It’s my custom, when I eat, to watch a YouTube or BBC iplayer documentary. So as I was forking down some fish fingers, croquettes, and baked beans this evening, I found myself watching Every Breath We Take with Gabrielle Walker (2014) on BBC iplayer.
It was a very interesting programme describing how chemists in the late 18th century had begun to understand that the air in the atmosphere wasn’t a single substance, but was in fact a mixture of different gases, including oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and water vapour, among others.
I was expecting the mention of carbon dioxide to be accompanied by a reminder that this is the killer gas which is the cause of the runaway global warming which will most likely end all life on Earth in a few decades time. And I was a little distressed when no such reminder was forthcoming.
But the reason soon became evident, when it emerged that one of the other gases in the atmosphere was far more dangerous: oxygen.
All the cells in our bodies burn fuel from food with oxygen to produce the energy that warms us and powers our every activity. But this combustion process releases very powerful and destructive particles: free radicals. Gabrielle Walker:
“Flames are full of free radicals. So are our bodies every time we breathe. They tear through our molecules and cells. And over time the damage accumulates. And in the end that damage is the reason why we all grow old and die. With every breath we take, oxygen is slowly killing us.”
I was so shocked that the fish finger fell off my fork!
Nobody had ever told me this before. It doesn’t need cigarette smoke to kill people: pure air does it too.
Gabrielle Walker went on to immediately say:
“But I still think it’s worth it.”
But isn’t that exactly the same sort of bleat that’s made by cigarette smokers? They know their habit is killing them, but they “still think it’s worth it.”
Clearly Gabrielle Walker is addicted to oxygen. Yet even though she knows it’s killing her, she still thinks it’s “worth it” to be able to ‘live her life’! Simply to be able to run, jump, talk and think for a few short years, she’ll gladly inhale this deadly gas. But is it really worth it? I think not.
I hope that when all the carbon dioxide has been removed from the atmosphere, they’ll start removing the oxygen too.
Because I for one would very much like to be able to breathe oxygen-free air for once in my life, just like I now breathe smoke-free air.