Does Being Indoors Literally Make You Stupid?

stupid person cutting tree

Humans have a thing for oxygen. We just like breathing it, go figure. Our brains need oxygen to function properly, but when the air is full of too much carbon — say, indoors — it's low on oxygen.

The science is still in an early stage on this one; nobody knows for sure how much carbon someone has to breathe to, say, buy a K-cup coffee machine. But studies are showing ... well ... what's the opposite of promise? Gloom?

Some researchers found that more carbon in the air made participants worse at task performance, decision-making, strategy, using information and responding to crises. One Harvard study even found that cognitive skills got 21 percent worse when people were breathing air with 400 ppm more carbon in it.

Humans evolved to live outdoors. Now that we spend most of our time indoors, in tightly insulated buildings, we're breathing even more pollutants. A regular modern building is at around 950 ppm carbon already. That Harvard study found that people in "green" buildings did 61 percent better on eight out of the nine cognitive tasks they ran than people in regular buildings. Higher CO2 in schools is even linked to more student absenses.

"Green building design that optimizes employee productivity and energy usage will require adopting energy-efficient systems and informed operating practices to maximize benefits to human health while minimizing energy consumption" write the study's authors. "This study was designed to reflect indoor office environments in which large numbers of people work every day. These exposures should be investigated in other indoor environments, such as homes, schools, and airplanes, where decrements in cognitive function and decision making could have significant impacts on productivity, learning, and safety."

And we may be getting even stupider. In the sci-fi comedy, "Idiocracy," a couple of people travel 500 years into the future where they discover everyone has become stupid, because stupid people had more children than did smart people. Thanks to climate change, this world of stupidity may not be such a fiction.

For most of human history, Earth hovered between 180ppm and 280 ppm carbon. Thanks to increased carbon emissions, we're at 400 ppm now, and we're expected to hit 1,000 ppm by the end of the century. Since humans are putting so much carbon into the air, we're creating a world with less oxygen ... Meaning we may be decreasing our own brainpower.

It's funny, I actually did always have a tougher time focusing in classrooms than I did outside. I wonder if future people will even show up to class. If so, they'll probably need a ton of K-cups to get through the day.