“Crash,” Earth’s Black Box Records Leaders’ Climate Inaction

By Julia Conley, December 10, 2021

Just as investigators examine an airplane’s black box after a crash to determine what went wrong in flight, researchers and artists in Australia are preparing for future inhabitants of Earth to go searching for clues about humanity’s potential demise—and are constructing an archive of humans’ failure to stop the climate emergency, which scientists say could drastically alter life on the planet.

Data researchers at the University of Tasmania are working with the marketing company Clemenger BBDO and the artists’ collective Glue Society to construct a 33-foot long vault made of three-inch thick steel, which they’ve dubbed “Earth’s Black Box.”

The vault is expected to be completed in 2022 and will lie in a remote plain in Tasmania, where it will keep a record of the planet’s rising temperature and extreme weather changes and of policymakers’ missteps and inaction, as they lead the global population further down the path of the climate emergency.

“If the worst is to happen and as a civilization, we do crash as a result of climate change,” Jim Curtis, executive creative director at Clemenger BBDO, told Reuters, “this indestructible box will be there and will record every detail of that, every inaction and action we take towards that, so whoever is left or whoever finds it afterwards learns from our mistakes and it doesn’t happen again.”

The creators began keeping records last month at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26)—where fossil fuel lobbyists were better represented than any country, policymakers watered down language regarding the end of coal extraction, and several wealthy countries failed to increase their emission targets for the coming decade.

“If the worst is to happen and as a civilization, we do crash as a result of climate change, this indestructible box will be there and will record every detail of that.”

The summit led climate action advocates to warn that humans are failing to act decisively enough to limit the heating of the planet to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels—condemning the global population to risks including more deadly heat waves, famine, and sea level rise.

The watchdog group Climate Action Tracker said in November that the planet is on track to heat up by at least 2.4°C.

“The purpose of this 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 action,” the creators wrote on their project’s website.

The researchers and artists behind Earth’s Black Box collected discussions and official statements made at COP26, and will continue gathering similar data that will be stored on an automated, solar-powered hard drive within the box. The hard drive can collect data for about 50 years.

The box will also collect daily data showing temperatures of oceans and land, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, ocean acidification, and biodiversity.

Earth’s Black Box is being constructed to withstand

cyclones, earthquakes, and other disasters, and the makers say that if a catastrophic planetary event resulting from the climate crisis draws near, they will engrave instructions for opening the vault on its exterior.

“I’m on the plane; I don’t want it to crash,” Curtis told the New York Times Friday. “I really hope that it’s not too late.”

The Earth’s Black Box website warns that actions—and inaction—taking place all over the world “are now being recorded” and will be collected in the structure.

“How the story ends is completely up to us,” the creators say.


Image of the black box designed by Steven S. Drachman.

This article originally appeared in Common Dreams and is republished under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.