Impact of increased Carbon Dioxide Emissions on Human Health and Evolution

As mankind burns fossil fuels to meet its energy needs, carbon emissions are added to the atmosphere. Some of them such as particulate matter are short lived but others such as carbon dioxide is a long lived component. A previous note explored the impact of carbon dioxide emissions on climate change: (  It was concluded that a much higher level of around 1000 ppm of carbon dioxide appears to be beneficial for the green side of life – plants and trees – because carbon dioxide is to plants as oxygen is to animals. It was also stated that the full impact of such increases on global ecology is a matter for further study.  The present note touches upon a topic that has received little attention so far – The impact of increased carbon dioxide on human physical and spiritual evolution. It is assumed that both go hand in hand as regards humans. The present brief note merely makes initial comments with the hope of initiating more detailed studies in this direction. Over the past century, carbon dioxide levels have increased to present levels of around 400 ppm. With continued use of fossil fuels it is expected to increase further.

It is essential to clarify at the outset what is meant by spiritual here. It is a broad term that can describe things varying from a tribal beating on a drum while some dance around a fire to others burdened by an original sin lost in the mists of time. However, here spirituality and spiritual evolution refer to something much simpler. It is to do with compassion, beauty, clarity of thought to understand truths of our universe, a sense of humility at our smallness in this vast universe and a sense of wondrous joy about it. Further, the present discussion clubs spiritual evolution with a physical one because there is an assumption that the essential inner or spiritual consciousness is the template on which the physical universe that includes individual life forms, evolve and unfold.

When we speak of the impact of increased carbon dioxide it is also assumed simultaneously that levels of oxygen shall either be the same or increase but not diminish. One need not worry that they would decrease as carbon dioxide increases to 1000 ppm because that is still only 0.1 percent of the atmosphere. Moreover the increased photosynthesis would result in the generation of more oxygen while nitrogen levels can only go down because plants absorb nitrogen too through a complex nitrogen cycle for their growth. Therefore an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere does not lead to a decrease in oxygen. It may remain substantially unchanged or increase.

The central question is what will happen to humans when carbon dioxide increases in the very air they breathe. Air, water and food are fundamental to life and its quality is fundamental to the quality of life that depends upon it. Of these, air is more important than water and water more important than food. A human may live for a few weeks without food, for a few days without water and only for a few minutes without air. It is therefore reasonable to assume that the quality of air a human breathes every instant of his life plays a critical role in the quality of his being. Changes in carbon dioxide content are bound to have an influence.

In order to determine the influence of increases carbon dioxide content in the air we breathe does not require many new studies or experiments because already several scholarly and medical studies exist on the subject where the influence of carbon dioxide as high as five or even ten percent has been studied in detail. The interested reader can easily discover these through a google search. It turns out that carbon dioxide does not have a negative role provided the oxygen percentage remains high. If anything the influence seems to be a beneficial one. Air also has a large component of nitrogen in it but while that component appears to have little influence carbon dioxide plays a more fundamental role on human psyche and biology.

Just to quote from one of these references “In the twelfth paper of this series, Wolff and Lennox showed by experiments on animals that an increased concentration of carbon dioxide increases the volume of blood passing through the brain by raising the systemic blood pressure and by dilating the cerebral arteries. Venous blood becomes more arterial-like (richer in oxygen and poorer in carbon dioxide). They expressed the belief that the most effective measure for increasing the supply of blood, and hence of oxygen, to the tissues of the brain is the inhalation of a mixture of 90 per cent oxygen and 10 per cent carbon dioxide. The latter increases the diameter of arteries and, by inducing a condition of acidosis, increases the dissociation of oxygen from hemoglobin and makes more oxygen available for the tissues. It also stimulates respiration and increases the blood pressure.”

Please do note that the past comment concerns animals not humans. However as regards humans, in the past a mixture of carbon dioxide and oxygen called carbogen was used in therapy. “Meduna administered carbogen to his patients to induce abreaction, which, with proper preparation and administration, he found could help clients become free of their neuroses. Carbogen users are said to have discovered unconscious contents of their mind, with the experience clearing away repressed material and freeing the subject for a smoother, more profound psychedelic experience.”

It must be pointed out that these quotations concern very high levels of carbon dioxide whereas even with 1000 ppm carbon dioxide the level would be only 0.1 percent i.e. far lower. If the quotations have been included here, it is merely to illustrate that carbon dioxide is not a poisonous pollutant when inhaled but in fact small increases may be beneficial. One may look at the past of our planet too. During the Cambrian era when carbon dioxide levels were far higher in the atmosphere an explosion of evolution and new life forms took place on the planet.

Now turning our gaze to recent times, the past six or seven decades in which carbon dioxide levels have increased gradually to a level of 400 ppm due to heavy usage of fossil fuels, can we discern any changes in human evolution or well being? This same period has seen a tremendous rise of human population. Increasing number of humans have been forced into crowded and polluted cities and many are forced to live in high rise apartments without the benefit of outdoors. To add to human woes, daily commuting on crowded roads has increased and the synthetic chemical component of processed foods as well as vegetables has seen an increase. All this does not contribute to human well being. Yet the same period has also seen an increase of life spans and new technological discoveries such as nuclear power, television, computers, and mobile devices etc. that have changed human lives drastically. Democracy has become more prevalent in the world and although exploitation of humans by a small percentage of the powerful, the so called one percent continues, its yoke is being loosened with a proliferation of free speech and it has at least moved from the rule of one person to one percent except for a few isolated countries. In this complex picture it is difficult to arrive at any definite conclusion about the role of increased carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere on human lives. Prima facie it appears to be beneficial. Further studies in this direction are needed.

Looking at the situation philosophically, carbon breathing life forms and oxygen breathings ones have evolved in co-operation right from the very beginning of evolution.  None can survive without the other. In a sense they are two sides of the same coin called life. Therefore, it is to be expected that if one prospers the other shall too.


Vinod Khurana said…
Dear Ashok ji,
A wonderful and revolutionary article. I totally agree with you that a detailed research is called for on the subject matter. And why not, for technology alone can't be a viable answer to all man made problems. With warm Regards/Vinod

Go green
But become not a freak
Limit your need
And make technology clean

Dryer over tissue
Heat over cool feel
Bake oneself no end
To reduce carbon footprint

What nature has made
There is a meaning therein
To take in as is necessary
And give a large bounty

If we can live but naturally
And make surroundings green
Carbon dioxide shall be no problem
The more we control our greed!

ashok said…

Dear Vinod

What a wonderful contribution to a hotly debated topic around the world containing much wisdom

Thanks a lot

Do keep contributing to this blog Vinod. Your words not only add wisdom but also beauty.

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