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N.D., a breath of fresh air

When people ask me why I moved from California to North Dakota I have a simple answer; oxygen. You see the Dakota prairies and Badlands have lots of it and California doesn't.

In fact, according to scientists, a long time ago when folks still resembled Ronald Reagan's buddy Bonzo, they breathed air that had an oxygen content of about 35 percent. Today our average oxygen content is right around 20 percent. Except in places like Los Angeles, where it hits 15 percent on a good day and normally hovers around 12 percent. And if it ever drops below 7 percent there'll be a lot of other things dropping in Los Angeles, like your favorite celebrity.

Which is important because you might be surprised to know that oxygen, not pizza, is our most important nutrient? You can live for weeks or months without food, days without water, but only minutes without air. So along with the nutrients that you take in, oxygen provides the energy necessary for your immune system, growth, maintenance, repair and all other bodily functions. It also allows you to successfully combat harmful micro-organisms and detoxify chemical pollutants. Which probably makes you want to stockpile 10 or 12 canisters and take a few hits during Monday night football, doesn't it?

I had a good lesson in oxygen deprivation some years ago when I was stuck in the Lincoln Tunnel, a 1.5 mile, dark, under-river route that connects New Jersey to Manhattan. A large diesel bus broke down and blocked one lane of the two-way tunnel, backing up traffic for miles and pinning me in the middle of that underwater vault with countless other choking drivers. To make matters worse, temperatures were oven-like and the humidity levels equaled those of a Minnesota Vikings post game shower. Plus the temperature gauge in my rental car shot up like a women's sundress on a windy day every time I turned on the air conditioning.

Now I'm certain that the oxygen content, by the time that bus was towed out of the tunnel, was at or near 7 percent. Because, in my oxygen deprived state, I was deep into a very nice conversation with both Howard Hughes and Ulysses S. Grant.

Which reminds me of a guy who told me that he saw people, a mile tall, when he drove a big rig on a oxygen deprived road 14,000 feet high up in the Rocky Mountains. After my tunnel incident I wasn't about to argue with him and it made me realize that oxygen is very important when it comes to tuning into reality.

But at least, in terms of auto emissions, help is on the way because in 166 years we'll be completely out of gas, based upon a measurement of current consumption levels and available resources by Which means 600 million smog emitting motor vehicles will come to a screeching halt unless alternative fuels can be created on a massive scale. And then we'll finally be able to take a deep breath and see what air tastes like without those Conoco, Shell and Cenex fumes mixed in. This seems like a nearly inconceivable concept and one similar to what our great-grandfathers might have faced if they ever tried to imagine rivers without floating factory waste or a 1950's living room without Dad in the corner sucking on a Winston.

At any rate, I once told my son that the goal of his generation should be to eliminate the use of combustible fuels because it'd make for a much nicer planet. At the time I didn't know that if they don't, and the oxygen content drops below 7 percent, that it won't matter anymore.

-- Holten is the Dickinson State University Foundation's communications director.