On a heat-baked afternoon in Union Square, a crowd gathered in the shade of Liholt Triangle Park. A couple of minutes before noon, heads and cameras turned upward. A slow beat came from a single drummer rhythmically tapping two stacked buckets. The only noises from the crowd were from the shuffling of camera-wielding reporters moving around to capture the moment. A woman tapped a singing bowl, filling the silence with a vibrating hum. The Climate Clock on the gray paneled building above changed its digital orange numbers from seven years to six: the critical time the world has left to reach zero emissions.
The clock on 60 East 14th Street is a public art, science and grassroots organizing project initially launched in New York in September 2020. The Climate Clock has two labels. “Deadline” indicates the decreasing time window as the planet approaches 1.5 °C of global heating due to carbon emissions. The threshold has been determined by scientists as our best opportunity to limit climate change. Once the planet moves past 1.5 °C, the impacts on our ecosystems will be irreversible with extreme weather events and melting sheet ice becoming a permanent reality. The clock also shows our “Lifelines,” which indicates the progress we are making on critical solutions.
The crowd in Union Square was joined by people across the world who took part in a “global moment of silence” to mark the clock’s full rotation around the sun. The day was labeled the first “Climate Emergency Day” by the Climate Clock organization.
The purpose of the vigil was to recognize the limited time we have to address global warming in the hope of inspiring further climate action. At the event, Climate Clock organizers were joined by youth activists from Fridays for Future as well as members of Extinction Rebellion, 350NYC, and other climate action organizations. Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping, a performance group based in New York, were also in attendance and led the gathering in a series of songs. Attendees brought posters, banners, and had the opportunity to share their climate resolutions for the year ahead.
Humanity’s best window to limit global temperature rise is now just under seven years. “By showing us what we need to do by when the Clock frames our critical mission — a rapid and just transition to a safe climate future — and puts it at the very forefront of our attention,” states the Climate Clock website.
Created by climate activists Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd, with support from artist Katie Peyton Hofstadter, technical officer Adrian Carpenter, scientists, the Mayor’s office and others, the clock has since inspired the creation of similar countdown clocks around the world. Climate Clock teams can be found in Berlin, Seoul, Rome, and other countries. Along with setting up clocks in city centers, Climate Clock offers portable clocks for schools, universities, and offices. They also make a digital clock that can be put on websites. For more information about the Climate Clock project and how you can get involved go to (https://climateclock.world).