To spark conversion about climate change, this B.C.-based “whimsical scientist” lived in a jar for 14 hours. Here’s how he did it and what he learned.
On Oct. 23, 2018, British Columbia’s “whimsical scientist” Kurtis Baute stepped inside a 10x10x10-foot homemade greenhouse filled with plants that he erected in his brother Greg’s yard. His intention was to, in his own words, make a “crash course video series on YouTube about the air and how we interact with it and how our interactions affect the environment.” Here’s a step-by-step guide to Baute’s experiment and what it tells us about the important work plants do, and the important effect we humans have in contributing to climate change.
1. Baute creates his jar, nine square feet in size, using a wooden frame and one continuous sheet of plastic sealed with duct tape and silicone. He fills the biodome with 200 plants (including corn, sunflowers and a cactus) and about 80 liters of water.
2. At midnight on Oct. 23, he steps inside, seals himself in and begins the experiment. He live-tweets using the hashtag #KurtisInAJar to keep the world updated on his progress. The world is definitely interested — Baute’s experiment makes it onto CNN, the BBC and beyond.
3. Carbon dioxide levels begin to increase soon after he enters. He knows he won’t make it three days inside the jar but is confident the plants will begin to use up the excess CO2 and create fresh oxygen, allowing him to stay inside longer. The air we breathe is only about 21 percent oxygen. The rest is nitrogen and other assorted gases including CO2 (which itself only makes up about 0.04 percent of the air we breathe). While in his jar, Baute tweets “#ClimateChange is real, we’re causing it, and it’s a real big deal. Scientists are at a consensus on this. But seriously, how many people know enough about the air we breathe to fully appreciate what’s going on?”
4. He awakes to an overcast day, meaning his 200 plants can’t produce enough oxygen to offset rising CO2 levels, and Baute leaves his jar after 14 hours after CO2 levels rise too high to be safe. “Doing this project has completely changed my relationship with air and with sunlight and with plants because I know CO2 levels in here have just risen constantly, and I’ve just been waiting for the sun to come out so my plants could photosynthesize and soak up the carbon dioxide I’m breathing and give me fresh wonderful oxygen. Air is this really weird thing because it is very literally our life force. It is what allows us to make energy and to live and yet we can’t see it.”
Despite the experiment only lasting 19 percent as long he he’d aimed for before becoming too dangerous, Baute says he came away with some important insights into what people can do to reduce their carbon footprint. He tweets: “You can make a real difference here. Right now. Like today. And it isn’t even hard…”
“Eat less meat, it is horribly inefficient and uses tons of fossil fuels. Maybe try giving it up for #MeatlessMonday or go further than that.”
“Drive less. Cut your commute time. Bike, carpool, take transit, work from home. Your car is suffocating and cooking you and I both. Besides, you’ve got better things to do than sit in traffic.”
“Start a conversation about this. Let’s be real and encourage each other to do better.”