Atmospheric Oxygen Levels Are Dropping Faster Than Atmospheric Carbon Levels Are Rising

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/c7/Earth6391.jpg/128px-Earth6391.jpgForget rising temperatures and bigger storms, this is the big problem that neither side of the mainstream debate over environmental destruction is talking about.  Peter Tatchell reported for the Guardian back in 2008:

The rise in carbon dioxide emissions is big news. It is prompting action to reverse global warming. But little or no attention is being paid to the long-term fall in oxygen concentrations and its knock-on effects.

Compared to prehistoric times, the level of oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere has declined by over a third and in polluted cities the decline may be more than 50%. This change in the makeup of the air we breathe has potentially serious implications for our health. Indeed, it could ultimately threaten the survival of human life on earth, according to Roddy Newman, who is drafting a new book, The Oxygen Crisis.

I am not a scientist, but this seems a reasonable concern. It is a possibility that we should examine and assess. So, what’s the evidence?

Around 10,000 years ago, the planet’s forest cover was at least twice what it is today, which means that forests are now emitting only half the amount of oxygen.

Desertification and deforestation are rapidly accelerating this long-term loss of oxygen sources.

The story at sea is much the same. Nasa reports that in the north Pacific ocean oxygen-producing phytoplankton concentrations are 30% lower today, compared to the 1980s. This is a huge drop in just three decades.

Moreover, the UN environment programme confirmed in 2004 that there were nearly 150 “dead zones” in the world’s oceans where discharged sewage and industrial waste, farm fertiliser run-off and other pollutants have reduced oxygen levels to such an extent that most or all sea creatures can no longer live there. This oxygen starvation is reducing regional fish stocks and diminishing the food supplies of populations that are dependent on fishing. It also causes genetic mutations and hormonal changes that can affect the reproductive capacity of sea life, which could further diminish global fish supplies.

Professor Robert Berner of Yale University has researched oxygen levels in prehistoric times by chemically analysing air bubbles trapped in fossilised tree amber. He suggests that humans breathed a much more oxygen-rich air 10,000 years ago.

Further back, the oxygen levels were even greater. Robert Sloan has listed the percentage of oxygen in samples of dinosaur-era amber as: 28% (130m years ago), 29% (115m years ago), 35% (95m years ago), 33% (88m years ago), 35% (75m years ago), 35% (70m years ago), 35% (68m years ago), 31% (65.2m years ago), and 29% (65m years ago).

Professor Ian Plimer of Adelaide University and Professor Jon Harrison of the University of Arizona concur. Like most other scientists they accept that oxygen levels in the atmosphere in prehistoric times averaged around 30% to 35%, compared to only 21% today – and that the levels are even less in densely populated, polluted city centres and industrial complexes, perhaps only 15 % or lower.

Much of this recent, accelerated change is down to human activity, notably the industrial revolution and the burning of fossil fuels. The Professor of Geological Sciences at Notre Dame University in Indiana, J Keith Rigby, was quoted in 1993-1994 as saying:

In the 20th century, humanity has pumped increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning the carbon stored in coal, petroleum and natural gas. In the process, we’ve also been consuming oxygen and destroying plant life – cutting down forests at an alarming rate and thereby short-circuiting the cycle’s natural rebound. We’re artificially slowing down one process and speeding up another, forcing a change in the atmosphere.

Very interesting. But does this decline in oxygen matter? Are there any practical consequences that we ought to be concerned about? What is the effect of lower oxygen levels on the human body? Does it disrupt and impair our immune systems and therefore make us more prone to cancer and degenerative diseases?

The effects of long term oxygen deprivation on the brain, called cerebral hypoxia, are known and some sound reminiscent of the general rise of stupidity in the industrialized world.

Professor Ervin Laszlo (quoted in Tatchell’s article) writes:

Evidence from prehistoric times indicates that the oxygen content of pristine nature was above the 21% of total volume that it is today. It has decreased in recent times due mainly to the burning of coal in the middle of the last century. Currently the oxygen content of the Earth’s atmosphere dips to 19% over impacted areas, and it is down to 12 to 17% over the major cities. At these levels it is difficult for people to get sufficient oxygen to maintain bodily health: it takes a proper intake of oxygen to keep body cells and organs, and the entire immune system, functioning at full efficiency. At the levels we have reached today cancers and other degenerative diseases are likely to develop. And at 6 to 7% life can no longer be sustained.

