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80-foot Climate Clock sounds alarm on emissions above New York City for Earth Day

Clock counts down years to 1.5°C warming

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Thursday 21 April 2022 20:57 BST
Climate Clock unveiled in New York

A giant clock above New York City’s bustling Union Square has taken a break from its normal mission of showing global progress towards limiting climate emissions to broadcast urgent environmental messages as Earth Day approaches.


“This Earth Day, yes, let’s celebrate our beautiful planet, but let’s think first of the communities already bearing the brunt of our escalating climate crisis — from oil-fueled war in Ukraine; to extreme floods in Durban, South Africa; to fires across California — and do all we can to get the world to act in time,” Andrew Boyd, one of the clock’s creators, said in a statement.

The 80-foot digital clock was launched by a group of scientists, artists, and activists in September 2020.

Normally, it broadcasts how many years humanity has left before it hits 1.5°C global warming above pre-industrial levels, one of the benchmarks of the Paris Agreement and the threshold at which many catastrophic changes to the planet become irreversible.

According to the clock’s estimate, based on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) data, just over seven years remain to avert the worst effects of the climate crisis. A real-time version of the clock can be viewed online as well.

However, with Earth Day beginning on Friday, the clock’s organisers are hoping to shine a spotlight on some of the local climate campaigns affecting New York.

One slogan that will appear on the clock is, “No NBK Pipeline,” a reference to the expansion of a 7-mile pipeline in Brooklyn that will move fracked natural gas through largely Black and Latino neighbourhoods, skipping over whiter, wealthier areas.

“It would be a real mistake if the state doesn’t listen to the communities that it is designed to protect – that already have a history of dealing with environmental harm and pollution,” Britney Wilson, an associate law professor and director of the Civil Rights and Disability Justice Clinic at New York Law School, told The Guardian of the project earlier this year.

Activists and residents have challenged the project in court.

Climate scientists with the IPCC have said it’s “almost inevitable” that the world will see greater than 1.5°C warming this century.

At this point, humanity will see devastating effects to the planet, including widespread loss of habitats for plants, animals, and insects, as well as a 70 to 90 per cent decline in coral reefs and large swathes of the population exposed to regular, severe heat waves.

However, experts also suggest that with enough coordinated effort, and only a small investment of global GDP each year, warming can be brought back under 1.5°C warming this century.

To do so, however, greenhouse gas emissions would have to peak by 2025 and be nearly halved this decade. Coal would need to phased out and methane emissions cut by a third, and there would need to be six times greater investment in low carbon energy sources. Perhaps most questionably, widespread use of carbon capture would need to take place, despite such technology not yet existing at scale and proper effectiveness.

If such changes aren’t made, the world is on track for 3°C warming, the IPCC has warned, a dramatic escalation.

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