Nutty story of the day #5, One more thing to worry about: The Oxygen Crisis!


Trend of atmospheric oxygen (O2) from Cape Grim, Tasmania. This looks serious, right? Read on.

FOREWORD: I had to chuckle at this. This is the sort of story I would expect in the supermarket tabloids next to a picture of Bat Boy. For the UK Guardian to say there is a “oxygen crisis”, is not only ignorant of the facts, but simple fear mongering riding on the coattails of the “CO2 crisis”. Read the article below, and then read the reasons why myself and others are saying this story is worry over nothing.

UPDATE: Physicist Lubos Motl also takes this article and the author to task, here

UPDATE#2: According to the Guardian website: “It is the policy of the Guardian to correct significant errors as soon as possible” For those readers that think this Guardian article needs correction, here is the contact info:

Readers may contact the office of the readers’ editor by telephoning +44(0)20 7713 4736 between 11am and 5pm UK time Monday to Friday excluding public holidays. Email reader@guardian.co.uk, send mail to The Readers’ Editor, 119 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3ER, or fax +44(0)20 7239 9997. The Guardian’s editorial code incorporates the editors’ code overseen by the Press Complaints Commission.


The oxygen crisis

Could the decline of oxygen in the atmosphere undermine our health and threaten human survival?
Peter Tatchell  Peter Tatchell guardian.co.uk, Wednesday August 13 2008 20:00 BST

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.

Read the rest of the story here.


Predictably, once again mankind gets the blame in the article:

Much of this recent, accelerated change is down to human activity, notably the industrial revolution and the burning of fossil fuels.

From a mailing list I subscribe to, there’s been a number of comments made about this story. Here are a few:

The O2 concentration of the atmosphere has been measured off and on for about 100 years now, and the concentration (20.95%) has not varied within the accuracy of the measurements.  Only in recent years have more precise measurement techniques been developed, and the tiny decrease in O2 with increasing CO2 has been actually measured….but I believe the O2 concentration is still 20.95%….maybe it’s down to 20.94% by now…I’m not sure.

There is SO much O2 in the atmosphere, it is believed to not be substantially affected by vegetation, but it is the result of geochemistry in deep-ocean sediments…no one really knows for sure.

Since too much O2 is not good for humans, the human body keeps O2 concentrations down around 5% in our major organs.  Extra O2 can give you a burst of energy, but it will harm you if the exposure is too long.

It has been estimated that global wildfire risk would increase greatly if O2 concentrations were much more than they are now.

Here’s one I remember reading about a long time ago:

Around 1920 when steel production began to expand to what looked like no limit, it was believed (and demonstrated) that the use of coal would consume all the oxygen in the atmosphere in 50 years.

So far, we are still breathing O2, even though we have increased the volume of coal and oil used steadily since then. More worry based on bad science.

For those wanting to brush up on the history of oxygen concentrations though the millenia, I suggest this essay in Science News:

Changes in the air: variations in atmospheric oxygen have affected evolution in big ways
Science News, Dec 17, 2005, by Sid Perkins

But the most interesting perspective on why there is no oxygen crisis comes from this article from Wallace Broecker of Columbia University titled Et tu, O2?

AN OFT-HEARD WARNING with regard to our planet’s future is that by cutting back tropical forests we put our supply of oxygen gas at risk. Many good reasons exist for placing deforestation near the top of our list of environmental sins, but fortunately the fate of the Earth’s O2 supply does not hang in the balance. Simply put, our atmosphere is endowed with such an enormous reserve of this gas that even if we were to burn all our fossil fuel reserves, all our trees, and all the organic matter stored in soils, we would use up only a few percent of the available O2. No matter how foolishly we treat our environmental heritage, we simply don’t have the capacity to put more than a small dent in our O2 supply. Furthermore, the Earth’s forests do not play a dominant role in maintaining O2 reserves, because they consume just as much of this gas as they produce. In the tropics, ants, termites, bacteria, and fungi eat nearly the entire photosynthetic O2 product. Only a tiny fraction of the organic matter they produce accumulates in swamps and soils or is carried down the rivers for burial on the sea floor.

While no danger exists that our O2 reserve will be depleted, nevertheless the O2 content of our atmosphere is slowly declining–so slowly that a sufficiently accurate technique to measure this change wasn’t developed until the late 1980s. Ralph Keeling, its developer, showed that between 1989 and 1994 the O2 content of the atmosphere decreased at an average annual rate of 2 parts per million. Considering that the atmosphere contains 210,000 parts per million, one can see why this measurement proved so difficult.

This drop was not unexpected, for the combustion of fossil fuels destroys O2. For each 100 atoms of fossil-fuel carbon burned, about 140 molecules of O2 are consumed. 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.

Now remember the graph I showed at the beginning of the article? Here is what Australia’s Ray Langenfelds from CSIRO Atmospheric Research has to say about the Cape Grim O2 measurement.

“The changes we are measuring represent just a tiny fraction of the total amount of oxygen in our air – 20.95 percent by volume. The oxygen reduction is just 0.03 percent in the past 20 years and has no impact on our breathing,” Langenfelds. “Typical oxygen fluctuations indoors or in city air would be far greater than this.”

So there you have it. So much for the “oxygen crisis”. I really wish the media would do a better job of researching and reporting science stories. This example from the Guardian shows how bad science and bad reporting combine to create fear mongering.

108 thoughts on “Nutty story of the day #5, One more thing to worry about: The Oxygen Crisis!

  1. How can you, clearly not an expert in these matters, claim otherwise. We must trust our betters in government and media. They always have our best interests at heart.

  2. Anthony. It is apparently not known in The USA, but The Guardian is the most left wing newspaper in the Western World (outside of the USA).

    REPLY: It wouldn’t matter to me what the leaning of the newspaper was. The facts of the story, as presented, create a false impression of a crisis. – Anthony

  3. y = x – .5 * x
    y = .5 * x
    x = 2 * y

    So in prehistoric times oxygen constituted 40% of the atmosphere? It must have been a pyromaniac’s dream

  4. Pingback: STAY WARM, WORLD… Roger Carr « Stay Warm, World…

  5. I have an excellent solution to the impending oxygen crisis. Pump the atmosphere as full of carbon dioxide as we can – the resulting plant growth will re-oxygenate the biosphere and avert the catastrophe. :0)

    I’m wondering who Roddy Newman is.

  6. So we’re currently losing 2 parts per million per year. How long would it take to go from current 21% (210,000 parts per million) to 20% (200,000 parts per million)? Grade school arithmetic follows…

    210,000 – 200,000 = 10,000 parts per million

    10,000 divided by 2 per year = 5,000 years

    So 5,000 years from now the difference would be barely noticable.

  7. > statePoet1775 (23:08:59) :

    > So in prehistoric times oxygen constituted 40% of the
    > atmosphere? It must have been a pyromaniac’s dream

    As pointed out in http://arjournals.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.earth.31.100901.141329 paleo-atmospheric O2 did get as high as 35% (ouch). We’re talking carboniferous era when the planet was mostly giant swamps. Note also the large sizes of paleo-insects. Insects breathe via spiracles, i.e. tubes throughout their bodies that connect to holes in their outer bodies. This is inefficient compared to lungs, and is the main size-limit for insects today. Paleo-dragonflies, etc, were much larger than today, which is biologically impossible in today’s atmosphere, but perfectly possible in a higher-oxygen atmosphere.

