The Truth About The Biodome Experiment Gone Wrong

June 18, 2020
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You’ve probably heard somebody say, “I wish somebody would pay me to live on a deserted island!” Of course it can be tempting to get away from all the petty day-to-day issues, unplug from the deluge of social media, and just bask in glorious solitude. But what would you say if somebody actually asked you to do it for two years?

Eight people in 1991 were given just that offer in one of the most expensive scientific experiments in recent history. After spending two years in an incredible biodome, the study’s participants finally spoke out about how life in the structure really was.

If you fly over the mountains of Oracle, Arizona, you may notice something that looks distinctly out of place with the rest of the local scenery. With glass pyramids and textured domes, it looks more like something out of EPCOT center.

What you’ve discovered is actually a miniature planet called Biosphere 2. Why is it called that? Because Earth is Biosphere 1 of course! This unusually designed complex was actually once host to a controversial scientific experiment that began in the late 1980s.

The ’80s marked an incredibly optimistic time when people became more interested in getting to know the world around them. The idea of creating and studying man-made environments started to take off, but the plan behind Biosphere 2 was perhaps a little too optimistic.

Their goal was out of this world — literally. The people working on the project thought that their studies would help humans learn how to build livable environments in outer space for the future colonization of the moon, or even Mars! But you can’t build such a massive complex with just optimism.

Oddly enough this massive environmental experiment was funded by a wealthy Texas oil baron named Ed Bass who was interested in philanthropy. The budget skyrocketed beyond what anybody expected, but what was inside Biosphere 2 was breathtaking.

The inside of the glass-walled pyramids were filled with lush plant life, each part of the complex replicating a unique “biome” from around the world — complete with animals and insects that you would normally find there. It wasn’t just limited to land either.

Inside of Biosphere 2 lies a 9,100-square foot artificial ocean with a man-made coral reef designed so it would have a thriving underwater ecosystem to observe. This is impressive enough, but the crowning jewel of complex was even more mind-blowing.

You’d hardly expect to find anything tropical in the middle of Arizona, but the largest biome held within the complex was a 20,000-square-foot rainforest. With everything from savannas to wetlands to agricultural fields, all that was left to do was figure out who was going to stay in the domes.

As if this whole idea didn’t sound enough like something out of a science-fiction novel, the eight people who were selected to live within the domes were called “Biospherians” — they even had “futuristic” jumpsuits like in Star Trek. When the media found out about this, they had a field day.

The project began in 1991 and generated a huge amount of controversy right from the start. These eight people were going to be voluntarily sealing themselves in an air-tight dome for the next two years with no contact with the outside world. There was just one little problem…

The man behind the whole idea, John Allen, wasn’t actually a scientist or an ecologist, but the founder of a new-age think tank called Synergia Ranch. As people starting looking into Allen’s credentials, they came across some information that brought even more criticism to the project.

Allen had actually been known by another name back in the 1960s — Johnny Dolphin. Under that name, he ran a counterculture commune called the “Theater of All Possibilities”. He was essentially a well-connected but otherwise totally unqualified hippie! Unsurprisingly, the problems with the experiment started almost immediately.

Despite supposedly being a self-sustaining environment, food quickly became a problem. Their diet of yams, bananas, and other low-calorie produce were leaving them malnourished, and many of the farm animals they brought in began to die off or needed to be slaughtered for food.

Do you know what else is kind of important to survive? Air! Because it was a sealed environment, the oxygen levels in the domes began to drop, leading to many of the Biospherians getting sick. Things would only keep getting worse from here.

The participants were also beginning to go a bit stir crazy. After being stuck with each other with no communication with the outside world for so long, they began to turn on each other, forming alliances like it was a reality TV show.

The Biosphereians had soon split into two separate factions: One group that was for easing up on some of the restrictions of the project, and another that wanted to stay true to their initial goals. After the two years were up, things weren’t pretty.

