Lord Kelvin startled us not long ago by affirming that there was
only oxygen in the atmosphere sufficient to last mankind for some 300
years, and that the world was doomed to die of suffocation.
"'Died from air starvation' will be a common verdict in the
coroners' courts of the future, for 'no money, no air,' will be the
rule of life. The wealthy will gain a reputation for charity by free
gifts of air to the aged poor at Christmas time. Men and women will no
longer be able to look at each other with eyes of love, for everyone
will be clothed in a great air helmet, like a diver of to−day."
Pearson's Magazine (1900)
In other words,
everybody breathe shallow.
If there's one thing that's bound to put a crimp in man's fate it's
having the air supply cut off. Manage that and in six minutes
you've got harp music, and hence the jolly predictions of the likes of
Lord Kelvin and Prof. Rees.
In 1913, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Professor Challenger faced the
prospect of an asphyxiated world in The Poison Belt
Challenger and his friends escape a belt of poisonous gas from space
by sealing themselves in a drawing room with a load of oxygen
cylinders. Afterwards, the survivors faced a world full of
corpses and the more horrible fate of having to share it with
In 1901, M. P. Shiel
destroyed the world with a volcanic eruption of cyanogens in The Purple Cloud
. The sole survivor of this event was lucky
enough to be at the North Pole at the time and when he returns to the
dead ruins of civilisation he takes up burning the great cities of the
world to the ground to pass the time.
Everyone needs a hobby, I suppose.