Rising Co2 levels and declining cognitive function – the overlooked side effect in the climate change discussion.

At this point in time, most of us probably know that Co2 levels are rising, and what that means in terms of a warming climate.

What most of us don’t consider though, is the effect this will have on our cognitive abilities. More specifically, our ability to use information and strategize, which are coincidentally also the skills we need to utilize in order to combat climate change.

Historical Co2 levels over the past 1000 years (concentration in Parts Per Million, ppm) (click to see the full picture on Co2levels.org)

As the graph shows, we’ve now reached a concentration of 415ppm Co2 (parts per million), which is a 50% increase since the industrial revolution, and rising exponentially.

Testing the real-time effects of higher Co2 levels on our bodies is fairly straightforward, since most of us will experience large swings in Co2 levels over the course of a day, from factors like:

  • How well-insulated our home is.
  • If we choose to sleep with the door/window open.
  • What kind of plant life a room has.
  • Ventilation
  • Etc.

Individually we have a lot of control over the environment we choose to live in at home, but we don’t have a lot of control over the concentration of Co2 in the air around the world. This is the baseline we must live with.

The Co2 trend

The trend is unfortunately very clear. Co2 levels over time will continue to rise without significant action.

As Co2 levels continue to rise, we can expect our collective cognitive abilities to suffer because of it, as you can see in the results below. Specifically in regards to information usage and strategy.

Study published in Environmental Health Research

The logical conclusion to be drawn from these results is that people will become less capable of dealing with climate change, and the need to reduce Co2 emissions, as time goes by. Thus creating a negative feedback loop.

So, if you weren’t already keenly interested in reducing our Co2 emissions, you now have an additional reason.

Permanent damage?

Over the years, there’s been some disagreement on which Co2 levels are safe, and when it will start to produce lasting damage in humans. Some believe that as little as 1000pmm Co2 for prolonged periods is enough to cause damage.

Regardless of the outcome of that discussion, all signs suggest that being aware of the Co2 levels around you is a good thing for your well-being and cognitive ability.

What can I do about the Co2 levels in my home?

If you want to get to know the Co2 levels in your home, you can get a Co2-meter. There are lots of options, from the very simple and cheaper design to the more elaborate models. The accuracy of the simple model is within 100ppm, whereas the slightly more expensive model has an accuracy of just 50ppm. However, even the cheap model is accurate enough to tell you when it’s a good idea to open a window.

To improve Co2 levels in your home, you can:

  • Be aware of Co2 levels. You can’t change what you don’t know about.
  • Consider what kinds of plants you have, and how they are placed in your home.
  • Consider sleeping with the door or window open.
  • Make sure the ventilation in your home is adequate.

If you are considering using plants in your bedroom to help regulate the Co2-levels, you need to get those known as crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) plants – one example of these is the Aloe Vera plant.

The reason for this is that unlike the “normal” photosynthesis process, where plants take in Co2 in daylight and produce oxygen, CAM plants will instead take in Co2 in darkness.

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