Once the experiment was over, the harsh climate of living in isolation within Biosphere 2 had taken a toll on the participants’ bodies. Many of them were malnourished and the world deemed the experiment an expensive failure. However, not everybody involved with the project shared that sentiment.

Even after all the struggles and fighting, some of the Biospherians wanted to continue the project! “Things were working well. I wanted to see what would happen next.” said participant Sally Silverstone. Years in the future, people are starting to see the experiment in a different light.

It didn’t manage to be a success in terms of establishing if interplanetary colonization was possible, but Biosphere 2 continues to operate as a research center where new discoveries are being made about Earth’s various ecosystems. If anything the project proved one very important thing.

The spirit of optimism that led to such an ambitious project is still something that mankind can benefit from. In fact, many people today are creating their own experiments that reflect the work of the Biosphereians.

Kurtis Bauste runs a successful YouTube channel where he uses the platform to inform viewers about environmental issues and teach them about science through cool experiments. And he’s got the education necessary to do so..

He has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Science and a great sense of humor that keeps viewers coming back for every new video. He strives to make science accessible because he knows people often see it as daunting.

One of Kurtis’s more popular videos was where he set out to prove Earth was round. And, he didn’t need to go into space to do it. He actually used his bike!

With just he aforementioned bike and two rods, Baute managed to create sundials with shadows throughout a lengthy bike ride, which proved Flat-Earthers pretty much had no leg to stand on.

He also did an experiment where he attempted to touch nothing plastic for 24 hours. It proved nearly impossible, as much of his clothing and everyday household items contained some plastic. But, this is the information he wants to spread.

He travels the world and gives talks all about the purposeful science behind his YouTube videos. He breaks the complexity of his work down into laymen’s terms, so it’s easily digestible. People even compare him to another famous scientist.

That would be Bill Nye the science guy! Bill Nye gained popularity by making science fun and something everyone — not just scientists — could enjoy, and Kurtis was proud to follow in his footsteps. But, one particular issue truly bothered him in spites of his successes.

Kurtis knew climate change was a huge issue facing everyone on the planet. Even though some people doubt it’s a man-made issue, science proves time and time again that it is something that requires immediate attention if we want our planet to continue sustaining life.

Of course, he’d read about extreme climate activists who chained themselves to trees and sat in front of bulldozers to get their environment-saving point across, but he figured he’d start on a smaller, less intense scale.

And he had an idea where to begin: a couple years earlier, he placed soil and plants into a small sealed jar. He noticed after months of leaving it alone, the plants remained perfectly healthy. So, he had a wild idea.

He figured if the plants could survive off of the carbon-dioxide in a completely sealed-off environment, maybe humans could live off the oxygen the flora produced in that makeshift “biodome.” And so he began construction on a human-sized “jar.”

Project “Kurtis In A Jar” kicked off without a hitch. He announced to his Twitter followers he was going to seal himself off in an air-tight environment with plants, hoping to live solely off their oxygen.

It took weeks of meticulous planning, but Baute’s human greenhouse was completed and looked awesome! He intended on living for three days off the oxygen the plants provided him, and he only had 1,000 square feet of room.

On October 24, 2018, Baute entered his man-made air-tight environment with his fingers crossed. But, although he was prepared to live without fresh air, he couldn’t live without WiFi, which he needed to document the experience.

He wanted to keep close contact with a camera and YouTube so he could explain everything that happened during his stay to viewers. As soon as the door was sealed, he started tweeting and filming.

He wanted the public to know just how dire the effects of climate change were, and how they could help reduce their carbon footprints. The staggering amounts of carbon dioxide humans pump into the atmosphere is extremely unhealthy.

Baute knew the amount of carbon dioxide humans exhaled surpassed the amount we inhale, so although he knew carbon dioxide levels would rise, he hoped the plants could regulate the levels in his dome.

Obviously, if the pants failed to regulate the carbon dioxide levels and it became too dangerous to stay, Baute would bail out on the operation. Unfortunately, it was something totally unexpected that squashed his operation.

