As It Happens

Why this B.C. man sealed himself in an airtight plastic cube for 14 hours

YouTuber Kurtis Baute says he wanted to teach people the "base science concepts surrounding climate change."

YouTuber Kurtis Baute says he wanted to teach people the 'base science concepts surrounding climate change'

Kurtis Baute built an airtight cube and lived in it for 14 hours to raise awareness about climate change. (CHEK News)

Spending 14 hours inside an airtight plastic cube with rapidly rising carbon dioxide levels left Kurtis Baute feeling a little loopy.

"It feels physically like the air is a little bit thicker, and that's partly because it is more massive and also because it's building up inside your body," the B.C. scientist and YouTuber told As It Happens guest host Megan Williams.

"And it also slows your mind down. So I felt a little bit out of it and it was kind of harder to focus and harder to do higher-order decision making. It was kind of wild to feel that happen."

Baute built the 3-metre-by-3 metre greenhouse cube in Courtenay, B.C., and then stayed inside of it as long as he safety could with only his phone, a bucket, a hammock, some health monitoring equipment and 200 plants. 

He live-tweeted the experience under the hashtag #KurtisInAJar.

"I think that people really don't understand climate change because they don't even understand what the air is made of. And you know what? It's not their fault," Baute said.

"I sealed myself in a box to raise awareness about the base science concepts surrounding climate change and to raise awareness about what we can do."

Rising CO2 — in the cube and on the planet 

People exhale more carbon dioxide (CO2) than they inhale, which is why the levels steadily rose inside the cube the longer Baute was in it.

An atmosphere of 10 per cent CO2 or more can lead to brain damage, coma or death. Baute said his paramedic friend was on call in case of emergency. 

"Don't try this at home," he said.

Baute and 200 plants spent 14 hours in the airtight cube. (Kurtis Baute/Facebook)

He originally planned to stay in the cube for three days, banking on his plants to absorb most of the CO2 and keep him safe. 

But cloudy weather meant the plants couldn't do their job, and he had to emerge early.

"The messed up thing about my experiment is that some of my abort values (e.g., If CO2 is too high I escape) are just everyday experiences for many people on this planet," Baute tweeted from inside the cube. 

"Everyone deserves clean air, but not everyone has it."

Baute kept health monitoring equipment on hand — and a paramedic friend on call — during his #KurtisInaJar experiment. (CHEK News)

Climate change is caused by rising levels of CO2 and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere, which is exacerbated by human activities like the burning of fossil fuels. 

In order for Earth to avoid cataclysmic climate change within the next few decades, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says carbon dioxide pollution levels would have to drop by about half by 2030 and then be near zero by 2050.

'An excellent success' 

"Yeah, plants like carbon dioxide, but they can only take in so much and they're saturated and our Earth is building up, the atmosphere is building up, with this gas, and that's not good," Baute said. 

"The main goal here is to get people to think about their lifestyles, which means eating less meat, driving less and using your vote to create change."

The greenhouse box Baute lived in for 14 hours was built in Courtenay, B.C. (CHEK News)

Despite having to cut the experiment short, Baute called it "an excellent success."

"My plan was to reach out to people about climate change and get a conversation started and the response has been absolutely incredible on Twitter and on the news — so I'm pumped," he said. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC Vancouver. Produced by Sarah Jackson.