In Union Square, a massive ‘climate clock’ counts down to Earth’s deadline

September 21, 2020

Photo by Zack Winestine

The massive electronic clock in Union Square that has puzzled New Yorkers for over two decades has been repurposed as a count down to climate disaster. Created by Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd, the “Climate Clock” displays the years, days, hours, minutes, and seconds the world has left to make significant changes before the effects of global warming become permanent. The new installation comes as Climate Week NYC kicks off this week, alongside the United Nations General Assembly.

The Metronome, embedded in the facade of residential building One Union Square South, was commissioned by the Related Companies in 1999 and typically displays 15 numbers changing at various speeds. The large installation counts the hours, minutes, seconds, and fraction of seconds to and from midnight each day.

The Climate Clock, which launched on Saturday, displays 7 years, 102 days, and the minutes and seconds remaining to make big changes to the world’s energy system. The goal of the installation is to help governments and citizens “synchronize our watches” around a shared global timeline to reduce carbon emissions, according to a press release.

The timeline is based on estimates made by the Mercator Research Insitute of Global Commons and Climate Change, as the New York Times reported.

“Climate Change is already here. This clock is not an alarm clock saying, in 7 years it will ring and we need to wake up! It’s more like a stopwatch already running that we have to keep pace with,” Golan said in a press release.

“We need to take action today, tomorrow, and the day after that. Let’s get moving. Every second counts. We need to act in time.”

The artists behind the installation said they worked on the project with youth climate activist Greta Thunberg, for whom they previously made a hand-held climate clock.

The Climate Clock will be on display through the end of Climate Week, which wraps up on September 27. Golan and Boyd hope to install the project in more cities worldwide. Visitors to the project’s website can learn more about the science behind the clock as well as learn how to make their own clocks.

“The clock is a way to speak science to power,” Boyd said in a press release. “The clock is telling us we must reduce our emissions as much as we can as fast as we can. The technology is there. We ​can​ do this — and in the process, create a healthier, more just world for all of us. Our planet has a deadline. But we can turn it into a lifeline.”


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