"Earth's Black Box" to chronicle humanity's descent into climate chaos
That humankind is on a collision course with a climate reality that poses serious threats to our wellbeing is clear enough, but there is some uncertainty around what happens exactly between now and then. An indestructible "black box" for the Earth is set to be built on a remote granite plain in Australia, and will be tasked with documenting our civilization's descent into climate chaos. Or better yet, inspire urgent action to turn the slow-motion train wreck around.
Whichever way you cut it, news around climate change and the overall warming trend taking place on planet Earth makes for some grim reading. The ambition of the Paris Agreement is to keep temperature rise to less than 1.5 ºC (2.7 °F) above pre-industrial levels to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, but as outlined in the latest UN Emission Gap report, we are on track to overshoot this by some margin, with temperatures projected to rise by 2.7 ºC (4.86 ºF) by the end of this century.
The short-term outlook is just as alarming. The latest IPCC report issued in August suggests we'll hit the 1.5 ºC (2.7 °F) mark within 20 years and the consequences are expected to be dire. Temperatures will rise all over the globe but have dramatic effects in Arctic, where they are anticipated to increase by more than twice the global average to greatly accelerate the thawing of permafrost and melting of sea ice.
Rainfall is expected to increase and drive up the frequency of natural disasters like floods and mudslides at higher latitudes due to increased precipitation, while droughts are expected to devastate other regions and low-lying coastal areas experience flooding and erosion due to more devastating storm surges. Meanwhile, increased atmospheric CO2 levels are making the oceans more acidic and threatening ocean species. The effects of all of this on agriculture and food security are a scary unknown, as is the prospect of climate refugees fleeing poverty and hunger.
There remains much conjecture about what exactly this future will look like, but experts generally agree on one thing, and that's the need to do more, and fast. The grand ambition behind the newly announced "Earth's Black Box" is to inspire this kind of turnaround by highlighting the missteps humanity is making as it stumbles toward climate catastrophe.
Much like how a black box on an aircraft collects information on flight data and can reveal critical insights in moments leading up to an accident, the steel structure taking shape in Tasmania, Australia is designed to do so with a view to the collapse of civilization. In this way, it will offer a record of our downfall for any future civilizations to peruse.
As reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Earth's Black Box is being constructed on a granite plain chosen for its geopolitical and geological stability. The box is being built to outlive humanity, with steel walls measuring three inches (7.5 cm) thick, and with rooftop solar and backup batteries to power the operation. It will house massive storage drives to chronicle developments related to climate science and the health of the planet, downloaded from the internet with help from a purpose-built algorithm.
According to the ABC, this will include measurements on land and sea temperatures, ocean acidification, CO2 levels in the atmosphere, the extinction of wildlife, energy use and the human population. Alongside this hard data, Earth's Black Box will gather contextual information such as news headlines, social media posts and developments from important climate change conferences and meetings.
Part of the thinking behind Earth's Black Box is to not just document the journey towards an inhospitable world, but hold to account the leaders making the decisions that take us there. It is expected to have enough capacity to store data for the next 30 to 50 years, and plans are afoot to allow access to its information for those who visit the site, via a digital platform and a wireless connection.
Earth's Black Box is a collaborative project from University of Tasmania researchers, marketing firm Clemenger BBDO and others, and construction is scheduled to kick off midway through next year. The hard drives, however, began collecting information during the COP26 climate conference last month, with a beta feed of the recordings now displayed on the project website.
"How the story ends is completely up to us," the site reads. "Only one thing is certain, your actions, inactions and interactions are now being recorded."