The Biggest Threat To Life On Earth May Be A Substance That Is Found Here Naturally

This Natural Substance Could Be The Biggest Threat To Life As We Know It–And It Is On The Periodic Table

It seems like every week there’s some new (or old) threat to human life and health and the planet’s ability to survive. From CFCs to PCBs to BPAs to god knows what horrible thing they will invent next, it seems like we are under siege from a constant alphabet soup barrage of letters threatening to kill us.

But mounting evidence suggests that the biggest threat of all may come from one single letter: N.

Nitrogen is one of the building blocks of life, found in DNA, proteins, pretty much all living things. It even makes up 78 percent of the air we breathe. So how could humble nitrogen be such a huge problem?

It comes down to the way we humans use it, of course, and the type of nitrogen we’re talking about. In the past century or so, we have released so much of what is known as reactive nitrogen that some scientists are saying we’ve reached and breached the limits of what the planet can handle.

The main culprit is the way we blanket the earth with fertilizer, along with the nitrogen emissions that are a component of agriculture, the wastewater from agriculture that saturates our waterways and oceans, and of course our old friend fossil fuels. We have certainly altered the balance of nitrogen in the atmosphere as much if not more than that of carbon, nitrogen’s more glamorous and well-publicized brother element on the periodic table.

Studies show that approximately 80 percent of the nitrogen currently used in agriculture (mostly synthetic as well as manure-based fertilizer) is lost to the environment at some point in the food supply chain. Indeed, in countries like the US, Japan and the EU, more than 75 percent of a person’s nitrogen footprint comes from food and the food supply chain. Meat and other animal products that are most resource-consuming are the biggest offenders in contributing excess nitrogen.

But the reactive kind of nitrogen is not the same as the inert kind found in the atmosphere. We have to convert it in order to use it for these purposes. The problem is fertilizer has been used with horrible inefficiency, and is now causing algae blooms, suffocating fish, and poisoning drinking water.

And meat and other large agriculture is mostly to blame. If we don’t change our ways soon, we could soon find the planet altered irreparably from yet another element we have misused and abused out of greed and shortsightedness.

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