When we think about the atmosphere it’s easy to imagine it as something as a constant feature of our planet. And while there has always been atmosphere on Earth, its composition changed a lot since the birth of our planet. And when the atmosphere changes, all life on Earth follows it. The free oxygen that all of us enjoy is abundant in the atmosphere, but it hasn’t always been here.
“What it looks like is that oxygen was first produced somewhere around 2.7 billion to 2.8 billion years ago. It took up residence in atmosphere around 2.45 billion years ago,” says geochemist Dick Holland, a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. “It looks as if there’s a significant time interval between the appearance of oxygen-producing organisms and the actual oxygenation of the atmosphere.” Source
This build-up of oxygen in the atmosphere gave the possibility for all animals to exist and evolve. Even today, around 2/3 of the oxygen is being produced by plants in the ocean like Cyanobacteria (or blue-green algae ) and the rest is produced by land plants, mostly trees. You might think that since this is the case the health of the oceans and forests would be one of our highest priorities. Here are two statistics that give us a perspective on how we actually treat the plants that give life to us :
Concentrations of phytoplankton in surface waters were estimated to have decreased by about 40% since 1950.
Some 46-58 thousand square miles of forest are lost each year—equivalent to 48 football fields every minute.
The point I’m trying to make is not that we’re literally going to suffocate to death, but that there is a big picture that we’re missing : we are not outside of nature. We’re part of the evolution of life on Earth together with all the other living beings. We can’t hurt nature without hurting ourselves. The whole planet is a giant eco-system, and we might feel like we’re on top of it, but this is an illusion. We’re in the middle of it, we’re part of it and we depend entirely upon it for our existence. Our lungs are directly connected to the plants that produce the oxygen we breathe.