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Climate change could make us dumber… literally

Published Dec 21st, 2019 2:07PM EST
earth news
Image: Reid Wiseman/NASA

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Some might argue that mankind’s gradual destruction of planet Earth is proof that we’re not the smartest species around. I mean, how smart can we really be if we, as a species, refuse to correct our wrongs in the most dramatic way possible? Yeah, we’re not terribly smart.

Now, new research shows that as the human-caused climate crisis worsens, one of the symptoms of our increasingly sick planet may be dumber and dumber humans. I know what you’re thinking and you’re right, this probably isn’t going to end well.

The new research paper, written by a team of scientists from the University of Colorado Boulder, the Colorado School of Public Health, and the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that the gradual rise of CO2 levels in Earth’s atmosphere could cause cognitive decline in humans as a whole.

CO2 is a byproduct of many different types of human activity and, as we continue to destroy forests and foliage that help scrub the air and provide humans and other animals with breathable air, the amount of CO2 in our air gradually climbs. Studies have shown that too much CO2 in the air can trigger cognitive issues, decreasing the ability of a person to focus and hinder learning.

Getting a few breaths of oxygen-rich “fresh” air tends to clear that up, but in a future where fresh air becomes harder and harder to come by, it could lead to an overall “dumbening” of the human race. For the study, researchers simulated two different future scenarios. In both, students would perform various tasks in rooms where the air has different concentrations of CO2. Based on established data regarding how CO2 impacts cognition, the researchers crunched the numbers and came up with some pretty scary results.

The researchers report that in the first scenario, students were still exposed to so much CO2 that their cognitive abilities were decreased by 25 percent by 2100. In the second, which was the business-as-usual scenario, the students were exposed to so much CO2 when the windows were opened that they experienced a 50 percent reduction in cognitive ability.

It’s just a theoretical experiment, but the scenario the researchers used assumes that humans are unable to curb their CO2 emissions by the year 2100. We’d hope that wouldn’t be the case, but things were to play out in this way, the amount of CO2 in the air would lead to a 50% reduction in cognitive ability.

A future where the human race is even dumber? Sounds about right.