  8. I am glad I did not read this last Wednesday, it might have ruined my blood pressure. I have taken to treating the Guardian with tongs – the cartoons are ok.

  9. The Guardian & Enviromentalists do themselves no favours when they publish this sort of rubbish, its a bit like the boy who always cries ” Wolf”.
    Should a real envormental problem hit us many people will just say ” its another scare story” and action may be taken too late

  10. This is a general problem; the accuracy of measurements due to improved techniques. Suddenly we see on a micro scale movements of atoms, crystals, bacteria, composition of gases, etc.etc. The deeper we research, the more amazing PHENOMENA we find but at the same time we loose the overvieuw.

  11. The only thing the Guardian article shows is that the layman is easily convinced by a melange of selected quotes from maverick scientists. Big deal, you only need to read climate blogs to see that in action every day! ;o)

  12. I now see the connection. Increasing human population breathes more O2 and exhales more CO2. O2 decreases 2ppm/yr and CO2 increases 2ppm/yr. Now if I can just get a hockey stick graph to prove this ………

  13. However, in 100,000 years the level of O2 will be too low to support animal life — assuming of course that the very short term trend observed is never reversed.

  14. Being people have died due to Oxygen Toxicity. This gas is obviously bad for us. EPA needs to ban oxygen and remove it from the environment.

    How many more will need to die before this problem is addressed?

  15. Wolf! Wolf!

    Tell a BIG Lie
    Keep it simple
    Tell it often
    People (sheeple) will believe

    Judas Goat is a live performance by the watermelon religion.

    As to understanding how the dominant human specie has traversed to 2008 – man is evil? May your offering of free thought-discussion (Watts Up) be allowed tomorrow.

    From Dr. Konstantin Buteyko’s 1923-2003 respiratory/asthma work (first person translation).
    “Living cell left itself very good in that period. But Earth covered by the green vegetation took up almost all atmosphere carbonic acid. Look at the table, please. There are only 0,03% carbonic acid (CO2) in Earth atmosphere at now! Human cell can not live good in such conditions. Human cell demands 7% carbonic acid as before.”

  16. More wonderful lies from the left! As catholicfundamentalism.com sometimes points out, we have to do more than laugh at the professional liars.
    We have to pray for their poor, lost souls.
    They’ve sold them for the proverbial “mess of pottage”, and our prayers may be the only chance they have to avoid an eternity of anguish.

  17. The value in promoting this story is that, run in parallel with the CO2-will-be-the-end-of-us panic, it generates a sense of perspective and promotes a much needed sense of humour.

  18. Let’s see: an 0.03% change in oxygen concentration would be similar to an ambient pressure change of 0.03% of 1000 hPa, which is 0.3 hPa. If we then assume that at Earth’s surface a 100 hPa altitude change equals roughly one km (1000m), 0.3 hPa would equal an altitude change of three meters. Oh dear, I really have to start worrying when I go upstairs tonight …

  19. The supposed concern for human health posited by Twitchell is, of course a red herring, since environmental extremists actually hate humanity, and would like nothing better than for us to die off, thus saving Gaia.
    Air pollution is of much greater concern, and appears to affect children especially, reducing lung function via chronic inflamation. An increasingly sedentary lifestyle also reduces lung capacity, and thus our oxygen intake, as does simply not breathing properly.
    The concern about supposed O2 depletion is not only ridiculous, but is a faux concern. The goals of the radical Left, Greens, radical enviros are well known and need not be repeated. This is just another in their big bag of tricks to try to scare people back to the stone age.

  20. I think Brian D said it best: “When your falling, you grab at anything.”

    Over the past several days we’ve seen this blog inundated with Pogies, each attempting to shoot down the latest discoveries. And although all have failed miserably, in their minds they claim successes!

    We are not only hitting a nerve, were drilling without Novocaine. The deceivers and manipulators attempting to foist their AGW nonsense on the world would have succeeded before Gore invented the INet, but those days began to crumble with Arpnet, the Compuserve Information Services dial-up network, and successors like Prodigy.

    The media hasn’t lost their readership/viewership because of the Internet, they lost them because the INet allowed researchers to expose their nitwitery for what it is/was: a pack of advocacy lies and distortions.

    We still have a long ways to go and pundits like counters, Joel Shore, Lee and the like will continue flip flopping around like so many fish out of the water. And although most regulars on this blog chuckle at the “challenged” information these RC types post on WUWT, they’ll continue thinking they’re convincing us of their wisdom. In reality, they re-enforce the common view they’re off-the-wall!

    Jack Koenig, Editor
    The Mysterious Climate Project
    http://www.climateclinic.com

  21. OK, Everybody .. don’t move, lie very, very still.

    Seriously, he destroys his own argument by mentioning that O2 levels have varied greatly before (the industrial revolution).

  22. Rachel Carson is alive and well in the person of Peter Tatchell. Reading his foaming diatribe of all the ills of modern society, you quickly come across the crowning touch — decreasing oxygen levels may cause an increase in cancer. This is nothing but advocacy journalism {a prime example of an oxymoron}. What passes as journalism these days is nothing but the art of embellishment of press releases.

    Walter Dnes (01:02:33) puts the whole matter in perspective. If we continue to use oxygen at current rates, it’ll be 5,000 years before its volume decreases from 21% to 20% of the total atmosphere. A lot will happen in 5,000 years. Hell, a lot will happen in 500 years. What if physicists finally discover dark energy and ways to tap this limitless energy source? This is the sort of possibility that makes the future such an exciting place.

    But the future, love for humanity, and excitement is not what environmentalism is about. Its vision is feudal in scope and its fundamental principle is hypocrisy. While self-righteous environmentalists sit at their computers in air conditioned offices, they tell the rest of us mere mortals that we should abandon our energy intensive ways and return to a simpler agrarian life style and live in harmony with nature on only what we can produce from the earth. And if that results in the death of several billion human beings, well, that’s the price humanity will have to pay — as well as regular tithes to our environmental masters in their air conditioned castles on the hill, overseeing their domain and all their dirty suffering serfs. Hmmm — how many serfs will it take living on the manor of Lord Gore to support him in the life style to which he expects to be maintained while saving the planet?

  23. Honestly Anthony, what do you expect? you think the author would do his research and write a story that says, “Oxygen content of the atmosphere, nothing here?”

    He set out with the idea that there was a ‘crisis’, if it bleeds, it leads.

    ROFL at his main source being a ‘Professor of Philosophy and System Sciences”.

  24. Since whatever O2 loss there is seems to come from burning fossil fuels, and we will be, more or less, out of fossil fuels in 50 – 100 years, I guess I can sleep tonight.

  25. Bad science + Bad reporting = “Daily Planet” And “Quirks and Quarks” (Canadian network “science” shows) I will watch for the hysteria, no doubt soon to be all over the CBC… How long until they calculate an O2 tax? Or propose an O2 shift?

  26. UK doctors use the acronym grolies (Guardian reader of limited intelligence in ethnic skirt/shirt) to describe the typical Guardian reader on their medical records.

  27. This guy is not only adding to the supply of CO2 by breathing he is diminishing the supply of oxygen by the same action. He needs to stop that right now! :-)

  28. Adrian, that is indeed the risk they are taking. They believe however that if they can get the CO2 laws passed (emissions caps, CO2 tax, CO2 market, funding for solar, biofuels, etc.) they will have succeeded.

    Its much harder for government to repeal a law than to pass it. Write your legislators, remind them that your vote is tied to rational action (or inaction) on their part.

