The Climate Clock Now Ticks With a Tinge of Optimism

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.)

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.

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.

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