Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Our Planetary Garage

Smog surrounding Los Angeles. Image: Wikimedia Commons

John Bos

Here’s a question: how dangerous is it to operate a gasoline engine in a closed garage? The answer is very dangerous, life-threatening in fact. The carbon monoxide emitted by the engine – your lawn mower or snow blower – can reduce the amount of oxygen to the brain causing CO intoxication and lack of reasoning. At first. The “sleep” comes a little later on after the CO concentrations reach the Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health (IDLH) concentration of 1,200 parts per million (ppm) in only seven minutes when a small five-horsepower gasoline engine is run in a 10,000 cubic foot room.

Now consider the IDLH concentrations of a 135 horsepower automobile running in a single car garage of 1,600 cubic feet.

If one can accept the facts above, here are some sobering follow-up statistics:

  • The number of registered vehicles (cars, trucks, buses and motorcycles) in the United States in 2018 was 276.1 million, up 6 million from 2017.

  • The automotive trade journal Ward’s Auto has estimated that the total number of vehicles in the world crossed 1 billion vehicles sometime during 2010. Less than four years later there were more than 1.2 billion cars on the road.

  • By 2035, a record 2 billion cars will be exceeded. According to a report from Macquarie Bank, 88.1 million cars and light commercial vehicles were sold worldwide in 2016, up 4.8% from a year earlier.

  • Not included in these statistics are gasoline or jet aircraft.

You don’t have to be an atmospheric scientist to get the picture. Calculating the total number of motor vehicles on the planet is an inexact science but that the number of CO emitting vehicles is growing rapidly cannot be denied. Nor can the resulting impacts on human health.

In America, vehicular traffic combined with industry emissions accounts for 5,414 million metric tons of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere every year.. Image:

Our planetary garage is simply not big enough to prevent CO2 pollution from killing people. Lots of people. One has only to look at photographs of the fog of pollution in Beijing, Mumbai and Los Angeles to know that breathing that air is less than healthy.

CO2, combined with particulate pollution (PM2), contributes to an estimated 7 million premature deaths each year according to the World Health Organization.

The biggest source of particulate pollution known as PM2.5, according to the WHO study, is from heating and cooking, since meals are prepared and homes heated by mostly cow dung, wood or other biomass.

Agriculture is the next biggest contributor to premature deaths from air pollution. Ammonia from livestock and fertilizer cause the formation of ammonium nitrate and sulfate particles, which contribute to air pollution.

China is the largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world. The country emits more than 10,375 million metric tons per year, which causes serious health problems for the population, especially in the big industrial cities. Beijing is the most polluted city in the world where there are literally weeks when locals don’t see the sun because of the smog. Many citizens wear protective masks when they go outside and the local authorities have installed giant screens, which show sunrises and sunsets, to prevent depression. Nevertheless air pollution in China causes millions of deaths every year and although the country has a thriving economy, it is also the biggest polluter in the world. That’s why the Chinese government has announced plans to take up to 6 million vehicles that don’t meet new emission standards off the roads in an effort to mitigate that country’s air pollution crisis.

In second place is the world’s (still) largest economy, the U.S.A. American citizens are one of the most mobilized populations and the traffic on the streets and in the skies is so high that air pollution is becoming a more and more pressing problem. The infrastructure of American cities and suburbs forces people to travel by cars which, combined with industry, emits 5,414 million metric tons of CO2 every year.

Petroleum powered vehicles are only one source of CO2 pollution that we humans can control. As a culture we are in deep denial about the irreparable damage we have visited upon our collective home. Earth cannot begin to reverse its slide into an uninhabitable climate without the resolve and help from those who live on it.

John Bos lives in one of the five great places to live in America – Shelburne Falls – as ranked by the American Planning Association. He is a columnist for the West County Independent and a frequent contributor to the Greenfield Recorder writing about climate change. He invites comments and dialogue at

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