  29. There is a point where CO2 levels would be very unhealthy for us, something like 4,000 ppm.

    Now there is not nearly enough fossils fuels for us to ever come close to that level but at least that thought has some science behind it.

  30. it is amazing how proudly this dufus displays his complete stupidity and his total lack of science knowledge.

    Proudly telling the world he is stupid.

    Only a left wing greeny socialist agitator could be proud of himself.

  31. I noted that Mr. Tatchell commented in his article that “I am not a scientist, but this seems a reasonable concern.” This statement has now become a substitution for actual scientific credentials. Starting with attorney and career politician, Al Gore, it seems all the promotors of global warming seem to lack the basic scientific knowledge and training to even comment on this complex subject, let alone write an article for a major newspaper. What Mr. Tatchell should have said is “I am not a scientist, but it’s fun to pretend I am.”

  32. So, people aren’t interested in how oxygen concentration varies across the planet? How it varies in cities? I am, but, hey, perhaps a dark age of censorship of such research should be upon us? After all, inconvenient data is the enemy – right? I’m sure if commentators here had their way that to be interested in such a thing is to be (reach for the garlic fellas) that great hate figure Rachael Carson reborn, and clearly no worse things exists – well bar ‘Gore’ and ‘Hansen’ and sundry others.

    What a narrow, intolerant place this is at times :( A slightly left of centre newspaper in the English speaking word print an opinion and that sparks frothing intolerance in you lot? it’s a pretty sahocking sight to behold.

    Oh and yes, I do get the idea that to be anything other than a paid up card carrying unwavering sceptic is to want to send us all back the the stone age – it really is that polarised here. indeed, I’ve read said that many times I think it’s all some people think…

    REPLY: Peter what basis do you have for implying that I’ve applied censorship about oxygen levels in cities? A reply is required.

    And what about the article itself? Do you agree with its premise, or would you just prefer to stick to “sparking frothing intolerance” instead of discussing the science facts of the article?

    You comment seems more emotional than factual.

  33. Given that the passenger oxygen masks are required to drop in an airliner when the cabin altitude climbs to 10,000 ft, we have about 58,000 years before we reach the government-approved depletion limit.

    But of course, government regulations may have changed by then.

  34. Anthony, I imply no such thing of you – ‘people’ isn’t singular. I do though oppose the hysteria of and attitudes shown in this thread. People (again, plural) are falling over themselves to condemn the story, simply knee jerk condemn it. It IS (yes, imo) a sorry sight to behold.

    I’ve read the article – I try to read all side, all views. Do you think it’s right oxygen levels are lower in cities? I don’t know but I would like to know more. But, of course, rubbishing the Guardian or Tatchell (who truth to be told I’m no fan of) is easier for most here. After all they are not right wing so obviously they must be wrong…

    REPLY: Thank you for the clarification. Yes I think oxygen levels are probably lower in cities. But that’s hardly news, nor is it a “crisis”. You know Peter, you are making some pretty broad assumptions. You might note what I say in comments yesterday about the newspaper when one commenter told me about it. I knew nothing of the newspaper’s leanings, nor of the author when I wrote the post. What I did know is that his article is in fact rubbish, and unsupportable by observation and calculation. That isn’t an opinion, it is backed up factually.

    In a free society with a free press, if we don’t chastise those that print imagined crises or twisted facts, then we derive no value from having a free press. Science is self correcting, unfortuantely media seems not to be. Hence, the level of agitation. Tachell could have easily checked these facts with a couple of minutes of Googling. But I think from his perspective “FUD sells”.

    So if you don’t like the fact that we are taking him to task factually, I’m sorry. As we sometimes say here “tough noogies”.

    UPDATE TO MY REPLY: After pondering what you’ve said a bit more, I think I shall do this properly, and provide readers with the address to complain directly to the Guardian editors, where it may do some good.

  35. This science journalism thing sounds like an entertaining way to way to make a few bucks. Maybe I should try it. I could start off with the old dihydrogen monoxide scare. They I’ll follow that up with a story about the fact that the Andromeda galaxy will collide with our galaxy. (No need to mention that it won’t happen for billions of years. What the heck, there’s no harm in being prepared.) Then I’ll do one on the alleged Big Foot corpse that was recently found. And I’ll say he died from global warming. With all that fur, Big Foots (Big Feet?) are sensitive to higher temperatures. I’ll claim that Big Foots are near extinction because of human activities. That’s why they are rarely seen today. Then I’ll start a movement to save the Big Foots. And I’ll get a grant from congress to study the problem and find potential solutions. Wow science can be fun and profitable!

  36. Well, the way I see it, man will definitely have to change his ways.

    Sometime during the next 100,000 years.

  37. According to the Guardian website: “It is the policy of the Guardian to correct significant errors as soon as possible” For those readers that think this Guardian article needs correction, here is the contact info:

    Readers may contact the office of the readers’ editor by telephoning +44(0)20 7713 4736 between 11am and 5pm UK time Monday to Friday excluding public holidays. Email reader@guardian.co.uk , send mail to The Readers’ Editor, 119 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3ER, or fax +44(0)20 7239 9997. The Guardian’s editorial code incorporates the editors’ code overseen by the Press Complaints Commission.

  38. Peter, it’s interesting that you conveniently focus on the lower O2 in cities aspect of the article, which was something twitchum only mentions in passing.
    Forget the fact that he blames “much” of the supposed decline in O2 from prehistoric 30-35% to today’s 21% on the industrial revolution and the burning of fossil fuels.
    Is lower O2 in cities a possible health risk? Maybe. And if his article was about that, perhaps it would have had at least some merit. I’d argue, though, that air pollution (which doesn’t include C02, by the way) is a much greater threat to human health, particularly in places like China, but also here, of course.

  39. The deceivers and manipulators attempting to foist their AGW nonsense on the world would have succeeded

    I don’t think they are deceptive (any more than typical considering the usual human condition), but they have been quite thoughtless.

    Now that the public is getting some notion of the perceived costs (something like a third to half of economic growth, if not more), there are widening calls for a closer examination of the issue.

    If the proposed costs for “solving” GW were as cheap as, say, replacing CFCs with something more expensive and less efficient, we’d have just done that, moved on, and not looked more closely at the science involved.

    But now that the incredible costs are finally staring the public right in the face there is considerable pause.

    I, for one, believe that a loss of 1% of Gross World Product would result in far, far more deaths (greater poverty, etc., etc.) than GW would even if the IPCC version were true.

  40. There is SO much O2 in the atmosphere, it is believed to not be substantially affected by vegetation, but it is the result of geochemistry in deep-ocean sediments…no one really knows for sure.

    Since too much O2 is not good for humans, the human body keeps O2 concentrations down around 5% in our major organs. Extra O2 can give you a burst of energy, but it will harm you if the exposure is too long.

    It has been estimated that global wildfire risk would increase greatly if O2 concentrations were much more than they are now.

    Oh God.
    And these people are eligible to vote ??

  41. Peter, what is wrong with rubbishing the Guardian? It is a miserable rag that plays on the fears of it’s readers.

    It has exacerbated the irrational time and time again.

    p.s. ever scince Tachell arrested Mugabe i’ve had a soft spot for him.

  42. Peter Hearnden,

    Did you read this paragraph I quoted? It is near the bottom of the Guardians link.

    “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.”

    It would have been helpful if he pointed to a city that has these alleged low O2 levels.

    Then we have this:

    “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).”

    I note that all those time periods were a very warm plant covered world.Possible why Dinosaurs were so big in the first place?

