Breath of the planet: Are we destroying our oxygen supply?

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114910022816436.jpg’, ‘Photo provided’, ‘One of Jim Starry's most eye-catching pollution solutions is the Starrport, a new airport design that will decrease pollution from plane departures, arrivals and taxiing.’);

Carbon buried under the crust of the Earth allows us to breathe free oxygen. As we burn increasing amounts of fossil fuels, we combine carbon with that free oxygen, releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. Our use of fuels is gradually reducing our oxygen supplies.

Little attention has been given to atmospheric oxygen levels as climate change is a more immediate threat. A slight drop in atmospheric oxygen over the past 20 years was recently reported by the Commonwealth Scientific Research Organization in Australia. Pristine air was measured at the remote Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station. The decrease found by this initial study is far less than typical fluctuations indoors or in city air, and will not interfere with human breathing.

We all realize we can only survive a few minutes without oxygen. The presence of people tethered to oxygen tanks has made us aware of the medical need for supplemental oxygen. But most people seldom think about their own blood oxygen levels. Airline pilots are tested to ensure their blood oxygen levels are high enough they remain alert in flight. Vehicle drivers are not tested, even though low oxygen levels can contribute to their falling asleep at the wheel. Victims of sleep apnea often have low blood oxygen levels, which increases the likelihood of inattentive driving.

Intersections with high traffic levels and cars idling in traffic are the most common sites of reduced oxygen levels in urban areas. High carbon monoxide emissions from vehicles reduce oxygen levels in the blood, adversely affecting human performance.

All combustion, regardless of the fuel used, consumes oxygen and releases heat and pollutants. The miles we travel and the fuel efficiency of our vehicles determine how much our transportation choices pollute the air and consume oxygen. We assume the pollutants simply disappear, but many of them circle the globe and return within a week.

With China and India emulating our transportation choices, pollution levels will rise dramatically. Air travel is our fastest-growing mode of transportation. By 2050, it is expected to increase 900 percent, as will the multiple adverse environmental impacts of its growth.

Anyone who phones environmental designer Jim Starry hears his message that, with each gallon of gasoline burned in a car, 10,000 gallons of air pollution are released. His dramatic numbers are an attempt to get others to think about the impact their lifestyles have on the air we breathe.

One of his most eye-catching pollution solutions is the Starrport, a new airport design that will decrease pollution from plane departures, arrivals and taxiing. He has other ideas and inventions to limit sources of pollution in our communities. Like any inventor, he thinks some of these ideas could be turned into commercial products and manufactured in this area.

He will make a presentation at the Fifth Annual Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living Fair Aug. 12-13 at Ogle County Fairgounds (Google “Jim Starry”). Other workshops, displays and vehicles will highlight alternative ways to reduce our oil addiction and lessen the adverse impacts of our transportation choices.

Anyone interested in becoming a sponsor or having a booth at the fair should e-mail or phone 815-732-7332. If you wish to volunteer at the fair, e-mail or phone 815-732-7020.

Major sponsors for this year’s fair include The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and ComEd, an Exelon Company.

From the May 31-June 6, 2006, issue

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