The Rising Carbon Dioxide Levels Could Make Us Dumber

Our planet’s fossil fuel addiction will not only trigger a climate crisis, but it can also damage our thinking. New research suggests that the concentration of carbon dioxide in our interior could impair human knowledge by the end of the century. Of course, this worrying fate could have been avoided if the world could have successfully reduced carbon emissions, although ridiculously these hidden effects of climate change could actually hamper our ability to solve the problem.

Air with high levels of carbon dioxide can raise the level of carbon dioxide in our blood, reducing the amount of oxygen in our brain, increasing our sleep, anxiety, and impairing our cognitive function. It’s an effect that feels like a cloudy-headed, sleepless feeling that often sits in the back of a room for a long time. 

Carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere have been rising to the top since we first started burning fossil fuels in the 19th century and now stand at more than 410 parts per million (ppm), more than at any time in the last 800,000 years. By 2100, the level of external carbon dioxide could be as high as 930 ppm if the current emissions trend continues, but the density inside could be more than 1400 ppm – a much higher level than the level perceived by humans.

Scientists led by the University of Colorado Boulder believe that this subsequent reduction in the cognitive activity of internal carbon dioxide will be enough to see a slight decline in cognitive activity, published in the journal Geohealth. According to their estimates, initial decision-making skills can be reduced by about 25 percent and complex strategic thinking by 50 percent.

Co-author Anna Schapiro, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a statement, “At this level, some studies have shown compelling evidence for significant cognitive impairment.” “Although there is some conflicting research in the literature and much more research is needed, it appears that high-level cognitive domains, such as decision-making and planning, are particularly sensitive to increasing CO2 concentration.”

The research team monitored current global emissions trends and local urban emissions to see how it would affect indoor and outdoor carbon-dioxide levels and how human knowledge is affected. They acknowledge that this is a complex issue, so their research will not take into account every variable. However, they note that there is currently little research on the link between cognitive function and increasing carbon dioxide emissions.

Kris Karnauskas, lead author and associate professor at CU Boulder, “This is a complex issue and at the beginning of our study it was not just a matter of predicting the global (outdoor) CO2 level.” He added, “To explore this, we need a more comprehensive, interdisciplinary team of researchers: it will not be enough to investigate every step in our own silos.”