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Scientist bets his life on plants in air-tight 'mini-Earth'

An instagram picture from Kurtis Baute shows him posing nervously in front of the plastic biodomeImage copyright
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Kurtis Baute is relying on plants to protect him from mounting CO2 levels as he spends three days in this plastic cube

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What do you get if you lock a human in an airtight dome for three days, with nothing but 200 plants for company?

Kurtis Baute, a self-styled “whimsical scientist” from Vancouver, Canada, is hoping the answer is one scientist (alive and well), and an insight into the effects of climate change.

“Basically I’m trying to recreate a micro, nano, tiny version of Earth in a jar,” he told The Star Vancouver.

“And to do that, I need to think a lot about, mostly, air.”

Why air? Well, because the volume in his 3m (10ft) by 3m cube – which is wrapped in heavy-duty plastic – would usually keep a person going for about three days.

“But,” the scientist notes, “and that’s a big, crucial ‘but,’ the carbon dioxide (CO2) levels would build up before that to the point where it would probably be lethal.”

The air humans breathe out has more CO2 in it than the air we inhale, which means levels will gradually build up in the dome the longer Mr Baute stays in it.

When the CO2 level hits 10%, people can suffer brain-damage, fall into a coma, or die.

Mr Baute is banking on the plants, which suck up CO2, to save him from that grim prognosis. He’ll be monitoring his heart-rate and blood oxygen level throughout, and has a paramedic friend on hand in case of emergencies.

“There’s just enough room for this chair and a hammock and enough room to pace a little bit,” Mr Baute told Canada’s CTV News. “But I’m going to try to be pretty sedentary because every breath takes me one step closer to danger.”

He’ll also be hoping the weather stays cool, as the greenhouse-like construction gets seriously sweaty. It recently hit 34C despite the mercury outside sitting at 15C – and cooler conditions will be key to preserve the plants and prevent heatstroke.

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The scientist entered the dome at midnight on Tuesday 23 October local time, and plans to tweet throughout under the hashtag #KurtisInAJar

A few hours in, he explained his mission in a Twitter thread, writing: “#ClimateChange is real, we’re causing it, and it’s a real big deal.

“The messed up thing about my experiment is that some of my abort values (eg If CO2 is too high I escape) are just everyday experiences for many people on this planet. Everyone deserves clean air, but not everyone has it.”

Mr Baute appeared to be holding up well physically on Wednesday morning local time, and shared pictures of his vital signs to prove it.

He hopes his time in the dome will highlight that while humanity is pumping CO2 into Earth’s atmosphere at a dangerous rate, there are plenty of steps we can take to limit the damage.

He listed three on Twitter:

1. “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.”

2. “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.”

3. “Start a conversation about this. Let’s be real, and encourage each other to do better. That’s the end of the rant for now. Thanks!”

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Media captionHere’s five things we can do to help prevent global temperatures rising more than 1.5 degrees C.

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