in Cape Grim had everything in black and white. The archived air samples were analyzed in chemical detective work. Soon the grave diggers of the ozone layer were found: CFCs from cooling systems, air conditioning systems and spray cans.

Air archive, cylinder number 44. 1987 was a bad year for the ozone layer. The hole was almost as big as North America at the time. Until, in the Montreal Protocol, the governments of over 60 countries committed themselves to stop manufacturing CFCs. Today, almost 30 years later, climatologist Jill Caney has good news and bad news.

TV spots provide information about the dangers of sunbathing

"The amount of CFCs in the atmosphere is no longer increasing, but decreasing. Thanks to the Montreal Protocol. But since then there have been substitutes. Although they do not attack the ozone layer, they are harmful greenhouse gases. That means we have one less problem. but another is getting worse and worse. "

Greenhouse gases have increased sharply since the 1970s through industry, power generation, automobiles and agriculture. With devastating consequences. The lower earth atmosphere is heating up more and more and the diseased ozone layer above it takes longer to recover. Jill Caney's measurements in northwest Tasmania show that the earth is becoming an increasingly hot area. Age-old heat records are tumbling in Australia; 2013 was by far the warmest since temperature records were made.

"If we don't do anything about the increasing climate change, then the ozone hole won't get any smaller. The ozone will not start to form again until 20 or 30 years at the earliest.

On Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia's most famous beach. An armada of lifeguards watches over more than 15,000 sun-seekers on a hot summer's day. Locals and tourists alike.

Although the beach is protected by a net further out, a shark has been sighted. As a precaution, the lifeguards clear the water. But the greater danger for beach visitors is not lurking in the sea, but on land, in the glaring sunlight.

They belong to summer in Australia like sun, surf, beach or waves. TV spots provide information about the pitfalls of sunbathing in the age of the ozone hole. Because the dermatologists' waiting rooms are full. With young people who want to "be brown", chic, but find the application of sunscreen "annoying".

Cancer specialist Allan Coates, however, is primarily concerned with the elderly: with a generation that in the carefree 50s and 60s had no idea that sunburn was a problem that got under the skin.

"We don't mince words in these awareness-raising campaigns. Because in Australia we still have to teach people about the dangers of our environment. Most people think: 'Nothing will happen to me'. But every day I see people dying of skin cancer. These are personal tragedies that almost all of them could be avoided. "

"Red today, dead tomorrow. Two out of three Australians get skin cancer at least once in their lives, around 1500 die from it every year. Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world, sunburn is almost negligent bodily harm. Only the careless and tourists like Denis from Nuremberg go into the sun unprotected:

"If, for example, you only drive the car and have your arm on the window sill and the rays of the sun shine on your forearm, then that is sometimes really painful, like in the microwave, that is, the sun is simply merciless here."

The former topless society of Australia is increasingly leading a shadowy existence

Jamie Biggs works as an astronomer at the Sydney Observatory. For decades he has been observing distant planets, galaxies and celestial bodies through his telescope. But he is not comfortable with the sun. Since its rays have been getting stronger and stronger, the passionate surfing rider has been leaving his surfboard at home more and more often. The former topless society of Australia is increasingly leading a shadowy existence.

"Many ignore the warnings and continue to sizzle unprotected in the sun. Most now think twice about going to the beach. We stay indoors longer and work at other times so that we have fewer problems later. Our society has changed. "

Shade sails, creams or special protective clothing: since the discovery of the ozone hole, sun protection has been a boom industry in Australia - annual sales: almost half a billion euros.

The dark side of the sun has made fashion. Instead of wearing bikinis and shorts as they did in the past, children now only splash around in high-necked UV light-proof swim overalls. The ozone hole is costing Australia dearly. In the cities, it is a requirement that the windows of office towers are covered with an expensive UV-light-repellent protective film, large companies are obliged to provide sufficient shade on the company premises. The government even waives VAT on sunscreens. And that's not all.

Parks, gardens or green spaces: landscape gardener Jake Pearson's office is nature. Wherever he mows or plants, Jake wears a wide-brimmed hat, a cotton shirt with long sleeves, gloves and long pants - no matter how hot it is. As much as he enjoys working in the fresh air, the ozone hole is always and everywhere. A good million Australians, like Jake, have a job that they do outside. You can deduct the cost of protective clothing, cream, sunglasses, and hats from tax. The tax office will lose billions as a result, but gardener Jake Pearson believes that otherwise the consequences of the ozone hole would cost Australia even more.