After just 14 hours, Baute called it quits when an unexpected bout of clouds rolled in and prevented the plants from pumping out the required oxygen he needed to survive. Even so, he was thrilled with the results.

The project proved climate change was real, and until we start taking real care of our environment, fossil fuels and other destructive chemicals will continue to wreak havoc. Luckily, Kurtis Baute’s pleas are echoed by many others.

Meet Greta Thunberg, a Swedish 16-year-old with only two goals in life: to spread awareness of humanity’s harmful effects on the planet and to put the brakes on climate change.

While she worked hard for her current notoriety, she didn’t appear out of nowhere — her parents are Malena Ernman, a famous opera singer, and Svante Thunberg, a Swedish actor.

But just because Greta grew up in a wealthy household doesn’t mean she had the easiest life. She has Autism Spectrum Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and select mutism, which means she goes silent in distress.

Even though her disorders gave her a tough time in the past, she said her ASD actually helped her see “almost everything in black and white,” and that she only spoke when she needed to… which is now.

See, Greta was only 8 years old when she learned about climate change, and the concept terrified her. It all started when her school showed her films about plastic pollution, starving polar bears, and countless natural disasters.

“I cried through all the movies,” she said. “My classmates were concerned when they watched the films, but when they stopped, they started thinking about other things. I couldn’t do that; those pictures were stuck in my head.”

Over the following years, Greta couldn’t shake the image of the world’s impending doom, became depressed, and stopped speaking. Thinking there was nothing she could do, she felt like she was dying.

To at least make her own carbon footprint a bit smaller, she became vegan and decided to never fly on airplanes. When she begged her parents to do the same, they agreed, both for the planet and for the happiness of their child.

Then, in the summer of 2018, a heat wave tortured Europe for weeks on end, to the point that even Sweden experienced wildfires — something that almost never happens due to their relatively cold climate. For Greta, it was the last straw…

She skipped school, created a sign, and biked to the center of Stockholm to protest in front of the Riksdag (the Swedish national legislature), speaking with anyone who wanted to listen… and even those who didn’t.

After sitting there alone from 8 am – 3 pm, she returned the next day to find that people were joining her. Not much later, throngs of people were keeping her company and helping her spread her message.

So, what was her message? Mainly, she wanted the Swedish government to reduce carbon emissions as was written in the Paris Agreement. She asked, “Why should I be studying for a future when no one is doing anything whatsoever to save that future?”

Of course, her parents didn’t like her cutting class, but her mom stated, “We respect that she wants to make a stand. She can either sit at home and be really unhappy or protest, skip school for a cause, and be happy.”

Greta’s actions were soon shared by hundreds of news outlets and thousands of social media users until she was invited to give a TED talk about the point of view from the younger generation — the one that will be impacted most.

“I want you to panic,” she said to world leaders. “I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then, I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire – because it is.”

With the spotlight on her and her cause, Greta urged fellow teens all around the world to do what she did: walk out of class and protest for their futures — an idea inspired by the U.S. Parkland survivors who created the March For Our Lives.

And surely, on March 15, 2019, students from over 2,000 schools in 127 different countries abandoned their classes for the Global Climate Strike. That wasn’t even counting all the protests in the months leading up to it!

“Solving the climate crisis is the greatest and most complex challenge that we have ever faced,” Greta said. “The main solution, however, is so simple that even a child can understand it: we have to stop our emissions of greenhouse gases.”

Her words and actions were so impactful that she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Norwegian MP Freddy Andre Øvstegård. If she won in October 2019, she would be the youngest person to ever receive the prize, as she’s a year younger than Malala.

“We have proposed Greta Thunberg because if we do nothing to halt climate change, it will be the cause of wars, famine, and disease,” Øvstegård said. “She has launched a mass movement, which I see as a major contribution to peace.”

