How well do you think you understand the air we breathe?
What is the air made of?
How does it cycle through our environment?
How do we affect it?
What is Climate Change?
A substantial portion of the public is unable to answer those basic science questions, and perhaps that is why nearly a third of Canadians do not believe that humanity is causing Climate Change. Meanwhile, scientists are all on board with the fact that its happening, and its our fault.
This is really important, so I decided to set out on a project to help answer those questions for people. I wanted to really engage with people about this topic. I didn’t want to show people numbers, I wanted to connect with them on an emotional level. So, I went on an adventure, and I put myself at risk, in order to give a human face to the issues that our invisible atmosphere is facing.
I built 30,000L jar, filled it with 200 plants, and sealed myself inside. The plan was to demonstrate how our air moves from our lungs, into the air, to plants, and back, and how that system is fragile.
Yes, there was some real risk to me personally going into this, but we are risking the lives of millions of people by not taking action against climate change. I also took many steps to make this as low risk as I was comfortable with, but don’t try this at home.
It didn’t go as planned. But, as much as I planned and prepared, I also expected that something unexpected would probably happen. If unexpected issues would cause oxygen levels to plummet in a 200 million dollar enclosed biodome named Biosphere 2, then surely my tiny, homemade biodome would have more than its fair-share of issues.
Similar to Biosphere 2, I don’t count this project a failure, not at all. In Biosphere 2 they had unexpected results, but those results contributed to hundreds of research papers that furthered our understanding of our planet. In science, if you get reliable data, then you’ve succeeded.
My mission was to raise awareness, and I could not have asked for it to be more of a success. I didn’t really plan to live-tweet the whole thing, but not long after I tweeted that I’d started the mission, I began trending on Twitter . By the end of the day I’d made over 3 million twitter impressions, and started a real global conversation about Climate Change. I have no idea how many people saw this project on the front page of the BBC , on CNN, heard on CBC , or on several dozen other news sources around the world, but its in the millions.
I lasted 14 hours inside before the carbon dioxide levels became so high that my sensors could no longer measure it. At that point, I had to exit for safety. There are a lot of factors that would have made this experiment last longer. I could have been less physically active, I could have done this on a sunny day (I was time constrained for various reasons), but at the end of the day, I did this to raise awareness, so I'm happy with how the project went.
One thing I’d like to clarify in that last video is that the World Health Organization estimates 5 million deaths based solely on human health, such as deaths by heatstroke. If you consider the additional loss of life by things like increased volatility of weather events such as hurricanes, the food shortages that will arise from drought, and many other factors, you’ll realize that 5 million deaths is a sort of minimum value. But, I’m not here to speculate on that right now.
Doing this project has fundamentally changed how I experience the air around me. Every day, when it comes to lighting a stove-top, using aerosols, or getting in a car, I’ve started to ask myself ask would I do this if I was sealed inside that little biodome with it?. If the answer is no, then I know I need to figure out how to remove that from my life.
I’m vegan, and I don’t own a car, but I know there is more I need to do. I’m working on it.
How to Build an Ecosystem
15th Oct 2018 ~2 min read (340 words)
We’re doing it! Sir Stabbington and I are embarking on a grand adventure.
We recently trekked out from Vancouver to my brother’s house in Comox in order to build an ecosystem-in-a-jar that we’ll be moving into.
I’ve done the math so many different ways, and concluded that its just not possible to know how long I’ll be able to survive in an ecosystem as small as a medium-sized U-Haul Truck. I could probably survive in the jar three days. But my goal is not to just ‘not die’, my goal is to end this project without having turned blue, developed brain damage, gotten heat stroke, or just generally caused lasting harm to my body. Therefore, I’m changing the question of this experiment from: ‘can I survive 3 days inside?’ to, simply: ‘how long can I safely stay inside for?’
With safety and that new goal in mind, I’ve set a bunch of experimental limits. If any of these happen I will abort the mission:
If my blood oxygen levels reach 94ppO2
If an 8-hr time-weighted exposure limit of 10,000ppm ‘atmospheric’ CO2 is reached
If ‘atmospheric’ CO2 levels reach 10,000ppm (only one of my two sensors can measure higher values than this)
If ‘atmospheric’ oxygen levels drop below 16%
If my body temperature reaches 38.2°C
If my friend (an off-duty paramedic) says so
If I do not feel fit to continue
If I somehow reach three days
Some of those are OSHA limits, and some of them are just what I’ve decided I’m comfortable with based on my research.
My sensors are all programmed and ready, I’ve got all the wood cut, the ground levelled, and we’re ready to begin construction! This is happening!
I haven’t even gone inside this little ecosystem yet, and yet planning this has already wholly and fundamentally changed how I see life on planet Earth. There is so much science I want to share with you, but for now, we’ve got an ecosystem to build!