The Climate Clock

A Countdown to Doomsday


Carmen Miskel, Staff Writer

On Saturday, September 19th, a digital clock in Manhattan began a countdown starting at 7 years, 103 days, 15, hours, 40, minutes, and 7 seconds. 

What was the timer leading up to? The amount of time we have to save the Earth.  

Created by Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd, the Climate Clock was a temporary installation in commemoration of climate week. For eight days, it replaced The Passage, a huge digital clock spanning 62 feet in length facing Union Square. Typically, The Passage is a part of a larger art piece called Metronome, which has been ticking away since 1999.

The seven leftmost digits represent the hours, minutes, and seconds already passed in the day, and the seven rightmost digits show the time remaining in the day, from right to left. The number in the direct middle displays the hundredth of the second.

That was all temporarily replaced with the Climate Clock, which suggested that if our carbon emissions remain on their current track, their effects will be irreversible after a little over seven years. After this, we as a human race will not be capable of keeping global warming below 1.5°c. 

The precise deadline, which is taken from the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC), starts with the atmosphere’s “carbon budget”: the amount of CO2 that the atmosphere can handle without the temperature rising more than 1.5°c.

Back at the end of 2017, scientists calculated this budget to be no more than 420 gigatons. This may seem like a lot until it is compared to the annual carbon dioxide emissions, which is 42 gigatons (1,331 tons/second). Divide the carbon budget by the yearly CO2 emissions, and you are left with an alarmingly low amount of time until we surpass the carbon budget.

Once the earth has warmed 1.5°c above pre-industrial levels, natural disasters will start to be more prevalent. According to NASA’s website, extreme heatwaves, droughts, and precipitation will become much more common, while freshwater availability will decrease. Species will face extinction at higher rates, sea levels will rise, and food security will decline. These are not even the end of the issues. 

The key takeaway from the clock is that we can stop our current environmental trajectory. The climate clock creators’ website,, displays two numbers. The red number is the “deadline” (aka the countdown displayed in NYC). The green number is the “lifeline,” which is the percent of the world’s energy from renewables.

The climate clock’s objective is to raise that green number to 100% before the red number reaches 0, which the Mercator Research Institute believes will save the Earth. The Institute hopes that this clock is a stark reminder that even with the other chaos in our world, we must not lose sight of the climate change threat.

Golan and Boyd are trying to bring Climate Clocks to different cities around the world. In 2019, the institute established a clock in Berlin and is planning for Paris in 2021. Their motto, “Flatten the climate curve,” is inspired by the similar Covid-19 curve, as it takes collective action on a global scale to increase renewable energy usage.

The institute urges the public to educate themselves on the dangers of global warming, and push for positive change, both in everyday life and in their communities.