Joe Campbell

Ecologists keep warning us about greenhouse gases and the changes in climate they allegedly cause. There is much to fear, they say, from global warming.

Well, I’ve just learned that one of the chief greenhouse gases is nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide is laughing gas. What is there to fear from global laughing? Instead of climate change, ecologists should focus on mood change.

Nitrous oxide reached mood-changing atmospheric levels in the early 1990s. We know this because in 1995 the world’s first laughter club chuckled into existence in Mumbai, India. Now, laughter clubs are breaking out everywhere.

The idea is to get together and laugh. Not at jokes, slapstick or more sophisticated humour, but at nothing at all. We used to call this insanity. Not anymore. Now, we call it cackling, chortling, giggling, guffawing, howling, roaring and shrieking for health, healing and world peace. That’s right, laughter is therapeutic and tranquilizing.

By relieving tension, it contributes to cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, muscular and mental wellbeing; it fosters attitudinal mending, helps maintain relationships, reduces anger and makes us more humane. This, at any rate, is what certified laughter leaders tell us. Oh yes, they’ve been certified.

A little more nitrous oxide in the atmosphere and we can expect terrorists to start laughing their heads off. Which is a lot better than cutting our heads off.

Since 1998, there’s been an annual World Laughter Day. It falls, and celebrants fall down laughing, on the first Sunday of May. That’s the merry month of May, according to Elizabethan playwright Thomas Dekker.

Apparently, May is the month when nitrous oxide levels peak. The mystery is how Dekker knew about it. He wrote two centuries before the euphoria-inducing gas was discovered. Although no match for Shakespeare as a playwright, Dekker was the better prophet.

Nitrous oxide is changing the job description of standup comics. They no longer have to tell jokes to get laughs. They just have to shout, talk dirty and act vulgar. Soon they won’t have to do that, and there’ll be no job to describe. Why would we pay comics to make us laugh when we’re laughing already?

Not only does nitrous oxide make us laugh. It makes us laughable. As atmospheric levels increase, so does absurdity in speech, appearance and behaviour. You see it in journalists who interview each other, animal lovers who diaper their dogs, and campaigning politicians who impersonate toddlers at day care centres.

This is changing the job description of clowns. Why would we pay clowns to make fools of themselves when journalists, animal lovers and politicians do it for nothing?

Comics and clowns aren’t the only hucksters of humour that elevated levels of nitrous oxide threaten to sideline. Authors of wit and whimsy are also at risk. It’s a good thing Mark Twain and Stephen Leacock wrote when levels were relatively low. Today, they’d have difficulty marketing their wares.

Enthusiasts insist that laughter is our birthright. That’s why they encourage us to laugh for no reason, as lunatics did before we prescribed drugs to sober them up.

The enthusiasts may be on to something. We are risible – able to laugh – by nature, just as we are rational – able to reason – by nature. The difference between animals and us is that we laugh and they don’t. We laugh at diapered dogs. Diapered dogs don’t laugh at each other.

No amount of nitrous oxide will change this. Although an increase might make dog owners giddy enough to bark, it won’t make their dogs wise enough to laugh. If it did, they’d laugh at their owners.

Besides causing laughter, nitrous oxide induces anesthesia. This troubling side effect is what most concerns ecologists, I suspect. They’re afraid atmospheric levels will reach the point where anesthetists become obsolete. When we start laughing all the way to the surgery, anesthetists will stop laughing all the way to the bank. Why would we pay anesthetists to drug us when we already feel no pain?

The formula for nitrous oxide, N2O, is an acronym (sort of) for nonsense to offer. With global laughing the reward, it’s an offer that is difficult to refuse.

Consider Romantic poet Robert Southey, who began writing soon after nitrous oxide was discovered. He described it as “this wonder working gas of delight” and was convinced that we’ll breathe it in Heaven, eternally. This, no doubt, is because he was already breathing it on earth, intermittently. Although atmospheric levels were too low to be effective, Southey and his pal Samuel Taylor Coleridge had other sources.