Twenty-seven years ago when Rutherford Seydel was in a meeting with his father-in-law, Ted Turner, and Jacques Cousteau, the undersea explorer made a comment that stayed with Seydel for over two decades.

"Cousteau said that within 200 years, the world would be wiped out," said Seydel.

That comment planted the seed that eventually led to Seydel's creation of The Oxygen Project. The organization's aim is to shed light on oxygen and microscopic phytoplankton that sustain human life in a way that helps consumers understand how they can protect this life-sustaining resource while enriching their daily lives and ensuring prosperity for generations to come.

phytoplankton Half of every breath we take originates in microscopic phytoplankton, shown here magnified. (Photo: Rattiya Thongdumhyu/Shutterstock)

About 50 percent of the world's oxygen is generated from phytoplankton, but the organisms are in peril from climate change, pollution in the ocean, and harmful chemicals in agricultural runoff. Studies show that over the past 80 years, phytoplankton has decreased by 40 percent. (You can read more facts about phytoplankton in the inforgraphic at the bottom of this file.)

Seydel's inspiration

Rutherford SeydelIt was at last year's Sundance Film Festival that Seydel (pictured at right) connected the dots between Cousteau's comment all those years ago and the depletion in phytoplankton while watching "Chasing Coral," a film about why coral reefs are disappearing.

"This is what Jacques Cousteau was talking about," Seydel says.

Seydel has always been environmentally conscious. He owns one of the country's first LEED certified homes. He drives an electric car, turns off lights when they aren't in use, and recently adopted a plant-based diet. He's been honored as Conservationist of the Year by the Georgia Wildlife Federation and received the Distinguished Conservationist Award from the Georgia Conservancy.

Ever since he heard Cousteau's prediction, he has been living an environmentally sensible life. But after viewing "Chasing Coral," he was left deeply disturbed and his "whole life came unraveled," as he put it. But with that unraveling came an idea.

"Sometimes desperation creates inspiration," Seydel says. "I started to look for an organization that was singularly focused on this issue." He didn't find one.

"I decided I had to start a new media company," he says, and The Oxygen Project was born.

The half-millionaire plan

Seydel hopes The Oxygen Project will inspire tens of millions of people to take action together to sustain our planet's ecosystem.

"I believe if we focus on oxygen, everything else will follow," he says.

The Oxygen Project is just starting to take shape. The organization's website, which is currently under construction, will show how to take the action Seydel envisions, building on the active Facebook page that already shares his message. And though it could create a big movement, the site will focus on the simple steps anyone can take to get started — things like committing to a plant-based diet at least once a week, turning off the lights, and conserving water.

Since people often need an added incentive to do what they already know they should be doing, Seydel has come up with one that's pretty enticing. He believes these actions can get people to be "half-millionaires" if they begin putting them into place early on in their adult lives.

It all has to do with the money saved with the actions taken. By taking the savings from cutting down your food bill because you're buying less meat or lowering your electric bill and then investing those savings in a sustainable index, Seydel believes many people can end up "half-millionaires" or better by the time they're ready to retire. (And look for more information about when The Oxygen Project's website launches.)

Start now

The Oxygen Project's first goal for participants is the plant-based diet pledge. They're easing you into it with the option of eating a plant-based meal once a week, one day a week, or challenging yourself to do it for an entire month.

Not only will a plant-based diet be healthier for you, it's in keeping with the project's goal of ensuring there's plenty oxygen for us to breath for generations to come.

And who doesn't want that?

The Oxygen Project phytoplankton infographic The Oxygen Project phytoplankton infographic

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

The Oxygen Project: Let's save the oceans and put money in our pockets
Rutherford Seydel's Oxygen Project creates a sustainable Earth while creating financial sustainability for all. All it will take is a massive group action.