On those brisk mornings you start your vehicle a little early so by the time your kids pile in the jeep it's nice and warm. When our kids (5 and 7) walk around behind the hitch I’ll remind them to hold their breath and pick up the pace. Don’t dilly dally back there. ‘Why Dada.’ Children are nothing if not inquisitive beings which I absolutely love (most of the time). And a question about the hind-end of a vehicle is a two-pronged opportunity to discuss both safety and air quality.
The lessons I was raised on were based on tractors and farm implements, but vehicles and blind spots are all the same common sense conveyed. But conversations around vehicle exhaust, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and oxygen can - and often do - last the whole ride to school.
Here’s some highlights from those conversations:
- You need to breathe in oxygen to live and be healthy and there’s none of that coming from behind this car so get a move on.
- I thought we breath air
- Well, we do. But air is a general term for lots of different forms of gas found on the periodic table of elements that are all mixed up together.
- Dada, what’s the periodic table of elements?
- A conversation for another time buddy/hunny. There’s good air and there’s not so good air. What’s in good air that we really need to survive is Oxygen.
- Oh. So we breathe oxygen.
- That’s right, we breathe Oxygen and we exhale Carbon Dioxide.
- What’s Carbon Dioxide Dada?
- That’s what gives trees their mass, their size. It’s what helps trees growth big and tall.
- Wow! So we help trees grow by giving them our air.
- That’s right. And here’s the really cool part. Trees use water and the sun in a process called photosynthesis to produce Oxygen for us to breathe. We need each other, our relationship is symbiotic.
- Yeah hunny/buddy
- What’s 'symbiolick…'
And now for the adult lessons on the day:
- Global gas emissions are broken down into five (5) basic categories: F-gases (2%); Nitrous Oxide (6%); Methane (16%); and Carbon Dioxide (76%), which includes ‘people breath.’
- Carbon Dioxide makes up north of 76% of all gas emission world-wide. And it’s Humans that expel more pounds of Co2 emissions (35.6% to be more precise) annually than rail, commercial aircraft, ships, heavy and light duty trucks, buses, passenger cars, and motorcycles combined! In fact, it’s more than 1¾ (1.75x) times the amount of total emissions from transportation annually. Therefore, Human exhale equates to over 25% (27.056 to be precise) of all world-wide emission.
Here’s how that breaks down:
- People consume 30lbs of ‘air’ daily, 20% of which is oxygen. This equates to 2,191.50lbs of O2 annually or 83,277 tons (166,554lbs) over the average lifespan or 76 years.
- A mature tree produces 260lbs of oxygen per year. It therefore takes 8.43 mature trees to support one person’s oxygen needs.
- On the other hand, Humans produce/exhale 2.3lbs of carbon dioxide per day or 840lbs per year. A mature tree can only absorb 48lbs of Co2 per year (or 17.5 trees to absorb the Co2 from just one person).
- Compare emissions of carbon dioxide to that of Transportation which equates to 1.9 billion tons of Co2 annually. Whereas 7.9 billion (round it up to 8 by the time you read this) people produce 3.36 billion tons of Co2 annually (8billion x 840lbs = 6.72e12 / 2,000).
You know what this means don’t you. We’re in need of a new Pie chart for Co2 emissions. So here it is.
37% - Electricity
31% - Transportation
15% - Industry
10% - Residential & Commercial
6% - Other (Non-fossil fuel combustion)
0% - This is Us (no mention at all)
Where do we go from here? Plant a few trees, that’s a good start. They are after all renewable resources. Here’s the thing though:
- According to the peeps at NASA we’re burning through plankton faster than roaches at Woodstock. Which is to say that’s a tougher riddle to crack.
- Having fewer kids isn’t the solution either. Hell, have a few more, maybe one of them will solve this oxygen desert/carbon dioxide royal toilet flush of a hand that’s being dealt to our fisheries.
Cheers to children smarter than us,
Mike (always the optimist) Hiller