  43. Peter, it was interesting to see how quickly you came up with this description of the website (“What a narrow, intolerant place this is at times)”. It is a good thing you are a true global doom believer because you would never make it otherwise. On a daily basis persons like myself who may question aspects of the Global Warming hypothesis are bombarded with propaganda (along with an occasional bit of scientific data) from the mainstream media. When we dare question the all-knowing climate team of Gore/Hansen we are regularly compare to the lowest forms of life. Some are even threatened with legal consequences. You at least had the opportunity to visit this website, it wasn’t forced upon you like it is for us. So if you think this is a narrow and intolerant place, then you should feel right at home.

  44. In a response to his piece’s comments he asks “I’d be grateful for informed, constructive criticisms – or confirmations” (Funnily the comments are now closed for this article !! – the same day??) and states “if there is a danger from oxygen depletion” it is “quiet a long way off” – exactly where the people of the UK wish you were Peter, especially the “quiet” part.

  45. David, your science journalism career idea has merit and has already been successful in some areas. Witness the plight of the endangered Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus at

    http://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/

    The tree octopus story is bogus, of course, but it proves the point that if you tell a lie often and loud enough, you can convince some (many?) that it is the truth. A modern corollary to this rule states that if a link to a story appears in the first five items of a Google search, the story IS gospel.

  46. Peter,

    it is how “journalists” who post these articles writes.

    Sample:

    “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 impressed with how he starts his misleading article.First he starts with a distortion of the CO2 concern.That we must deal with it before …..

    Then he tells us that we are paying little attention to the dropping O2 levels.And the implied scaremongering effects of such dropping levels.

    It is a dishonest writing because he is comparing one very different climatic epoch from millions of years ago with todays climate.

    He writes in a way that is not conductive to reasoned concern about alleged O2 dropping.The lack of actual mathematics and the neglect of any measuring devices to monitor such levels.

    He could have done it much,much better.Instead it is so poorly written that Lubos blew it away with basic mathematics at his website.

  47. Peter Hearnden, it’s quite legitimate to treat everything published by the Guardian (and the Independent) on the subject of science as deeply suspect, since both papers have systematically sought to exploit the gullibility of the public to make money by alarming people about the environment. And to characterise that as anti-leftism in the article would be incorrect, as Anthony makes no reference to the Guardian’s political orientation. Of course, it is always leftist media who propagate this kind of doom mongering, since it is not really science but leftwing politics, by means of which they hope to sink industrial capitalism. It’s fatuous for the left to resent being characterised as GW alarmists. They started it. Sure, the right don’t believe them. Only a child would.
    Regarding Peter Tatchell, he should be ignored on science issues, but did once attempt a citizen’s arrest of Robert Mugabe which seemed admirable, if a little over-optimistic. Quite why he thinks he should be taken seriously in this kind of thing is hard to fathom, though I suppose in these hysterical times, anything goes.
    Concerning which, nothing seems more resolutely stone age primitive about us than the ease with which we absorb from people (or newspapers) that clearly don’t know very much that ‘we’re doomed’.

  48. Peter Hearnden (09:07:11) :

    I’ve read the article – I try to read all side, all views. Do you think it’s right oxygen levels are lower in cities?

    I think O2 levels are low in cities than in sunlit growing farmland at the same elevation outside of those cities. However, the article says

    “In the view of Professor Ervin Laszlo, the drop in atmospheric oxygen has potentially serious consequences. A UN advisor who has been a professor of philosophy and systems sciences, Laszlo writes:

    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.

    So, 12% over a major city. That means a drop of 9%, if the drop is caused by combustion, then the CO2 level should go up 9% to 90,385 ppm. I flat out don’t believe that and hereby declare Ervin Laszlo a has-been. Had you or he spent a minute with Google, you’d have found something like http://www.inspect-ny.com/hazmat/CO2gashaz.htm which says:

    * At 1% concentration of carbon dioxide CO2 (10,000 parts per million or ppm) and under continuous exposure at that level, such as in an auditorium filled with occupants and poor fresh air ventilation, some occupants are likely to feel drowsy.

    * The concentration of carbon dioxide must be over about 2% (20,000 ppm) before most people are aware of its presence unless the odor of an associated material (auto exhaust or fermenting yeast, for instance) is present at lower concentrations.

    * Above 2%, carbon dioxide may cause a feeling of heaviness in the chest and/or more frequent and deeper respirations.

    * If exposure continues at that level for several hours, minimal “acidosis” (an acid condition of the blood) may occur but more frequently is absent.

    * Breathing rate doubles at 3% CO2 and is four times the normal rate at 5% CO2.

    * Toxic levels of carbon dioxide: at levels above 5%, concentration CO2 is directly toxic. [At lower levels we may be seeing effects of a reduction in the relative amount of oxygen rather than direct toxicity of CO2.]

    So, if O2 concentrations in a major city reach 12%, I submit it would cease to be a major city and problem will automatically rectify itself.

    BTW, I also checked Jos (05:37:25) maths, and reached essentially the identical conclusion – don’t go upstairs tonight, and if you do, by all means open the window. Unless, of course, you live in a major city.

    My apologies, I’m usually kinder, but articles like this one reduce the sympathy I have for the financial difficulties of news papers. There’s a lot more accurate information here, I suggest you endeavor to improve this blog instead of defending the absurd.

  49. Peter Tatchell is an expert in only one thing, Peter Tatchell. In the UK no-one, except Peter Tatchell would take anything he said seriously. The Guardian (better known to my generation as ‘The Grauniad’ due to its frequent mistakes) is only taken seriously by Peter Tatchell. The Grauniad is, and always has been, a tabloid in disguise as a broadsheet, usually used by posh dogs as toilet training.

  50. Anthropogenic atmospheric CO2 creating a global heat-wave, anthropogenic depletion of atmospheric O2 causing potential suffocation and anthropogenic atmospheric nitrogen creating havoc with the ocean’s environment, homo sapiens will soon pay for its inconsiderate life on planet Earth.

    “Prospero’s data plays a central role in a paper that appears in the May 16 issue of Science, “Impacts of Atmospheric Anthropogenic Nitrogen on the Open Ocean”. Spearheaded by Dr. Robert Duce from Texas A&M, the study highlights the importance of the Earth’s nitrogen cycle, and its vital link to the global carbon cycle, especially the atmospheric concentration of CO2, the greenhouse gas responsible for most of the global warming effects observed during the past century.”

    http://www.lockergnome.com/news/2008/05/22/impact-of-anthropogenic-nitrogen-on-ocean-biology-atmospheric-co2/

  51. When I was gainfully employed I used to test spaces for O2 content.
    The instrument had a system for calibration, but to save time, I just breathed out into the instrument sample pipe and usually read a figure of about 17% for my exhaust O2 content.
    The instrument calibration system always confirmed it to be working correctly.
    Aren’t I lucky compared with the poor sods in the cities?

  52. This excellent post by Watts has many implications and makes me angry.

    Although I am a scientist by training, I’ve never stopped to question the allegation that the forests are the “lungs” of the planet. Mostly, I considered the bogeyman of vegetal extinction irrealistic (anyone who ever tried to maintain a piece of land free of regrowth will understand…), but still, under the deluge of (mis-) information, I still had a vague belief that the vegetation did have some significant impact in the available O2 on the planet.

    This post shows beyond all doubt that for all practical purposes, it is a non-issue, that vegetation has nothing practical to do with O2, that the claim of forest allowing life (in the context of O2) is utterly bogus.

