I hate to be an alarmist, but consider this an early warning about a looming O2 crisis. Right now various estimates from many different studies show that the Amazon rainforest currently produces 20 to 40 percent of the earth's oxygen (Butler, R., 2012), (Eberhard, 1977), (Dornbusch, 1991),(TJ Goreau, WZ de Mello, 1988) etc.
At the rate we are cutting it down, as well as other forested areas on earth, we can expect a reduction of oxygen percent in the atmosphere anywhere from 25 to 40 percent by 2040.
I want you to do a thought experiment with me in science and see what this means.
Picture a room that is sealed. This is a room that represents the earth's atmosphere. In the room there is Oxygen, Nitrogen, Carbon Dioxide and Miscellaneous. Atmospheric scientists and many air quality scientists know that each of these gasses forms a partial pressure in the room. So in order for one gas in the environment to increase in quantity, either the air pressure goes up, or the other gasses must lower their partial pressures which can be thought of in terms of percents. Since the atmosphere does not seem to shift it's pressure significantly too often (thank goodness), we can assume that the earth absorbs and creates gasses to balance the partial pressures.
If we take the best case scenario and say that only 2/3rds of the forests of the congo is all the trees that will be cut, that's still 25 percent of the available breathable oxygen gone. So that would be
25 percent less oxygen = 20.9 - (0.209 x 0.25) x 100 = 15. 68 percent
That would be equivalent of the oxygen that is available at 9,000 feet above sea level. At 8,000 feet above sea level mountain climbers are vulnerable to altitude sickness according to National Geographic. The picture is also to the right.
If we lower the amount of oxygen quantity by 40 percent (worst case scenario and business as usual) Then the amount of oxygen in the air is going to be
40 percent less oxygen = 20.9 percent -( 0.209 x 0.40) x 100 = 12.54 percent
instead of the 20.0 percent oxygen content we currently enjoy at sea level. This puts the levels of oxygen the equivalent of approximately 17,000 feet. It won't be enough to kill a normally healthy person, but anyone who is struggling with breathing, heart or kidney issues is going to find life difficult and their activity curtailed. People who are currently experiencing those issues may have to go on oxygen support in a few years or may succumb earlier than they normally would have.
If you want to play around with the numbers a bit, there is a website that explains some of the issues for the human body at different oxygen partial pressure contents. It's kind of fun, if a bit alarming. But you can play around with it and see what happens inside the human body as far as what gets shorted oxygen and how people have to change their breathing patterns to compensate and what stressors it would put on the body as a result. Visit
Altitude Air Pressure Calculator
This is why air quality agreements like the Kyoto was and is so very important as a start. This story does not have to have a sad ending.. We can slow the need for timber as an export from south America by using alternative building materials when appropriate: glass, adobe, steel and additional recyclable materials including concrete, tar, plastics etc.
Bulding green roofs and living walls, promoting indoor plants, and landscaped transportation corridors will keep the regional leaf area and hopefully increase it, without losing functionality of the intended use of designs.
Having our energy produced with 50 percent nuclear and 25 percent petroleum and 25 percent innovative alternatives as the minimum standards for countries will help make sure we have the energy reserves for years to come with less strip mining. In fact, I have heard that electric cars can even act as a 'stabilization of the electrical grid making nuclear supported energy even safer.
Whether or not there is enough oxygen, particulates that are very, very small are choking people even with a good oxygen content from industry, mining, clear cutting, wind erosion, transportation corridors, etc. So, filters are very important. However, as I just pointed out, industry itself also contributes. Luckily for us there is moss a fantastic natural dust filtration that was created when the world was pretty dusty and before there were trees. While it cannot compete with a tree for the shear volume of oxygen, it helps more complex plants remain cleaner so they can produce oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide at optimal levels.
When a tree goes down for whatever reason in your neighborhood, plant another. Keep the diversity up!! So that tree epidemics don't wipe out acres of forests.
For those of you for whom tree loss is ambiguous, the formula is simple, plant one tree on your land for every man, woman, and child and pet in your household. Maintain them. Pets can get by with large shrubs and ferns. Defend your property by making sure there is a tree policy in your city that preserves and keeps a diversified urban forest. Food trees are good to incorporate at as well. We CAN take control of the worst case scenario. We will need extra trees for livestock, insects, etc, but that's what public institutions like DOTs, utility companies, green roof projects, private companies and green parking lots, etc can fill in with.
On my own property I have six people, and two Ashes are sick, so I have added an American Hazel Nut, three orchard trees, a mulberry tree, a Maple, and a fir tree in addition to two standing maples and also have added ferns, rain garden, and lilacs for the pets. Next year, I will add an additional nut tree and oak and willow. See how easy that is?