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The Margin: ‘Every step we take toward this catastrophe’: A ‘black box’ the size of a city bus will log the climate crisis

A reportedly indestructible steel box that will be roughly the size of a city bus will digitally collect and store climate-related conversations, data and artifacts, creating a blueprint of the environmental crisis for future generations and policy-makers, its Australian creators say.

Data in “Earth’s Black Box” might include land and sea temperature changes, ocean acidification, measurements of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, human population figures, energy consumption
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military spending, legislative ideas and more.

The system will also store news headlines, trending social media posts and readouts from climate-change meetings. It is designed to grab old data, too, building a historical record of climate change.

The project, to officially launch next year, will include storage drives constantly downloading web-available information. Solar panels
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and battery storage will power this function.

The Earth’s Black Box site shows a real-time scroll in beta to give an idea of the scope of data it will track.

“Earth’s Black Box will record every step we take toward this catastrophe,” write the project’s creators, including Australia’s University of Tasmania researchers and a marketing communications company, Clemenger BBDO.

“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,” according to the website. “How the story ends is completely up to us.”

The ‘black box’ concept is akin to the term used for flight-data recorders, which log cockpit conversations and plane functions, typically helpful after accidents.

It also takes on a sculptural quality against Tasmania’s landscape, which the creators, including art groups, say gives it permanence.

Read: It’s got Leo and Meryl and the return of Jennifer Lawrence: ‘Don’t Look Up’ is the darkly comedic climate-change film that doesn’t mention climate change

Tasmania was chosen to host the climate project, the groups said, because of its relative geopolitical and geological stability, meaning it is considered resilient to the the climate change factors it is tracking. The location scored ahead of other candidates — including Malta, Norway and Qatar.

Environmental watchdog Climate Action Tracker has warned that under current policies, excluding proposals, the world is on track for 2.7 degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels. Scientists have said the planet should stay below a 1.5-degree increase to avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis, including droughts, shore erosion, flooding, wildfires and more.

“This project is reminiscent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, but unlike the precious seeds in this northern Norwegian vault, the data to be stored within Earth’s Black Box doesn’t seem inherently useful, or at least not to me,” writes George Dvorsky, in a commentary on technology site Gizmodo, who said artful messages carry weight, but may not do enough toward actually cooling Earth. 

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