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When CO2 is stored underground, it includes oxygen atoms. What is the impact of taking all the oxygen out of the atmosphere?

We get asked questions, we try to answer them.
September 5, 2017
Sometimes people ask us a question and we try to answer them

Burning fuels produces carbon dioxide (CO2).

We can’t, and we wouldn’t ever, want to eliminate all the CO2 in the atmosphere.

I am not an expert in this field, but I have two thoughts on the matter. First, there is much more oxygen in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. The amount of CO2 that needs to be removed from the environment—while it may be an enormous amount of a substance—actually represents a small fraction of a percent of the atmosphere. Meanwhile, the atmosphere is about 19 percent oxygen, so sequestering that CO2 will have much less effect on the proportion of oxygen than it will on the amount of carbon dioxide.

Second, the oxygen in that CO2 is already bonded in the molecules, so it is not oxygen we can breathe anyway. We can’t, and we wouldn’t ever, want to eliminate all the CO2 in the atmosphere. That would bring on other disasters such as the halting of photosynthesis. The object of carbon sequestration is to try to balance CO2 levels against our consumption of fossil fuels. If there is a threat of loss of oxygen in the atmosphere, and I don’t think there is, the culprit is the combustion of fuel for our energy.

Gordon McDonough
Science Evangelist (retired)

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