On Saturday afternoon, an ominous message was displayed on the Metronome clock in Manhattan’s Union Square. It read “The Earth has a deadline.” And then the clock’s digital display started counting down from 7:103:15:40:07.
For years, rumors have circulated about what the clock actually measures, because for a long time, it didn’t display the time in a traditional format. This piece in the New York Times notes that, “Its digital display once told the time in its own unique way, counting the hours, minutes and seconds (and fractions thereof) to and from midnight. But for years observers who did not understand how it worked suggested that it was measuring the acres of rainforest destroyed each year, tracking the world population or even that it had something to do with pi.”
But this time, the message is meant to be clear. It’s counting down to a deadline when the effects of climate change become “irreversible.” Artists Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd have calculated the deadline based on figures from the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change. The two artists call their project “The Climate Clock,” and unfortunately (or fortunately), the clock will never reach zero – the project will only be displayed until September 27.
The countdown specifically tracks how much time it will take, according to research estimates, to reach a critical number, which is a temperature increase globally of 1.5ºC over pre-industrial levels. The Times says that number was chosen by the artists based on a 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “The report,” says the Times, “issued in 2018, said global warming was likely to reach 1.5°C over preindustrial levels between 2030 and 2052 if it continues at the current rate. That level of warming is projected to increase damage to many ecosystems and cause an estimated $ 54 trillion in damage, the report said.”
Metronome, as the clock is known, was installed in 1999 and created by Kristin Jones and Andrew Ginzel. It’s just as much a complicated clock as it is a public artwork. In 2017, Jack even identified a moon-phase complication that seems to fly under the radar. You can read all about it here, and again, you can read the New York Times highlighting the climate change countdown here.
If you’re in New York, check it out in person, because if Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd are correct, in a little less than 7:103:15:40:07 (that’s years, days, hours, minutes, and seconds) the Earth’s climate may reach a critical tipping point. To find out more about the climate clock, and similar projects around the world, visit climateclock.org.