Climate Change Might Leave Us Without Enough Oxygen to Breathe

Do you like breathing? Rhetorical question – most people do. Unfortunately, that may become a problem if climate change isn’t thwarted. According to some new calculations, climate change could so severely impact the earth’s oxygen supply that humanity would lack a sufficient amount of oxygen to allow us to keep breathing. How’s that for a sobering wake-up call?

We’ve spent a lot time worrying about carbon emissions, but we’ve neglected to look at how oxygen fares under new climate conditions. Sergei Petrovskii, a professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Leicester, ran computer projections accounting for warming oceans and found that the world’s oxygen supply is unlikely to be sufficient to support life.

As it currently stands, more than half of the planet’s oxygen is generated by phytoplankton in our oceans. Once the oceans become six degrees Celsius hotter – an event that some scientists think could happen as soon as 100 years from now – it will interrupt the process of photosynthesis by the phytoplankton. Without that atmospheric oxygen being produced, humans and animals alike will be struggling to find the oxygen necessary to breathe.

Obviously, this is just one research team’s projection and more scientific research needs to be done before reaching any firm conclusions, but given the severity of the predictions, it’s certainly a topic worth exploring further.

“Global warming has been a focus of attention of science and politics for about two decades now,” said Petrovskii. “A lot has been said about its expected disastrous consequences – perhaps the most notorious is the global flooding that may result from melting of Antarctic ice if the warming exceeds a few degrees compared to the preindustrial level. However, it now appears that this is probably not the biggest danger that the warming can cause to humanity.”

Between the extreme heat, drought, diminished food supply and elevated sea levels that are predicted to accompany climate change, we already have more than enough incentive to start tackling and preventing the planet from warming further immediately. In reality, we don’t need this oxygen projection to motivate us to act, but if that final and potentially fatal prognosis is what’s necessary to kick our species into action, so be it.

Although some politicians seem to adopt the attitude that humankind will adapt to the challenges of climate change, this latest potential obstacle is not easily overcome. Humanity may possess the intelligence to develop solutions for all sorts of problems, but not having the oxygen required to breathe probably isn’t one of them.

What can you do to fight climate change?

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

199 comments

Mark Donner
Mark Donnerabout a year ago

30 billion extra tons of CO2 entering the upper atmosphere from human industrial activity yearly where it lingers and accumulates for an average of a hundred years, is not open to "debate". A physical fact is a physical fact. Earth's combined ocean and land systems are equipped to recycle 20 billion tons of CO2. It does not magically adjust to handle 50 billion tons. Anyone who blocks this disaster from being dealt with is guilty of being complicit in the destruction of life on Earth.

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Mark Donner
Mark Donnerabout a year ago

Dan Blossfeld: Since your IQ is well below being able to understand science, your opinion is irrelevant.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Cabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeldabout a year ago

Both those that deny human activity has had an affect and those that deny natural changes appear to do so for personal or political gain. What is the purpose of a scare story like this, that has little basis in real science?

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Deborah Servey
Deborah Serveyabout a year ago

I don't understand those who deny that this climate change is already happening. Put your heads in the sand, people, but your kids ans grandkids will be paying the price!

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David M.
David Mabout a year ago

I hope Paris will start a change. There is no time to wait...

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Joy McRonald
Joy Mabout a year ago

Thank you..

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Elaine Al Meqdad
Elaine Al Meqdadabout a year ago

I'M SO GRATEFUL I DON'T BUY INTO CLIMATE CHANGE NOR IT'S SO CALLED ABILITY TO DEMOLISH US. I'VE READ THE BACK OF THE BOOK AND IT DOESN'T END THAT WAY!

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Christine Stewart
Christine Stewartabout a year ago

Please boycott palm oil! Old growth rain forests that hold onto carbon for hundreds of years and make oxygen for us to breathe are cut down and burned in order to plant palm oil plantations. A monoculture of oil palm trees are a poor substitute for a rain forest that is also home to many endangered animals.

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Elizabeth F.
Elizabeth Fabout a year ago

hmmm

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