In the meantime, she was already awarded Young Role Model Of The Year, Sweden’s Most Important Woman Of The Year, and the French Freedom Price. But most importantly, she woke up hundreds of thousands of people about a major crisis.

Greta’s cause is far from finished, so we will likely be seeing much more of her in the future. “If a few children can make headlines all over the world just by not going to school for a few weeks,” she said, “imagine what we could all do together if we wanted to?”

While we can’t all be famous spokespeople against climate change, we can do our best to save the planet on a personal scale. One man in India proved that a lone soul can make a massive difference…

He lived on the Indian island of Majuli, which is located within the Brahmaputra river system in Northeast India. Over 140 villages have been established on the island, and over 150,000 people call Majuli home. But these are not the only things that make this island special…

Majuli is actually the world’s largest river island. These special islands are really just big sand bars that form throughout a riverbed; sometimes the sand bars are so large, people can actually live on them — that’s the case with Majuli.

Why the change? Because during the monsoon season (July to September) large embankments were built up the river to protect larger towns from flooding. This does not allow the riverbanks to naturally flood, and therefore directs all of the excess water down the river towards Majuli.

As the river water erodes the island, space for the 150,000 inhabitants shrinks. Since 1991, over 35 villages have been washed away, forcing villagers to leave the only home they ever knew.

Indian authorities are concerned that within the next 20 years the entire island of Majuli will be completely submerged and the 140 villages left will be lost forever. If they don’t do something about it now, their fears will become a reality.

The people aren’t the only ones being affected either. Animals are being severely affected by the intense flooding, resulting in major casualties. In fact, the snake population alone has dropped by 45 percent over the last five years!

When the river flooded the island, it would pick up the snakes and carry them downstream. The water dumped the snakes onto tree-less sandbars surrounding Majuli, leaving them exposed to the excessive heat and the harsh Indian sun.

One man in particular, Jadav Payeng from the Mising tribe of Majuli, grew up watching the island shrink. He watched villages wash away, he watched animals torn from their homes, and he watched the villagers grow more and more concerned.

As a young boy, Jadav loved nature, animals (yes, even the snakes), and anything that grew. This impacted him from a very young age and sparked his interest in environmental activism and forestry conservation.

He was determined to save the island and not just himself, but for his family and tribe. So at the age of 16, he decided to dedicate his life work to do just that: saving Majuli. How he did it was no small feat…

One day in 1979, he started planting trees. He managed to get seeds and made his way to a large, barren area on Majuli. He dug a small hole using a stick, dropped them in the hole, and left the rest to nature.

He knew that planting one tree wouldn’t do much of anything, so day after day he returned and planted as many trees as he possibly could. His hope was that the trees would grow tall with deep roots that would hold the earth in place and protect the island from erosion.

After 40 years of consistent work, he’d planted an entire forest on the island, over tens of thousands of trees. This work resulted in a forest that was far larger than the size of New York’s Central Park!

The forest was rightfully dubbed Molai Forest. He said that planting trees became much easier once he could seed from the trees that already exist in his forest. Still, Jadav faced struggles each day…

With his forest continually growing, animals returned to the area. Elephants, Bengal tigers, and rhinos to name a few now call this area of Majuli home. With the return of animals, Jadav said poachers became a problem once more.

Jadav said, “All species on this planet are animals, including humans. There are no monsters in nature except for humans. Humans consume everything until there is nothing left.”

In 2015, he was awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian honor in India. Additionally, he was recognized by many other local Indian establishments for dedicating his life to the conversation of Majuli.

Still, Jadav was frustrated by the lack of real help he has received. He suggested planting coconut trees because they’re strong and straight, which would help anchor the soil, and coconut harvesting would boost the economy, all within five years. But sadly no one adopted his proposal.

Jadav refused to give up. He had dreams of seeing Majuli return to the lush green forest it once was before humans so drastically altered it. He believed that he could save the island of Majuli. He stated, “I will continue to plant until my last breath.”

 

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