"It's important and will save the government a lot of money in the long run. Because our tax savings are a low price to pay compared to the high medical costs they would otherwise have to pay for later."

"Slip" - put on a long-sleeved shirt, "Slop" - put on a hat or a cap and "Slap" - put on enough sunscreen: Generations of Australians know the educational TV spot with the careless snowman who melts because he's in the sun for too long was. Tens of millions are spent on education by health officials every year. Robert Benton of the National Skin Cancer Screening Admits: Australia is trying to save its skin.

"We are largely a fair-skinned society that lives in an almost hostile environment - namely very close to the equator. People must finally understand that the sun is not our friend. Especially in summer."

Prevention already in school

It's a break at St. Mary's School on the outskirts of Brisbane. The children play catch or ball, eat their bread or annoy the teachers. Although it is cloudy, all students wear a cloth hat or baseball cap. Not because it's fashion, but for their protection. Nowhere in the world do you get sunburn faster than on the east coast of Australia. The only thing that will help against this is sunscreen, which blocks all of the sun's harmful rays. But because many children often forget which ones to wear, there is a separate dispenser with suntan lotion in the playground at St. Mary's School.

Miss Morton, their teacher, explains to the students how the dispenser works. Simply hold your hand underneath and press the button with the other - the sunscreen comes out below. Spread on the face and arms and put the hat or cap back on. Finished. Only then does the school principal Alan McIntyre let the children play in the schoolyard.

"Our rule: no hat - no game. If children don't have their hats on, then they are not allowed to romp around with the others outside either. We put the cream dispensers on because ten minutes unprotected in the sun are enough to get burned We wanted to do something about that. "

Sun protection at the push of a button. Headmaster McIntyre has turned six old soap dispensers into suntan lotion machines. At a height of just 80 centimeters, they are easy to reach and use for all children in the schoolyard. And the parents are also enthusiastic.

"With the donors here, they can take care of themselves. Above all, this is an important sign for the children of how important it is for everyone to have sunscreen in their free time. That's why I think this is a great idea."

Sabine Müller came to Australia from Stuttgart over ten years ago with her husband and their two children Michael and Daniel. Mainly because of the good weather. In the past, she hardly paid any attention to the sun protection factor when using sun creams. The higher the number, the longer you can stay in the sun. In Germany an 8 or 12 was sufficient, but in Australia there are only creams with at least a sun protection factor of 30.

"Nothing works without a hat and without sunscreen. Even on a day like today, when it's quite cloudy. You still get sunburn in no time. You can't do anything about it. So at times, for example, between eleven and Four we generally don't go to the beach. We stay in the house during peak hours and go in the morning or in the late afternoon. It's sad, but that's how it is. "

Negative consequences of the sun protection campaigns

In Australia, children learn sun protection before the traffic rules. But the health authorities' campaigns to be wary of the sun have - literally - their downsides. Because more and more Australians are not getting too much, but too little sun. Sunlight is actually good for us; it supplies the body with 90 percent of the needs of vitamin D, which is mainly responsible for strong bones. However, a long-term study by the medical doctor Julie Pasco has shown that almost 40 percent of all women in Australia have low vitamin D values. This is due to the ozone hole and too much sun protection.

"We flee from the sun in the shade, cover our skin with cream and protective clothing and avoid the sunlight. That is why so many Australians are deficient in vitamin D. We don't want people to be careless and get sunburned. But we have to Weighing the benefits of sunlight versus the risk of skin cancer. "

Hanging the laundry outside or reading the newspaper on the balcony is enough: half an hour of sunshine a day - and the body is supplied with sufficient vitamin D. But Australians are constantly warned not to go out in the sun. Scientist Mark Stein is studying at the University of Melbourne how much sunlight affects the immune system and general well-being. He fears that a generation of sun-shy Australians will grow up who will later suffer from porous bones and weak muscles due to chronic vitamin D deficiency.

“It's hard to say in general how much sunlight each of us needs. What if it rains? Does someone prefer long or short sleeves and does it make a difference whether it's summer or winter? The best is vitamin tablets to take to manage his vitamin D levels. "

Australians love their place in the sun - despite the ozone hole, rising temperatures and the consequences of climate change. But even though the sun shines more than 300 days a year, solar energy is hardly used. Electricity is mainly generated by burning coal. The pollutants that are released in the process only make the ozone hole bigger. And that's why the sun will probably make redskins out of pale Australian faces in the future as well.