More specific details regarding the drop in atmospheric oxygen can be found here.

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  • Anarchy Pony

    They weren’t kidding back when they used to say the Amazon was the lungs of the earth.
    But don’t worry kiddos, I’m sure it’s all just a UN commie plot to steal your private property and destroy capitalism(what a tragedy! :P).

    • emperorreagan

      Why are scientists always coming up with these get rich schemes to ruin the economy for their own benefit?!?

      • Anarchy Pony

        I kno, right?

      • James

        So when everyones breathing the emissions from unmaintained trucks then youll be happy with that?…why should I suffer just because you want to drive you car?…they ban smoking in public places yet you and your mates are spewing out tons and tons of smoke out of your cars and trust forcing me to have to smell and breath that crap…think about things a bit before you open your mouth, the energy companys are taking no responsibility for there actions, we make tobacco companies be responsible but not energy companies why is that?…just because your not affecting me directly doesnt mean its not affecting my general environment which im entitled to enjoy unhindered why should I be forced to put up with your smelly smoking crap??

        • emperorreagan

          “think about things a bit before you open your mouth”

          Think about about the context before you reply to a dig up an old conversation thread. UN commies stealing property and scientists with get rich schemes? Jokes.

          Thanks for the reminder that I need to turn off Disqus email notifications, though.

    • kowalityjesus

      Brazil has made a commitment to reduce deforestation by 80% by 2020. 2009 had the least deforestation of any year on record (since 1980s). Unfortunately, reducing forest cover is still reducing forest cover semi-permanently, due to the depletion that exposed soils rapidly undergo from erosion. The vast majority of it is due to cattle ranching, secondarily slash and burn agriculture, tertiarily logging. So in effect, you can save the rainforest by starting a cattle ranch elsewhere.

      • Bluebird_of_Fastidiousness

        Ain’t nothing semi-permanent about it. The soils of the Amazon basin are among the oldest on the planet. The rocks are weathered and have nothing left to give. All the nutrition is tied up in the biomass. When it’s up into the atmosphere or down the river, it’s gone.

        Don’t worry though. As despicable and horrendous as this rape is, it won’t effect you. Return to your 5th Ipod shuffle and jazzercize!

        • kowalityjesus

          my roommate who will be in the country for only another couple months has expressed dismay at the thought of getting a phone with a minutes-based plan and afterwards simply discarding it, citing a documentary on rare-earth mines. It is a rare-earth event to give a shit about that kind of thing I am afraid. Not that environmental fortuitousness is impossible, just that it prerequisites are poorly promulgated.

          • Bluebird_of_Fastidiousness

            I agree on both counts. Geological time is the only thing which grants me solace anymore. It’s a hard retreat, to consider spans of time which no human will ever witness, but it seems that is the one thing which will heal this planet.

      • Anarchy Pony

        Or you could… not start another cattle ranch at all. Just spit-balling here.

        • kowalityjesus

          the idea is, increase supply of beef to lower price, thereby disincentivizing the cattle farmers in Brazil. That or incite coup of American govt and subsequently invade Brazil.

          • Andrew

            I disincentivize the cattle farmers in Brazil the only way I personally can by never eating beef.

      • Anarchy Pony

        Or you could… not start another cattle ranch at all. Just spit-balling here.

    • http://twitter.com/JannicaBalore Jannica Balore

      I’m making $86 an hour working from home. I was shocked when my neighbour told me she was averaging $95 but I see how it works now. I feel so much freedom now that I’m my own boss. This is what I do, Fox79.comONLY

  • “Big” Richard Johnson

    Jesus will save us if we pray hard enough!

    • jnana

      or maybe we can focus our intentions on cute little kittens floating on puffy clouds to spread love vibes all around.

      • jnana

        or we can protest on wall street.

        • jnana

          or even just read about how bad the environment is getting. that could instigate some real change.

          • Anarchy Pony

            I think that was his point.

          • Kevin Leonard

            should have voted Republican. this is what happens in Obama’s country

    • Bluebird_of_Fastidiousness

      That guy over there isn’t praying. He’s gonna spoil it for everyone. GET HIM!

