The Guardian (surprise!) has an author who’s pulling the panic switch, this time on the reduction of oxygen in the atmosphere.
The author’s premise– increased CO2 in the atmosphere and decreased forests = a fatal decline in oxygen concentrations.
The problem is interesting, and blaming internal combustion is almost silly. The global concentration of CO2 on the planet is 345 ppm (or, 0.0345%). Let’s assume for arguments sake that all 345 ppm is from petroleum burning (which we know it’s not). Now, the molar ratio of carbon to oxygen is 1:2, so it takes two moles of oxygen to bind to one mole of carbon. So, if all 345 ppm of carbon come from burning, then it would remove a similar amount of oxygen from the atmosphere. In fact, to cause a percentage decrease in oxygen concentration on a global scale, there would have to be about 10000 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere, or 1%.
Now, I’m being a little liberal with math here, and there are other variables. Depending on the hydrocarbon burned, the amount of oxygen varies, and there’s also generation of water, which consumes oxygen as well. But the amount of oxygen consumed per carbon is still minimal.
The panic sets in when the uniformed look at a molar equation. Octane is C8H18. To burn it in a balanced form you’d get the following equation. 2 C8H18 + 25 O2 –> 16 CO2 + 18 H2O. That is, to generate 34 moles of gas (CO2 and H2O), you need 25 moles of O2. The uniformed eye would look at the amount of oxygen consumed by the octane and start to panic– and it is quite a ratio! But the atmospheric concentrations is what you want to look at, and the amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere give away just how much oxygen is being consumed.
I think this statement in the article says it all:
I am not a scientist, but this seems a reasonable concern.
Well, I’m not a journalist, but I do believe you’re a moron.