Ever wonder how much air your car breathes infographic. A car sucking in oxygen and carbon and emitting carbon dioxide.
Most people are aware of carbon dioxide emissions and how CO2 is a greenhouse gas that causes global warming and climate change. But have you ever wondered about the other half of this equation? What about all the oxygen that is being burned to make carbon dioxide? Could the problem really be not too much carbon dioxide but too little oxygen?

How much oxygen does a car breathe?

What if greenhouse gases aren’t the problem?

We are all aware of our reliance on fossil fuels and their byproduct of greenhouse gases and poisons. But have you ever wondered about the oxygen needed to burn the fuel?

Gas (C) + Oxygen (O2) = Carbon dioxide (CO2) or Carbon monoxide (CO).

As mankind burns more and more fuel, we are also burning more and more oxygen. Simultaneously, the planet’s ecosystem is being destroyed. And because the plants produce our oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis, fewer plants also means less oxygen.

How much oxygen does a car burn infographic. An illustration showing that the volume of oxygen burned per gallon of gas is bigger than a car.
As this chart says, in ideal circumstances, a car burns 2038 times more oxygen than gasoline as measured by volume. That’s ideal, but engines are very inefficient. Poor combustion can lead to even worse pollutants being created like carbon monoxide and even raw gas fumes.
How much oxygen a person breathes infographic. This illustrates that the huge volume of oxygen used by a car in one hour takes a person 6.2 days to use.
In one hour, a car burns approximately 2 gallons of gas to travel about 55-70 miles. It would take the average person 6.2 days to breathe the same amount of oxygen to stay alive with minimum activity.

Double jeopardy — Are the plants suffocating too?

The over-simplified answer is — Yes! Plants breathe carbon dioxide (CO2). A common misperception is that more emissions means more CO2, and thus plants will grow faster and produce more oxygen. Does the planet look anymore green to you? Unfortunately, the emissions from a vehicle contain more carbon monoxide (CO) which the plants can’t use and is poisonous to humans.

The oxygen in our atmosphere is being measurably and quickly reduced. Oxygen depletion, in our opinion, will soon be recognized as the greatest crisis humanity has ever faced. And it will probably happen in our lifetime. It is critical to start changing our habits and infrastructure while we still can. Because as we all know, we can’t simply stop driving our cars tomorrow. Which, by the way, is another great reason to ride a bike. Especially since one minute of driving your car consumes the equivalent oxygen that 5 people breathe in one day — that’s a lot of bicycling.

The oxygen content of the earth's atmosphere infographic.
This graph shows that the oxygen content in the Earth’s atmosphere is not constant. In fact, for two billion years there was no oxygen at all. Then the oxygen levels went all the way up to about 39% in the Permian Era then suddenly dropped. Currently, it is assumed to be 21% at sea level. It’s hard to measure and there isn’t much data, but the numbers have been dropping.

Join our Global Oxygen Depletion Facebook Page and follow some current thinking, and maybe lend some of your own. And stay tuned for Scott’s upcoming book Breathless. Join our mailing list to get news.

Update 2019: I’m still working on this. It’s been a tough project, but I plan to publish soon one way or another.

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