    • kowalityjesus

      I personally guarantee that if Christ was living amongst us today he would have a remarkably small carbon footprint.

      • Kevin Leonard

        I picture him driving a Hummer with a Confederate flag and a rifle rack in the back window and Glenn Beck bumper stickers singing “America!…. F**ck Yeah!!”

  • BallSack

    Shit’s crazy. Who knows man!

  • stephan390

    If you think Virginia`s story is inconceivable,, a month ago my cousins girlfriend basically made $9204 just sitting there a ninteen hour week from there house and their roomate’s half-sister`s neighbour has been doing this for five months and brought home more than $9204 in there spare time from a mac. use the instructions on this address, jump15.comCHECK IT OUT

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    I feel a concise word for “air-thirst” may enter the english language in some time.

  • DeepCough

    I think those hippies were on to something when they preached, “Plant a tree.”

    • Andrew

      The hippies were right about a lot of things.

  • godozo

    So basically the Humans in the Edenic Era were getting high off the higher oxygen levels in the Rainforest, only to discover that the high ended once they were forced out to the savannah (and from there onto drier, less lush places). Civilization, meditation, literacy and technology is but a lame attempt to get by without the proper amount of oxygen…but ends up making things worse as these schemes end up burning up oxygen itself.

    One quick band-aid comes to mind: Raising plants in the home. Not only will they clean up the air, but they’ll add extra Oxygen and get excess Carbon Dioxide from the home air.

    • kowalityjesus

      very interesting hypothesis. I have heard a similar line of thought except substitute “high fruit intake” for “high oxygen levels.” It was at a time when I was researching the merits of the ‘paleo’ diet. The theory asserted that humans had grown smaller and smaller brains since they left their ‘edenic’ state. It sounded like they were picking and choosing which fossils they would use for their model, though. Anyways, all aspects of the modern diet, primarily grain and sugar, are crude bastardizations of those halcyon days of lounging in trees, symbiotic social relationships, and deep simian contemplation.

      • godozo

        I’m familiar with that theory as well – indeed, part of me was riffing on that idea.

        Both are similar in that things were better (better food/air) back when we were in the African Jungle. One intriguing difference between the “high fruit intake” concept (HFI) and the “high oxygen level” concept (HOL) is that HFI posits that we KNEW what we were missing when we first lost the fruit, whereas HOL posits a blind reaction to the missing oxygen we weren’t aware of but somehow felt.

        One wonders if they were a package deal, to be honest.

        As for the house plants – I’m serious on that. While a band-aid, it’s easily done and works on a personal (house-wise) level. And I agree with your opinion of the modern diet.

  • Guest

    This complicates my doomstead preparations.

  • Nathan

    I have been to the hospital twice in the last 40 days for hyperventilating due to I believe which is an imbalance in oxygen / carbon in the air. I still am hyperventilating but I am getting used to it now. But the problem is clearly getting worse day by day. Drink lots of water and stay hydrated is all I can say because nobody seems to care to come together and do the right things to completely save our planet from this eventual extinction of all life. The extinction levels are at an all time high its no big mystery that its just a matter of time before we extinct ourselves from our stupidity. Spread this information to as many people as you can.

  • Nathan

    I have been to the hospital twice in the last 40 days for hyperventilating due to I believe which is an imbalance in oxygen / carbon in the air. I still am hyperventilating but I am getting used to it now. But the problem is clearly getting worse day by day. Drink lots of water and stay hydrated is all I can say because nobody seems to care to come together and do the right things to completely save our planet from this eventual extinction of all life. The extinction levels are at an all time high its no big mystery that its just a matter of time before we extinct ourselves from our stupidity. Spread this information to as many people as you can.

  • Christopher McClelland

    We should cut every single tree in the world because that’s were we are heading. Then We can burn every drop of carbon that all those trees used to store underground. Then We can all say that everything is just fine and there no reason to suggest that oxygen levels will fall. Who needs oxygen when you dead right? Money, and power is far more important

  • balagan123

    Hang on a moment. Where is a graph of oxygen concentration from, say, Keeling’s work (he measures Oxygen as well as carbon dioxide) and from the oldest ice bubbles we have up to the present. I haven’t heard that Oxygen at a pristine site such as ManaLoa has decreased. Maybe I missed it.

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