An Indestructible Black Box Will Record How Climate Change Destroyed Earth
In 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), a single, sleek, black monolith appears at the dawn of civilization, when human ancestors discover the usage of tools. The black domino-like structure, conspicuously artificially placed in a rocky outcrop, is said to have been put there by intelligent extraterrestrial forces, the “Firstborn,” to help humans evolve. This is a monolith from the past, containing a future for humanity that will span centuries.
Now imagine the inverse of this monolith, one that signals humanity’s end. You will find yourself thinking about a curious black box in Tasmania, Australia, which rather than guiding us in a direction that signals progress, will record humanity’s regression as the world destroys itself out of existence.
Called the “Earth’s Black Box” project, the structure is currently under construction and will be filled with hard drives that will meticulously record all that people did wrong — data on climate change, species extinction, health crises, and more. It will also, reportedly, be “indestructible,” made with three-inch-thick steel fitted by granite, so that future civilization — if any — will be able to access and learn from people’s mistakes.
“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… Only one thing is certain, your actions, inactions, and interactions are now being recorded,” the website reads.
Similar to how black boxes in airplanes, ships, and some cars record journeys and provide evidence in case of accidents, this black box for the Earth will reportedly record “every step we take towards this catastrophe,” the website states. Scientists from the University of Tasmania are working on the project along with a company called Clemenger BBDO, and another called Glue Society.
The project has already begun recording data, viewable on the website in real-time. These include every single conversation currently playing out about climate change, atmospheric temperatures, and other climate-related data. The structure’s solar panels will have power storage drives with internet connectivity, which will then “listen” to Internet conversations and record what is happening, climate change-wise.
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For instance, the black box has stored speeches by climate activist Greta Thunberg and proceedings from the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow this year already — an indication of the “unbiased” account it claims it will provide future generations about how the fight played out. The monolith’s storage drives are reportedly designed to last around 30 to 50 years.
“The idea is if the Earth does crash as a result of climate change, this indestructible recording device will be there for whoever’s left to learn from that,” Jim Curtis, the executive creative director of Clemenger BBDO, told ABC News.
Among other scientific data, it will also record things like military spending, energy consumption, land-use changes, newspaper headlines, and anything that can provide clues as to how and why we went wrong.
The project is also meant to hold leaders to account. “When people know they’re being recorded, it does have an influence on what they do and say… That’s our role if anything, to be something in the back of everyone’s mind.” Jonathan Kneebone from The Glue Society’s told ABC.
The project is essentially meant to serve as an archive; a record of the world and its discontents, without mincing, editing, or distorting anything away. There can be no political agenda if there are no people to do politics. The black box may well become one of the most authentic records of what happened, operating at a time when misinformation and denialism continue to send us hurtling toward the bleak conclusion that the box envisions.
The idea is eerie, and researchers are still grappling with the question of how future civilizations will gain access to the box’s contents and interpret them. “Like the Rosetta Stone, we would look to use multiple formats of encoding,” they told ABC.
“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,” they added.
Dystopia is not only here, but it would also seem it is something that people now find themselves actively responding to. There is obviously no way of ever knowing whether the black box can teach civilizations what not to do; but the idea of it serving as an anti-civilizational blueprint, heralding not dawn but the world’s destruction, is awe-inspiring and poignant.