    That’s what happen when we get complacent with ideas!

  53. Another bit of doom mongering noticed has been about the extent of 162 ‘Dead zones’ in the worlds oceans. This item could be more sensibly reported as “Oxygen free areas more extensive than first thought” perhaps?

    As for “it’s getting hotter”; according to my relatives, the UK appears to be having a rather cooler and wetter summer than usual.

  54. There is a big difference in the amount of O2 in the air between New York and Denver. People adjust to the difference. Even here in the High Plains of New Mexico, the air is much thinner than at sea level. At first, Mowing my lawn would leave me gasping for breath, but in a short time I adapted and was able to workm all day without rest.
    By the way, a molecule of oxygen contains two atoms of oxygen, so 1C+1O2=1CO2.

  55. Hey, Mary

    I think you are being a bit harsh on the ‘Grauniad’. Whilst I agree that it’s coverage of environmentalism and climate change, in particular, is exceedingly biased, it’s coverage of politics (with a few exceptions) and social issues such as poverty has, to my mind, always been pretty good. Your characterisation of it as a “tabloid in disguise as a broadsheet” is unfair.

    As to Peter Tatchell, he has in the past done much to raise the profile of gay issues and HIV which also informed his anti Mugabe line. As a (non gay) liberal I think there is nothing wrong with that.

    His credentials in relation to the science of this particular article are however zilch and I agree with you that he is nowadays all about self promotion.

  56. The OSHA oxygen low limit for entry to a confined space is 19.5%. The lowest I’ve ever measured in over 30 years was 20.4%.

    Does anyone really believe that if a city had O2 levels below 19.5% that there wouldn’t be a huge intrusive government response?

    I’d like to know where these 12% levels were measured.

    BTW, the graph appears to be the Mauna Loa CO2 record reversed.

  57. 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.

    An O2 concentration of less than 16% at STP is necessary to sustain life; below that, humans die. So, I very much doubt that in cities, O2 is down to 12%.

    Any Scuba diver would know this.

  58. Typo alert:

    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.

    An O2 concentration of greater than 16% at STP is necessary to sustain life; below that, humans die. So, I very much doubt that in cities, O2 is down to 12%.

    Any Scuba diver would know this.

  59. Slightly off topic for this thread, but the importance of the AGW debate is at its most stark, and extreme, in Australia, where a new left government, under the PM Kevin Rudd, is seriously proposing ruining the economy to fight global warming. It is Rudd’s government’s only concrete policy.

    Following the battle in Oz is educational. There are more scientists speaking out against AGW, and getting press, in Australia than anywhere else in the world. It parallels the situation in the UK, except more so.

    Australia is having so much snow that I expect to see Australia win several medals in teh upcoming Winter Olumpics in Vancouver in 2010.

  60. Ted Annonson

    You are talking of Partial Pressure of O2, PPO2. At Standard Temperature and Pressure, for the atmosphere, it is 0.21.

    I don’t know what the height of Denver is, but due to the decreased air pressure, it will be less than 0.21, but still greater than 0.16. Aircraft fly at 36,000 feet with a cabin pressure of around 8,600, which yields the minimum PPO2 necessary to sustain life of 0.16. And it probably keeps the passengers docile. Ever wondered why you feel tired after a long haul flight?

    Now, as the Denver Broncos play in “Mile High” stadium, I guess the hight for Denver to be around 5,280 feet. Given the logarithmic nature of air pressure, I guess the PPO2 at Denver (just a SWAG) to be around 0.19

  61. Several years ago I had occasion to work on a project at a steel mill east of Chicago. Being that what we were building next to the Blast Furnaces was just down the street from the coke plant, everyone had to be gas trained.
    The focus was Carbon Monoxide which was produced in great quantities by the coke plant. (making metallurgical coke from coal) We had to wear a CO sniffer and an Oxygen depletion monitor called a “Cricket” . It was not uncommon if the wind was right to exceed allowable limits for CO in which case we had to evacuate the structure. Along with the CO the CO2 produced sometimes caused the Oxygen level to dip way low. If your cricket went off you had to get the heck out of the area. I have personally seen the O2 level in free air dip slightly below 19%. Of course not everyone is just down the street from a coke plant (1/2 mile) But in localized instances it is possible to displace enough oxygen to make it dangerous.

  62. I do not believe that the article is that crazy. It may not be an immediate crisis, but oxygen level has been going down due to number of causes (deforestation, natural chemical reactions, etc. ) and there is a general agreement among the medical community that health problems will show up in varying degrees when the level falls below 19 % (which is not too far below compared to the current level) and we cannot survive below 7 %. Producing more CO2 is harmful combined with deforestation since a large part of the excess CO2 that is not converted by plants will be dissolved in water and eventually will be locked up as carbonates taking oxygen with it – those oxygen will not be available in the atmosphere.

    So, although it is not an imminent crisis, it is worth giving some attention and it is wise to respond accordingly.

  63. “I don’t know what the height of Denver is, but due to the decreased air pressure, it will be less than 0.21, but still greater than 0.16. Aircraft fly at 36,000 feet with a cabin pressure of around 8,600, which yields the minimum PPO2 necessary to sustain life of 0.16. And it probably keeps the passengers docile. Ever wondered why you feel tired after a long haul flight?”

    La Paz Bolivia’s airport is 13000 ft + and the city of over 700,000 seems not to have DIED.

    “Altitude Sickness” is primarily caused by a drop of CO2 in the blood due to out gassing, resulting in a PH change. The blood becomes too alkaline.

  64. Ah, another crisis to be alarmed about. Now that the temps are declining, we can reassign UHI from Urban Heat Island to Urban Hypoxia Island effect.

    I too wonder where they measured the 12% levels. About 25 years ago I reviewed a study on oxygen levels in a lake in northern Alberta. the researchers claimed that several areas of the lake were anoxic, completely devoid of O2. Looking at the charts of water depth and O2 levels, compared to water depths in those areas, it was obvious that the probes they were using were actually stuck in bottom sediments. A few data points were several feet below lake bottom. When this was pointed out the researchers, they admitted that hteir results were skewed. But they presented the data anyway because they felt that they were supposed to prove that the lakes were suffering from human activities. They interpreted their task as proving oxygen depletion, not presenting the real conditions.

    I would be very interested to see where the air samples were taken, in what cities, at what time of day, and how the results were generated. Maybe its possible to get such readings at or near the levels where vehicle exhaust is spewed out. I don’t know.

  65. From my confined space training. Seems that a city at 12% O2 wouldn’t operate very well.

    23.5% & Above High Oxygen Levels
    20.8% to 21% Normal Oxygen Levels for Air
    19.5% & Below Low Oxygen Levels
    10 to 14% Very faulty judgment, very poor coordination, rapid fatigue
    from exertion that may cause permanent heart damage
    intermittent breathing.
    6 to 12% Deep breathing, accelerated heartbeat, impaired attention
    impaired thinking, impaired coordination.
    10% or Below Nausea, vomiting, inability to perform vigorous movement
    or loss of all movement, unconsciousness followed by death. Less than 6% Spasmodic breathing, convulsive movements
    death in minutes.

  66. If this site censored as vigoursly as Peter Hearndon contends, it seems to me that none of Peter Hearndon’s posts would have ever made it to the screen.

  67. Given the paucity of plants in most cities, it’s hardly surprising, much less a conspiracy that O2 levels are less in cities by a barely measurable amount.

