If greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced in time to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis and civilization as we know it collapses, the future wanderers of the apocalyptic wasteland will at least know how it all happened.
That’s the idea behind Earth Black Box, a bus-sized steel monolith being built in the Tasmanian desert to record every bit of data on the climate crisis and our collective response.
“The purpose of the device is to provide an unbiased account of the events that lead to the demise of the planet, hold accountability for future generations and inspire urgent action,” the project website reads. “How the story ends is completely up to us.”
The project is a collaboration between a variety of makers including the University of Tasmania, marketing communications company Clemenger BBDO and artistic collective Glue Society, according to CNN.
It will be a 10-meter-by-4-meter-by-3-meter (approximately 34-foot-by-13-foot-by10-foot) steel monolith that will sit in a remote, rocky part of Tasmania’s west coast, as Australia’s ABC News reported. Inside, the device will be filled with storage drives connected to the internet and powered with solar panels. The drives will record both scientific data tracking the global climate and headlines and social media posts tracking the politicla response.
The idea is to replicate the “black box” that tells the fate of an airplane after a crash.
“Obviously it’s really a powerful concept when you say to someone, ‘Earth’s got a black box’. Because they’re like, ‘Why does it need a black box?'” Jim Curtis from Clemenger BBDO told ABC News. “But first and foremost, it’s a tool.”
The device won’t be completed until early in 2022, but the data recording began during the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland in November, according to CNN. Right now, the black box will have the capacity to store data for the next three to five decades, but the designers are hoping to increase its storage capacity.
They are also still working out how to make the box accessible to people in the far future. Whoever finds it will need to break through three-inch steel walls and understand basic symbols, according to ABC News.
“Like the Rosetta Stone, we would look to use multiple formats of encoding,” the developers told ABC News. “We are exploring the possibility of including an electronic reader that stays within the box and will be activated upon exposure to sunlight, also reactivating the box if it has entered a long-term dormant state as a result of catastrophe.”
However, the device is also intended as a sort of wake up call. Currently, the pledges made by world leaders through 2030 put the globe on track for 2.4 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100, according to Climate Action Tracker. But scientists have warned that it is essential to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
“When people know they’re being recorded, it does have an influence on what they do and say,” Jonathan Kneebone of the Glue Society told ABC News. “That’s our role if anything, to be something in the back of everyone’s mind.”
Climate activists who were not involved with the project thought it sent an effective message.
“It is a very creative way of approaching what’s potentially the most disastrous outcome of the climate crisis by essentially creating this ‘doomsday vault’ for [climate] data,” Vladislav Kaim, a Moldovian member of the UN Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, told CNN. “To me, it shows the extent to which there is no consistency in the climate space to trust politicians on anything they say. It sends a very strong message that the real black box here is in the minds of the politicians who had all the levers required to avert the catastrophe but decided to keep passing the buck until it was too late,” Kaim added.
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