Three vital respiratory gases-oxygen (O(2)), nitric oxide (NO), and carbon dioxide (CO(2))-intersect at the level of the human red blood cell (RBC). In addition to hemoglobin (Hb)'s central role in O(2) transport, interaction of Hb with the Band 3 metabolon balances RBC energy flow. 2,3-Diphosphoglycerate enhances O(2) transport across the placenta and plays an important role in regulating RBC plasticity. NO is a key mediator of hypoxic vasodilation, but the precise role of RBC Hb remains controversial. In addition to established theories that depend on RBC uptake, delivery, and discharge of NO or its metabolites, an alternative hypothesis based on RBC permeability is suggested. NO depletion by free Hb may account for several clinical features seen during intravascular hemolysis or during deliberate infusion of Hb solutions used as RBC substitutes. CO(2) released by tissues triggers oxygen release through a series of well-coordinated reactions centered on the Band 3 metabolon. While RBC carbonic anhydrase and the Band 3 anion exchanger are central to this process, there is surprisingly little research on the kinetics of CO(2) clearance by transfusion. The three RBC gases are directly related to the three principal gases of Earth's atmosphere. Human fossil fuel consumption dumps 90 million metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere annually. Increasing CO(2) levels are linked to global warming, melting Arctic ice, rising sea levels, and climate instability. Just as individual cells depend on balance of the three vital gases, so too will their balance determine survival of life on Earth.