    If Peter believes that this is a problem worth pursuing, why doesn’t he demonstrate why those who are ridiculing this article are wrong, rather than complain that anyone who disagrees with the article is anti-science, or anti-city.

  68. Living at 6300 feet above sea level, the O2 (and everything else) is about 25% less than flatland. Still 21% concentration or so, just less overall. Climbing a 14’er drops O2 pp down a lot more. Takes a while to adjust, but no biggie for most folks. (base camp at Everest is around 17k feet. That’s another matter.)

    If the O2 concentration in ‘some cities’ is really that low, what replaces it? N2? or a mix of CO and VOC’s? That would be a far worse problem than O2 levels.

    As for scuba diving, go down 35 feet on a normal air mix, and you have doubled the pp of O2. Doesn’t seem to hurt.

  69. Ah, another crisis to be alarmed about. Now that the temps are declining, we can reassign UHI from Urban Heat Island to Urban Hypoxia Island effect.

    Assuming there is a global cooling trend, expect exaggerated temperature drops in urban areas. Heat sinks effect works both ways. Even as it exaggerates warming trends it also exaggerates cooling trends as the effect “undoes” itself and reverts to closer to its true level.

    But fear not. I have no doubt that an “adjustment” will be applied to “correct” for such “artificial” cooling! #B^1

  70. “I do not believe that the article is that crazy.”

    I am with John McLondon on this. Forget AGW, we need to get the O2 up. At this time, we have only one viable mechanism to accomplish this and we must start right now. If you can not do your part, email me regarding CO2 credits.

  71. Evan,

    All too true, a heat sink is a heat sink, and since everything above zero Kelvin is heat, cities will store less of it as temps drop. We shall see how GISS, NOAA, and HADCrut smooth out this year’s drop in temperature.

    I think that this O2 depletion concept might have some legs with the greens though. When AGW is no longer the “story” they will be able to flip to hypoxia. Mind you, most of them must be hypoxic, they never stop talking long enough to inhale.

    Garron,

    Count me in for some of those CO2 credits, although I do my part to increase CO2, I fear that it is not enough to offset our march towards an O2 depleted future. There must be a tipping point, maybe 100 months to act?

  72. Boy, it never ceases to amaze me what people will do with data to make it fit their preconceived ideas. I don’t say that I don’t do it too but we shouldn’t. If the graph had been plotted with a scale of 0 to 210,000 the data would not get people’s attention. It would certainly show how insignificant the change in O2 concentration is.

    Keep up the good work guys and gals.

  73. The PPO2 isn’t a particularly meaningful measurement. The lungs work by means of semi-permeable membranes, not pressurization. The process is basically the same as osmosis, where a substance crosses the membrane purely on the basis of relative concentrations. Think of it like a water system. Regardless of the relative volumes of two connected lakes, the one at higher altitude will always fill the lower one. In terms of the lungs, think of the blood vessels as being at about 14-16 meters, and the air being at about 21 meters. If the level of the (usually) higher lake drops below the 14-16 meters of the lower one, the flow stops, or even reverses. Again, the relative volumes in the lakes are meaningless. The only time that volume becomes important is when the higher lake doesn’t have enough water to fill the lower lake at the rate in which it’s being depleted. Back to the body, as altitude increases, the number of available O2 molecules per liter decreases. As the size of our lungs is fairly fixed, the required intake volume eventually passes the available internal volume. That’s where we start having problems.

    Beyond that, human “exhaust” is typically around 17% O2, with about 4% having been removed. If the lungs were really capable of pulling useful amounts of O2 out of air at 12%, then people from these cities should automatically, with no training what so ever, be able to hold their breath roughly 3 times as long as people from cleaner areas. Sooooo… How many pearl divers come from Mexico City?

  74. One could dismiss the rantings of Peter Tatchell on his political motivation and self promotion since he left the North London Polytechnic in the 70’s. One only needs to examine Wikipaedia to see that. However, working for the Guardian is common resting place for his type of activism. This would matter so much but for the fact that a significant proportion of the BBC editorial staff started work with this newspaper which perhaps explains the bias in the BBC. Tatchell is a political animal and his recruitment by the Green Party in the UK is likely to result in more nonsense like this.

    More worrying is the the New Scientist article last weeks magazine (16th August) entitled

    “The Decade After Tomorrow” written by Fred Pearce and Michael Le Page supporting the familiar hypothesis that the world will see global cooling in the next 10 years but the underlying trend is still warming caused by carbon dioxide .

    The editorial headed ” Stormy Weather Ahead… Watch out for a renewed flood of stories rubbishing global warming” continues the global warming theme and is every bit as extreme as the article.

    There is little real substance in either of these articles as readers of this blog will recognise ( together with some familiar graphs). Nevertheless the New Scientist is much more influential than the Guardian but equally biased!

    Sorry I can send either of these pieces I don’t have an electronic link that allows this but I sure somebody has and they’re are definitely worth reading if only to critique.

  75. Anthony: You say “I really wish the media would do a better job of researching and reporting science stories.”

    I agree with you and it looks like the Guardian really screwed up here and deserves to get some egg on their face for it. On the other hand, I tried searching to see how this story has been picked up (http://news.google.com/news?hl=en&tab=wn&ned=us&q=oxygen+crisis&btnG=Search+News and http://www.google.com/blogsearch?hl=en&q=oxygen+crisis&btnG=Search+Blogs ) and it appears that with few exceptions, it has been ignored by other media outlets and the blogosphere except for those who are rightfully making fun of it.

    I only wish that the blogosphere and media would exercise the same kind of skepticism when it comes to garbage science from the other side of the fence, such as the paper by Gerhard Gerlich and Ralf D. Tscheuschner, the papers by Khilyuk and Chilingar, and the ludicrous claims by Ernst Beck and others regarding the historical CO2 levels! Alas, some people’s “nutty filters” seem to work in only one direction.

  76. John McLondon (20:48:04) :

    I do not believe that the article is that crazy. It may not be an immediate crisis, but oxygen level has been going down due to number of causes (deforestation, natural chemical reactions, etc. ) and there is a general agreement among the medical community that health problems will show up in varying degrees when the level falls below 19 % (which is not too far below compared to the current level) and we cannot survive below 7 %. Producing more CO2 is harmful combined with deforestation since a large part of the excess CO2 that is not converted by plants will be dissolved in water and eventually will be locked up as carbonates taking oxygen with it – those oxygen will not be available in the atmosphere.

    Please tell me you’re joking, John McLondon. Surely you must have read Anthony’s ‘Forward’ above:

    I had to chuckle at this. This is the sort of story I would expect in the supermarket tabloids next to a picture of Bat Boy. For the UK Guardian to say there is an “oxygen crisis” is not only ignorant of the facts, but simple fear mongering riding on the coattails of the “CO2 crisis”.

    The “oxygen crisis” is not even a hypothesis. Any scientist who submitted a paper claiming that we’re rapidly running out of oxygen would be laughed out of the room, and rightly so.

    Where does our oxygen come from? Why, it comes from carbon dioxide, which plant life dutifully gives to us, keeping carbon for itself. More CO2 = more oxygen. Simple, no?

    Bear in mind, John McLondon, that the AGW/runaway global warming hypothesis has not withstood falsification. This new “oxygen crisis” is the same.

    Also bear in mind that it is a central requirement of the Scientific Method that those who originate a new hypothesis, such as AGW/runaway global warming, must bear the burden of proof — not those skeptical of the hypothesis.

