Climate Change Clock
Source: Getty Images

NYC's Climate Clock Shows How Much Time the Planet Has Left

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Apr. 19 2021, Updated 1:13 p.m. ET

If you know about climate change, then you probably know that there is something of a time limit attached to the current situation. Climate change is getting worse, and while many of us can witness these changes in real time, many don’t seem to understand the severity of the situation. For those people, there's the Climate Clock in New York City. But what is this climate change clock, anyway? For that matter, is it really counting us down to inevitable disaster? 

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what is climate change clock
Source: Getty Images

What is the Climate Clock?

Located in Manhattan’s Union Square, Metronome was originally installed on the side of a glass building more than two decades ago. It used to simply be a unique clock that counted how far away New York was from midnight, as per The New York Times. But in September 2020, Metronome was given a makeover, turning this art piece into a dire warning. According to The Washington Post, the clock is the brainchild of artists Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd.  the Climate Clock’s daunting display is a worrying, ever-present reminder that, thanks to our own mishandling of fossil fuels, humanity on borrowed time.

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The clock also tracks our renewable “lifeline” via a second, green display. This number represents the percentage of available energy being supplied by renewable energy sources like solar, hydroelectric, and wind. 

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What is the purpose of the climate change clock?

The obvious purpose of the clock is to be a warning but the situation it represents is obviously more complicated than that. According to NASA, we have until approximately 2030 to make major reductions in global carbon emissions. The idea is that if the planet warms by just 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit, catastrophic damage could cause widespread turmoil and suffering.

Flooding, wildfires, tropical storms, droughts, and deadly heatwaves could cause entire cities or even nations to be displaced or killed. Famine, death, and destruction are only the tip of the melting iceberg because even those that survive might have to change their way of life completely. 

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what is climate change clock
Source: Getty Images

How long do we have until the Climate Clock runs out?

When the clock was first installed in September of 2015, it warned that humanity had 7 years, 101 days, 17 hours, 29 minutes, and 22 seconds until the emission rates of the time caused catastrophic damage. The official Climate Clock website indicates how long we have until we reach the 1.5-degree threshold. As of April 2021, we have approximately 6 years, 261 days, and 15 hours left. At that rate, we will face climate consequences well before the date specified in the original drafting of the Paris Agreement

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Are there any other climate clocks in the world?

Though there are plenty of other folks keeping track of climate change, there are few clocks like the one in Union Square. Nevertheless, four teenagers from Kazakhstan recently launched their own climate clock billboard in Almaty. Their names, according to the official Climate Clock Twitter, were Ramil Akmolin, Galiya Askarova, Meruert Ramatuallaeva, and Gulniza Mukan.

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Can we turn back the clock on climate change?

If you were to ask Golan and Boyd, they would tell you that the clock is meant to symbolize the fact that there is still time. Even now, many countries are adopting renewable energy and shifting away from fossil fuels, new technology is helping businesses and agriculture to become more sustainable, and millions of people are fighting to change the polluting norms created during the Industrial Revolution. We need to move fast if we want to turn back the clock, and fortunately, there is still time to do so. 

The Climate Clock made some changes for Earth Day 2021.

Update, Monday, April 19, 2021, at 1:00 p.m. ET: In honor of Earth Day 2021, the Climate Clock just added a new, more positive feature. As reported by The New York Times, on Saturday, April 17, the Climate Clock began displaying a second number: the percentage of the globe’s energy that currently comes from renewable sources.

At a press conference announcing the clock’s update on Monday, April 19, the group, along with climate activist Alexandria Villaseñor, unveiled new “traveling clocks,” which relay the same two figures found on the large Climate Clock.

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