The Climate Clock Now Ticks With a Tinge of Optimism

The display in New York’s Union Square, which reports the window to address global warming, now also measures the rising use of renewable energy.,

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A hint of optimism has been added to the Climate Clock, the set of decreasing numbers on the facade of a building in New York’s Union Square that was conceived by two artists and activists, to communicate the urgency of curbing carbon emissions.

Seven months ago, the artists Andrew Boyd and Gan Golan, assisted by others, redid “Metronome,” a public art project commissioned by the developers of One Union Square South and unveiled in 1999: Its clock, instead of measuring the time of day, would measure the time remaining, by some counts, to reduce emissions and prevent some effects of global warming from becoming irreversible. (About seven years, the clock’s creators said.)

ImageThe Climate Clock now displays an estimated percentage of the world’s energy now being supplied by renewable sources.
The Climate Clock now displays an estimated percentage of the world’s energy now being supplied by renewable sources.Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Now, though, a group of people working on the Climate Clock project have decided to offer a note of hope by adding to the display a second set of numbers that represents the increasing percentage of the world’s energy that comes from sources like the sun and wind.

So on Sunday afternoon, a participant in the project, Greg Schwedock, entered One Union Square South, ascended several flights, walked into a small closet-like room and then squeezed through a low two-foot-by-four-foot opening in a wall, emerging into a dusty cinder block chamber directly behind the digital display of “Metronome.”

Communicating by Zoom with the Climate Clock’s chief technical officer, Adrian Carpenter, Schwedock made some adjustments to an electronic panel.

Then, at 4:26, he flipped a switch and a new message appeared on the display outside: “The Earth has a deadline. Let’s make it a lifeline.” It was followed by a 10-digit display that reports the amount of the world’s energy that comes from renewable sources. It’s going up, but slowly. As of Sunday afternoon, the clock was reporting the figure as just over 12 percent.

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Greg Schwedock makes adjustments to the Climate Clock so that it also displays information about renewable energy.Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times
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The control board for the clock display inside the building that faces Union Square in Manhattan.Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Laura Berry, lead researcher for the Climate Clock, said that the renewable energy number on the “Metronome” display was based on information from the Our World in Data project, directed by Max Roser of Oxford University.

The numbers designed to measure the crucial window to cut emissions remain on the clock, but will alternate with the renewable energy numbers.

The adjustment to the clock display was timed to precede Earth Day, which is on Thursday, and coincide with several environmental rallies and events planned for New York, Washington and Glasgow, where the U.N. Climate Change Conference will be held in November.

The Climate Clock was inspired in part by the Doomsday Clock, maintained online by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and by the National Debt Clock near Bryant Park in Manhattan.

Boyd and Golan believed “Metronome,” with its existing electronic display and facing a highly trafficked public area, seemed like the perfect spot for an ecological message. Andrew Ginzel and Kristin Jones, the creators of “Metronome,” agreed and so did the management of One Union Square South.

Schwedock said that, although he still regards the climate to be in a state of emergency, he was happy to help bring the renewable energy numbers to the attention of the public.

“It’s nice to have positive climate news,” he said. “That’s something that the environmental community can be proud of.”

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