    Every empirical fact pattern concerning the climate fits well within normal, historical climate and temperature variation. Nothing out of the ordinary is occurring. Despite the increase in beneficial CO2, the planet’s temperature is cooling. The Earth has been both warmer and colder during the past couple of millennia, before the first SUV appeared at the first gas station.

    Do you even comprehend what is being stated here? It is the AGW/runaway global warming/CO2 is gonna getcha hypothesis that has not withstood falsification. Skeptics simply think that the planet’s climate fluctuates naturally. It is up to those believing in AGW/runaway global warming to prove their hypothesis. They have failed at this; the climate is well within normal bounds. Everything the Warmist contingent says now amounts to “But what if…”

    Embracing a lunatic article like “The Oxygen Crisis” makes sense from only one standpoint: there is a full moon out.

  77. I fully agree with the oxygen starvation crisis story.
    How else can you explain the bigotted culture and distortion of our government, other politicians, and of course the BBC?

  78. Re New Scientist, I used to read it from time to time, as there were (maybe still are) decent articles on space flight, genes, black holes, etc. But there’s definitely an editorial bias against alternatives to AGW. They appear to have consigned Henrik Svensmark to the “climate myths” dustbin, even though he’s (as far as I know) still on course to carry out his CLOUD experiment at the LHC in a couple of years’ time (thus clearly doing science, as opposed to perpetrating a myth.)

  79. Smokey:

    Yes, I read Anthony’s forward, but I disagree with him that it is a supermarket tabloid material. Asteroid impact on the Earth occurs roughly 26 million years apart, but we are concerned about that and we look to the sky’s to find anything coming towards us. We investigate whether a blackhole from CERN could eat up our Earth. We are concerned about bird flu, anthrax, small pox, etc. even though it may or may not affect us. Oxygen depletion is just another one of them, worth investigating. That is why I have to disagree with Anthony.

    “Where does our oxygen come from? Why, it comes from carbon dioxide, which plant life dutifully gives to us, keeping carbon for itself. More CO2 = more oxygen. Simple, no?”

    No, oxygen was produced by Cyanobacteria around two billion years ago – not from CO2. And they took a long time to produce oxygen. Oxygen to CO2 back to oxygen cycle through plants does not change the concentration of oxygen, if that is all what is happening. But when a part of CO2 is converted to carbonates, the atmospheric oxygen content will be reduced. Oxygen level has been going down even without us producing CO2
    (see: http://www.pnas.org/content/96/20/10955/F2.large.jpg ) although this probably is not going to affect us in the near future. But that may be true about asteroids also, but we still investigate them (even though we cannot do much against a gigantic asteroid even if we know it is coming for us).

    Health problems with low oxygen (simple version): http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/zoo00/zoo00755.htm

  80. Evan: “john: I think the Guardian is overreaching here.”

    Is that for me or the other John?

    The article should have been written in a different way, rather than implying an imminent crisis. This I have to agree.

  81. John: I disagree with you. First of all, I think your estimate for average times between asteroid impacts may be true for really gigantic ones, but not for ones that are still plenty large enough to pose a significant local / regional, of not global, problem. Also, an asteroid impact is sort of an all-or-nothing thing, i.e., it is not something that is a steady change and may be a problem in a few million years…but rather a cataclysmic event that has a small but finite probability of occurring even in the next 100 years.

    Second of all, while I am not saying that scientists shouldn’t think at all about oxygen depletion, what I am saying is that writing a news story about it, particularly one like the Guardian story, is unnecessarily hyping something that the public doesn’t need to really be concerned about on any reasonable timescale (and which is not really tied in to the burning of fossil fuels since the amount of decrease in oxygen we are causing by doing this is not signficant). And, the danger we have is that people will have trouble distinguishing about real dangers we need to face up to now, like AGW, and things like this. In fact, we already see our friend Smokey doing just that and equating the two as if they are issues of similar concern…which is ridiculous.

  82. For you. I don’t see it as a real crisis. By the time it became one (if ever) mankind would very probably have near godlike technological powers to adjust. (Something the Stern Review fails to consider.)

  83. John McLondon (06:45:22) :
    “… We are concerned about bird flu, anthrax, small pox, etc. even though it may or may not affect us. Oxygen depletion is just another one of them, worth investigating.”

    Smallpox? AFAIK, there are two countries with stockpiles, the US and Russia. GB got rid of theirs after a scientists accidentally got infected and died. Bird flu is worth worrying about, I’m amazed that it hasn’t evolved into a scourge like the 1918 flu.

    “Where does our oxygen come from? Why, it comes from carbon dioxide, which plant life dutifully gives to us, keeping carbon for itself. More CO2 = more oxygen. Simple, no?”

    “Oxygen level has been going down even without us producing CO2
    (see: http://www.pnas.org/content/96/20/10955/F2.large.jpg ) although this probably is not going to affect us in the near future.”

    Did you note the scale of the X-axis? Hint: “my” stands for “millions of years”. Perhaps you can extract just the last 100 years of data from it.

    How many things do you stop and worry about before you cross a street? That’s such a risky endeavor that the US and its states keep statistics on those who don’t make it across.

  84. Joel Shore:

    “…real dangers we need to face up to now, like AGW…”

    The AGW/climate catastrophe has been falsified. Referring to it as a ‘real danger’ is mendacious and makes a mockery of the Scientific Method, which relies on falsification.

    Those hypothesizing AGW/climate catastrophe have failed to meet the burden of proof. Carbon dioxide does not lead to runaway global warming.

    However, I will agree that there is a serious concern regarding asteroids. On March 23, 1989 a thousand foot wide asteroid missed the Earth by only 400,000 miles. Had it arrived six hours earlier, it would have made a direct hit.

    Six years ago another asteroid missed our planet by only 75,000 miles [a third of the distance to the Moon]. That near miss was not even discovered until three days after the asteroid had passed by.

    Recall that in 1994 Jupiter was hit multiple times by a comet.

    More than 100,000 asteroids lie between Mars and Jupiter, and many have extremely elliptical orbits that routinely take them across Earth’s path. With advance preparation, impact threats could be detected and averted. From far enough away, it requires little energy to divert an asteroid. No atomic bombs are necessary; a small ion engine wold suffice.

    Unlike the falsified AGW/catastrophe hypothesis, the threat from asteroids is very real. The odds of a strike are not extremely high, but even a small impact would be catastrophic.

    Unfortunately, the climate hype industry is sucking up most of the available increase in the science budget, starving astronomy and many other science programs that could be doing much more valuable work than alarming the populace over a non-existent AGW threat. [Note that NASA/GISS is now requesting an additional $10+ million over last year’s budget in just one single area: to simply ‘study’ its inaccurate computer models.]

    The AGW/climate scam continues to deprive every other branch of science adequate funding. GISS started it, NASA saw and followed the money, and now the NOAA has started the same alarmist money-grubbing behavior.

    At this point, honest science is irrelevant; now it’s all about the money, which has thoroughly politicized and corrupted government climate-related agencies.

    If/when an asteroid hits, how will diverting a big part of the U.S. science budget into one [repeatedly falsified] area be explained?

  85. We loose our atmosphere to space. Eventually, all the O2 will be gone to deep space. Just like Mars did, this planet will become oxygen free. But that is in a long, very long time. By then we might live in Closed up cities producing our own oxygen… if humanity is still here!

