Our Beautiful Blanket of Life

Yesterday’s bike ride was one I’ve made many times – up Church Hill, right on Woodland Way and then a short climb up the back side of Harp Hill for that great zoom down. Just a little over nine miles, all close to home. Minus the climbs it would be an easy ride most of you could knock off in 40 minutes without breaking a sweat.

View toward Gambrill Ridge from Church Hill Road

But if I traveled that same distance straight up I would die. Hypoxia would kill me. You don’t just need oxygen, you need a pressurized suit. If I went straight up just a few more miles, say the distance to Gambrill Park Rd, even with oxygen the liquid in my body would boil from the lack of atmospheric pressure. Bubbles in my bloodstream would kill me.

Earth’s atmosphere has two zones: the homosphere, where wind turbulence mixes all the gases, goes up about 60 miles. Above that is the heterosphere, where gases are separated by molecular weight. The lighter gases migrate to the highest layers. Above 600 miles helium and hydrogen are about all there is. But the blanket of air above us, that miraculously sustains all human life on the planet, goes up just the distance of a short bike ride. Think about that.

Into that thin blanket, last year human beings pumped 38 billion tons of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels. You read that correctly. That’s about 2.4 million pounds every second. The airborne fraction of that – what stays there and isn’t absorbed by natural ‘sinks’ (vegetation and the oceans) stands at about 43 percent. The declining ability of natural sinks to absorb excess CO2 has been well documented, but the deniers among us refute any meaningful increase in atmospheric CO2 levels.

Besides giving us air to breathe, the atmosphere moderates our temperatures, protects us from harmful radiation, gives us beautiful skies and so many other benefits. When it gets angry it can do a lot of damage. Without going deeply into a very complicated subject may I ask, can we please protect the beautiful blanket that keeps us all alive? We have it in our power to make a transition to clean renewable energy, and on principle should broadly support policies that take us there. That will be a win-win deal for all of us – for the planet, for our children and grandchildren.

May I ask, can we please

protect the beautiful blanket

that keeps us all alive?