The Breath of All Green Things

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‘The eminent Harvard astronomer Harlow Shapley once performed a thought exercise about air. he pointed out that while 99 per cent of the air we breathe is highly active oxygen and mildly reactive nitrogen, about 1 per cent is made up of argon, an inert gas, because it is inert, it is breathed in and out without becoming a part of our bodies or entering into metabolic transformations. Shapley calculated that each breath contains about 3.0 x10^19, atoms of argon (30,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) plus quintillions of molecules of carbon dioxide. suppose you exhale a single breath and follow those argon atoms. within minutes, they have diffused through the air far beyond the spot where they where released, travelling into the neighbourhood. after a year, those argon atoms have been mixed up in the atmosphere and spread around the planet in such a way that each breath you take includes at least fifteen atoms of argon released in that one breath a year earlier! all people over the age of twenty have taken at least 100 million breaths and have inhaled argon atoms that where emitted in the first breath of every child born in the world a year before.’

“Your next breath will contain more than 400,00 of the argon atoms that Ghandi breathed in his long life. Argon atoms are here from the conversations at the Last Supper,  from the arguments of diplomats in Yalta, and from the recitations of the classic poets. we have argon from the sighs and pledges of ancient lovers, from the battle cries at Waterloo, even from last year’s argonic output by the writer of these lines, who personally had already more than 300 million breathing experiences.” Shapley

pg 61-62 The Breath of all Green Things, The Sacred Balance, David Suzuki


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