The Oxygen Crisis!

OMG! We’re exhausting the planet’s oxygen supply by not being Marxist and letting intellectuals run everything!

I’m really hoping that’s some kind of any-idiot-can-post section of the Guardian.

It does raising an interesting side-point. Burning carbon-based fuels does consume oxygen. Conversely, the production of oxygen consumes CO2. If CO2 levels rise then oxygen levels have to decrease. Now the change in oxygen levels will not be large. CO2 comprises only a tiny part of the total atmosphere. The current hysteria is caused by raising CO2 from 0.028% to 0.038%. Oxygen comprises 21% of the atmosphere, so the decrease in oxygen would be trivial but still measurable. 

As this response to the nonsense above demonstrates, we can measure the fractional decrease in oxygen due to burning fossil fuels. However, the numbers don’t completely add up. 

The surprise came when Keeling’s measurements showed that the rate of decline of O2 was only about two-thirds of that attributable to fossil-fuel combustion during this period. Only one explanation can be given for this observation: Losses of biomass through deforestation must have been outweighed by a fattening of biomass elsewhere, termed global “greening” by geochemists. Although the details as to just how and where remain obscure, the buildup of extra CO2 in our atmosphere and of extra fixed nitrogen in our soils probably allows plants to grow a bit faster than before, leading to a greater storage of carbon in tree wood and soil humus. For each atom of extra carbon stored in this way, roughly one molecule of extra oxygen accumulates in the atmosphere.[link added]

Whoops. This means that 1/3 of the CO2 that the standard global warming models assume stays permanently in the atmosphere doesn’t actually stay there. The missing 1/3 is bound up in biomass of the planet. 

The very real but unacknowledged problem with global warming models is their sensitivity to even very minor changes in the levels of many different inputs. Losing 1/3 of the CO2 from the input would skew them badly. 

Of course, this is just one study. Others might find different numbers. I do find interesting, however, that no one else seems interested in looking a oxygen levels even though they must change in response to burning more carbon and therefore can be used to test global warming models. 

It’s almost like they don’t want to test them. 

5 thoughts on “The Oxygen Crisis!”

  1. The writer seems suprised that noone has ever done any research into the effect on human beings of these putative declines of atmospheric oxygen. Could that be because the effects, if any, are hardly noticeable? And if he and you and I haven’t noticed, why are we worrying so much? Generally you go to the doctor when there’s a symptom.

    We humans are living longer and healthier lives at this historic moment than at any previous one. This is due to those same civilizing activities that use up that precious oxygen as it creates all the obvious differences between our lives and those of just about everyone of every class who came before us. My recently deceased father was born on a farm without indoor plumbing, electification or the internal combustion engine. There was plenty of O2. His mother lost a leg that would have been saved in a modern hospital had she been able to reach one. His sister died in childbirth. Those were the days. Some people didn’t breathe long enough to put a dent in the biosphere.

    Normal healthy people don’t make themselves miserable imagining all the things that could kill them. If I must worry about something, it’ll be wrapping my oxygen-guzzling Mini Cooper around a tree before it and me have had time to use up our quotient of the good stuff.

  2. K.J. Webb,

    Actually, I think the writer has just figured out there are enough dumb people out there to make money selling a book about it. So many people have the reflex of technology-and-capitalism bad that they will believe any scare story that fits that mold.

  3. Shannon, I haven’t got much learning on the subjects of capitalism or technology, to my own particular shame. However, I’ve got a reasonably good shit-detector, acquired in the study of “English Prose” in the classes of Norman Maclean while he was just another of the “Chicago Critics” and before he wrote those twilight-of-life books that made him famous. You ought to put Norman on your panoply of Chicago greats. Detecting shit will be a good quality to have in the years we are about to enter.

  4. Yeees, well, this idiot has had a couple of articles on Comment is Free that go against the Guardian line (and was paid for them) so I can’t complain too much. On the whole, I don’t read the Grauniad except for the Media section, which is very good on news. I am, however, a little suprised it’s Peter Tatchell. Not his pigeon, usually. Wanted to venture into pastures new, presumably.

Comments are closed.