Meet Destination Earth, Europe’s Eco Minority Report

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In 1956 Philip K. Dick published the science-fiction novel Minority Report. Many years later (2002), the book was adopted into a film by Steven Spielberg. The picture is set in the year 2054 where a special police force called Precrime goes after people that have been predicted (by three psychics called “precogs”) of committing a crime. John Anderton, the head of Precrime, is pre-convicted of murdering a man who he doesn’t know. Convinced that he is innocent, Anderton escapes to find the truth and to vindicate himself.

While made for entertainment, Minority Report gives us some things to think about. First, it examines whether we have free will in a state of foreknowledge. Second, it ponders on the intrusive role of governments in preventing crime and establishing order. Third, it shows us the all-encompassing surveillance technology used as a pretext for security.

Destination Earth sounds like another sci-fi movie, but it’s actually a new program started by the European Union in 2021. Destination Earth and Minority Report might be different realities—if they are realities at all—but we can learn something from both of them.

What is Destination Earth?

Destination Earth (DestinE) is a major initiative of the European Commission that aims to develop a high-precision digital model of the Earth. The “Digital Twin”, as it’s known, aims to monitor and predict environmental change and human impact to support sustainable development. 

DestinE will be under the umbrella of Member States’ Recovery and Resilience Fund Plans in combination with Digital Europe, and Horizon Europe for the related research activities.

By using DestinE, governments will be able to monitor and simulate Earth’s major developments and human interventions, anticipate environmental disasters (to “save lives and avoid large economic downturns) and develop and test different scenarios to improve sustainable development. 

DestinE will be entrusted to three main entities: The European Space Agency (ESA), The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites. These three organizations will implement the open core platform and the first two digital twins.

Image from European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts

A Precog meets the European Green Deal

DestinE is a program sponsored by the European Green Deal, which aims to fulfill the UN’s Agenda 2030. It’s a set of policy initiatives aiming to make Europe climate neutral in 2050. For example, starting in 2035, cars will have to be “environmentally” friendly. France and Great Britain have already stated that they will stop selling gasoline and diesel cars from 2040.

Thomas Skordas (ECMWF) said that “Destination Earth is a key initiative for Europe’s twin digital and green transitions. It will greatly enhance our ability to produce climate models with unprecedented detail and reliability, allowing policy-makers to anticipate and mitigate the effects of climate change, saving lives and alleviating economic consequences in cases of natural disasters.”

The Green Deal will be financed through an investment plan called InvestEU, which aims to acquire around €260 billion a year in investments, reaching €1 trillion in 2030. 

What if precogs fail?

The EC states that “these simulators [the ones that will be used in DestinE] have been used before in industrial processes and they have, presumably, improved the overall efficiency of the production”

However, industrial processes are not the same as natural processes that we see on our planet. It is very hard—if not impossible—to predict climate-change effects. What is surprising is that the same guys (The European Weather Forecast) that fail to predict the weather so many times are the same ones involved in the development of DestinE, which they believe will tell us exactly what will happen in the future.

As history shows us, climate change predictions have failed many times. In the 70s scientists were saying that a major cooling of the earth was going to take place. Some people even called it an Ice Age. But that idea started to change in the 80s. Suddenly, the earth was not cooling down, but warming up. In 1989, Noel Brown an environmentalist at the U.N. said that “entire nations could be wiped off the face of the earth by rising sea levels if global warming is not reversed by the year 2000. Coastal flooding and crop failures would create an exodus of ‘eco-refugees,’ threatening political chaos.” But 2000 has passed and we haven’t seen a single nation being “wiped off the face of the earth”, nor have we seen an exodus of ‘eco-refugees’ escaping coastal flooding or crop failures.

Someone could argue that now we have more advanced technology and that artificial intelligence will help us solve our past mistakes. But, how can we be sure that the programs will not be biased? After all, data comes from human activity, not just on its own. Even more, what if someone could hack the precog’s software to show exactly what they want us to see?

But even more important, DestinE should also make us ponder about our own free will—or if we have freedom at all. It should also make us think about the government’s intrusive role in preventing an “eco-crime” and about its use of technology for monitoring its citizens. 


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