CO2 and the Stupidity Pandemic

On February 3, 2023, Katherine J. Wu published an article in The Atlantic called, “I Bought a CO2 Monitor, and It Broke Me,” That same day, before reading the article, my daughter (26) complained to me about how “people are stupid.” She was having some issues with a few students in the student village she was managing. 

In Wu’s article, she describes how she struggled to get the CO2 levels in her apartment below 1200 parts per million (PPM), despite continued efforts. These levels of carbon dioxide have serious cognitive effects, potentially reducing cognitive functions by 30%-40%! Reading that, this realization hit me: the reason for much of the socio-political unrest in the world, the decline of democracies, the uncontrolled climate chaos, and the influence of anti-vaxxers, is that people are literally becoming more stupid due to the gradual decrease in cognitive abilities caused by high levels of CO2.

A week prior, I read an article titled, “Bonhoeffer’s ‘theory of stupidity’: We have more to fear from stupid people than evil ones” by Jonny Thomson in Big Think. (It seems stupidity is a real issue these days).  He writes:

We cannot so easily fight stupidity for two reasons. First, we are collectively much more tolerant of it. Unlike evil, stupidity is not a vice most of us take seriously. We do not lambast others for ignorance. We do not scream down people for not knowing things. Second, the stupid person is a slippery opponent. They will not be beaten by debate or open to reason. What’s more, when the stupid person has their back against the wall — when they’re confronted with facts that cannot be refuted — they snap and lash out.”

So firstly, stupidity is becoming a global crisis, and secondly, climate change is exasperating it. Not only has the climate crisis caused CO2 to reach levels not known in human history outside, but inside our houses, it’s even worse. We’re just getting dumb and dumber and there doesn’t seem to be anything we can do about it. 

And it’s really dangerous.  

Obviously, we need to reduce CO2 levels in our atmosphere just to survive. If those levels were lower (they have surpassed 420 ppm when they should be closer to 300 ppm), indoor levels wouldn’t reach “I-can’t-think-properly” ranges, and maybe we’d make better decisions. Perhaps if our brain faculties were functioning correctly, we would accept scientific norms (the world is fucking round!), understand gender identity, realize that mass consumption and profits have serious consequences, effectively fight greenhouse gas emissions, and appreciate Churchill’s words: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried.” (That last part may have been a bit cynical for the cognitively impaired, as most of you are reading this in the confines of your 1500 ppm level CO2 filled homes, so I’ll be clear: Democracy is good).  

Our decisions during this decade will determine the future of humanity. The earth will survive, albeit with significantly less biodiversity, but humans may not. If we continue to perpetuate a cycle of declining cognitive abilities because of greenhouse gas emissions and inadequate housing, we are surely doomed to live in a world where the norm is akin to living in a hellscape portrayed in so many of the movies we so enjoy consuming. 

Summer is coming.