Fresh air is healing. When you stand near a waterfall, you breathe in negative ions produced by water falling through the air. Although it is by nature colorless, tasteless and odorless, you can almost smell that fresh charged air. It fills your lungs with energy and vitality.
Oxygen is your most precious element. All humans and most animals require it to keep body and soul together. A constant supply of oxygen that life extracts from air and pulls into your body allows your body to exist. A steady oxygen supply to your brain through blood in your carotid arteries allows you to externalize awareness. Block these arteries, and you will be unconscious in less than 3 seconds due to lack of oxygen.
Without breathing, permanent brain damage usually results after only 12 minutes. Cold temperature can slow down this damage. Oxygen is super-important.
You breathe in air with 20.95% oxygen, and you breathe out air with about 16% oxygen and about 5% carbon dioxide. CO2, your breathing waste, is food for plants. In a 100-year lifetime at normal body weight and normal breathing, life draws 18 tons of free oxygen from the air into your body. That’s 4+ times more than the total amount of all nutrients that life absorbs into your body from foods in that same lifetime.
Why is oxygen so amazing? Oxygen molecules react with other molecules to break down and release the bond-held sunlight energy in your body. That energy drives everything, from heartbeat and breath, to running marathons and molecular interactions. Sunlight powers most of the activities in your body’s 10 trillion cells, 256 tissue types, and all your glands, organs and systems.
Where does free oxygen, the most precious element in the air that you breathe, come from? Living plants turn carbon dioxide plus water into sugar molecules. They string these together to make starches, cellulose and other kinds of plant fibers, the main constituents of tree trunks, shrubs, branches, stems and leaves. They release oxygen, your vital necessity. Plants don’t need oxygen to live, but animals and humans can’t live without it. Most of you know this half of the oxygen story.
The other half of the oxygen story is what happens when plants die. They rot. In this process of decomposition, as much oxygen as they made while alive reacts with the dead plants’ cellulose and sugar molecules, and everything turns into carbon dioxide and water again. Did you learn this part in school? I did not. Why is it important? If plants, after dying, use up all the oxygen they made when they lived, it’s a zero sum game. To have enough oxygen to breathe, you have to keep dead plants from rotting. Lucky for us, nature took care of it by burying a lot of them.
Here’s something else you probably don’t know. Living plants do NOT make all the free oxygen present in the air you breathe. They only make about ¼ of it. Where does the rest of the oxygen you need to breathe to live come from? That’s where it gets seriously miraculous. ¾ of the oxygen in the air is from plants that died, that nature buried, and that therefore couldn’t rot. They did not use up the oxygen they’d released while alive. Those buried green plants became fossil fuels: coal, oil and ‘natural’ gas, and all of the carbon-based chemicals we make from them: kerosene, gasoline, jet fuel, plastics and many others. You get to live because, buried, plants were separated from the oxygen they made, and left it in the air for you.
The fact that you breathe in air containing 21% oxygen and breathe out air with 16% oxygen points to the fact that you live on the top ¼ of the oxygen in earth’s air. Presently living plants make only the bottom ¼ of it. Half of the oxygen in the air is left over from past plants, our present fossil fuels. Researchers studying this topic say that it took between 2.5 and 3.5 billion years for plants to live, make oxygen, die and get buried to raise oxygen in the air to present levels, to surround our planet with it, and to allow animals and us to exist.
Just over a century ago, industry began to dig up the dead buried plants–now fossil fuels–and burn them to produce the energy used by industry, air conditioning, motor vehicles, heavy machinery, and thousands of other energy sucking modern conveniences and gadgets. At present rates of fossil fuel use, they estimate that the oxygen in our air can go back down to 16% within only 300 to 15,000 years.
Is this cause for concern? Some experts estimate that human beings go into coma at about 19% oxygen, and at 16%, we absorb no oxygen and die. At 15% oxygen, a car won’t start and fire won’t burn. Burning fossil fuels is dangerous to our life. Solution: Keep fossil fuels buried and immediately replace them with safe, renewable non-carbon energy sources like solar, wind and water.
If you haven’t read the first three parts of this series, you can start with Part 1.