  86. The real climate danger, Joel, isn’t AGW, which is a complete fraud, but cooling, which has begun. The slight warming of the past century, coming out of the LIA was a boon to mankind, as was the increased C02. A cooling climate is always worse for mankind.

  87. joel
    ‘[Note that NASA/GISS is now requesting an additional $10+ million over last year’s budget in just one single area: to simply ‘study’ its inaccurate computer models.]’
    I can’t believe that it would cost $10 million to find out the CO2 amplification number is a tad high or to reprogram water vapor.

  88. Joel,

    I was using the periodicity in relatively small mass extinctions (proposed by David Raup). Such extinctions, most of which are relatively minor, occur every 26 million years (thus Muller’s postulate of Nemesis, the companion start to Sun that is disturbing the orbital stability causing asteroid impacts on Earth).

    Large extinctions (50 % extinction of all species) are far less frequent, last one 64 million years ago, before that 200, 201 (or 245?), 360, 444 and 488 millions of years ago. Apart from the two cases that occurred 200/201 or 245 million years ago, such events are pretty far apart. In that sense, the probability of mass extinction from any events including an asteroid impact (other than from lack of oxygen) in the next 10 million years or so is not greater than extinction from oxygen deprivation. But, as you know, I agree with you that we will not there to find out about this if AGW has its way.

    Smaller asteroids have been coming here regularly – 10 m size objects hitting earth once a year, 50 m size once every 1000 years, one kM size every 50,000 years, five kM every 10 million years, etc. but no evidence that they caused massive extinctions (like about 50 % of all species). So, such more frequent asteroid impacts need not mean the end of the world.

    However, one thing to note that people like E.O. Wilson believe that we are already in the middle of a massive extinction (Holocene extinction, losing 30,000 species a year), http://www.actionbioscience.org/newfrontiers/eldredge2.html even without an asteroid impact.

    According to the survey by the American Museum of Natural History, 70 % of all biologists believe that we are in the middle of a mass extinction (primarily caused by the destruction of the biosphere). Please see:

    http://www.amnh.org/museum/press/feature/biofact.html

    I am sure our friend Smokey will dismiss it as a propaganda.

    Ric,

    Yes, I noticed x-axis caption, and yes we are fine for few million years unless a drastic reduction of oxygen occurs as 300 million years ago. So, it is good for us to keep a watch on it. But I agree, the original article was unjustifiable in its implication.

    Evan,

    Sure, it is not a crisis by any means. Just something to watch and see where it is going.

  89. Peter Tatchell writing about the climate? The dear old Grauniad must be desperate. He knows less about climatology and atmospheric physics than my mothers cat. He’s a well known political activist, nothing more or less.

  90. <John McLondon:

    Yep. Your link is propaganda. But nice try, and thanx for playing, John. In fact, species are naturally going extinct all the time, as Charles Darwin made clear. Survival of the fittest applies to species as well as individuals. New species are constantly evolving to take their place. No biological niche remains unfilled for long.

    For instance, the snail darter is a small minnow that is almost extinct. It is not going extinct because of human actions, but because the world changes, and some species are not adapted well enough to cope. The snail darter was discovered in a few isolated locations. What cause do we have to commit really enormous financial resources to save an almost extinct minnow?

    The billion-dollar flood control project and Auburn dam was stopped just short of completion, and right before a serious multi-year drought hit California. Why? Because the enviro lobby demanded that a species of minnow that was already going extinct must be saved at any cost.

    Only those possessing extreme arrogance believe that humans know better than nature in cases like a minnow that is going extinct because it can’t compete.

    Finally, deliberately or through ignorance, downplaying the likelihood of an asteroid impact is plain wrongheaded. Last century alone, two very small [as asteroids go] impacts hit Siberia, annihilating many square miles of forest and killed a large herd of reindeer. Had they hit any populated area like a city, millions would have been killed. Contrast this very real threat with the entirely bogus AGW/climate catastrophe scam.

    We can do something about asteroids. We can do nothing worthwhile about the natural fluctuations of the climate.

    REPLY: Ok we are all getting waaayy OT here, no more snail darters, Darwinsim, or asteroids. – Anthony

  91. Smokey says:

    The AGW/climate catastrophe has been falsified. Referring to it as a ‘real danger’ is mendacious and makes a mockery of the Scientific Method, which relies on falsification.

    Those hypothesizing AGW/climate catastrophe have failed to meet the burden of proof. Carbon dioxide does not lead to runaway global warming.

    Smokey, since you mentioned Charles Darwin and evolution above, I should note that you can find plenty of people on the web, including some credentialed scientists, who would make the exact same claims about evolution that you make here about AGW.

    While there may be a small number of scientists (only a few who are actively publishing in the field in reputable peer-reviewed journals) who believe this about AGW…and a larger number of people with various scientific (mainly unrelated to climate science), engineering, and non-scientific backgrounds who believe this, it is not the view of most of the scientists actively working in the field. Nor is it the view of the organizations such as the IPCC, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society, the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, etc., etc. Rather, they believe that the evidence for AGW continues to grow stronger. Perhaps you might strive to learn why they believe this and why their belief is so different from your own.

    [By the way, I would agree with you that “Carbon dioxide does not lead to runaway global warming” as the term is usually used by scientists, e.g., an instability such as what happened on Venus. However, I assume you are probably using it (incorrectly…or at least in a non-standard way) to refer to there being net positive feedbacks that amplify the warming to produce an equilibrium climate sensitivity somewhere in the range of the IPCC estimates (e.g., likely between 2 and 4.5 C and very unlikely less than 1.5 C), in which case, obviously I do not agree with you.]

  92. Smokey,

    We are not talking about doing something so stupid to save just one species. We are talking about 30,000 species disappearing in a year. These are few comments from the American Museum of Natural History:

    “Seven out of ten biologists believe that we are in the midst of a mass extinction of living things, and that this dramatic loss of species poses a major threat to human existence in the next century.”
    “In strong contrast to the fears expressed by scientists, the general public is relatively unaware of the loss of species and the threats that it poses.”
    “This mass extinction is the fastest in Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history and, unlike prior extinctions, is mainly the result of human activity and not of natural phenomena.” …..

    Per instruction (appropriately so) I am not going into the details, but I do not agree with your “survival of the fittest” explanation.

    CO2 is only one problem. There are many other problems that we have to deal with using appropriate priority – deforestation, climate change, habitat destruction, hunting, the introduction of non-native species, pollution, etc. Oxygen reduction may not hurt us immediately, but could wipe out other organisms (many scientists believe the rapid reduction in oxygen caused the extinction of dinosaurs). Ultimately we are talking about our own survival. With global warming, the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum was associated with a minor mass extinction, when global temperature went up by about six degrees or so (of course, a rapid global cooling will do the same).

  93. “Seven out of ten biologists believe…….”

    I have read enough of this sort of manufactured, peer reviewed “science”, I have no more capacity for propaganda and false claims.

    Bagdad Bob would be proud of our current scientists.

  94. “I have read enough of this sort of manufactured, peer reviewed “science”, I have no more capacity for propaganda and false claims. Bagdad Bob would be proud of our current scientists.”

    The question then is, where else do you get reliable information on scientific matters? From un-reviewed blogs, speeches, congressional hearing, … where anyone could say more or less anything without the need to backup their findings?

    This is the same scientific community that is giving us new medicines, new materials, new devices, etc etc that is positively changing our lives significantly. When you use their innovations for your benefits and then equate them to Bagdad Bob when you do not agree with them, it appears to be highly disingenuous.

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