The unveiling of the climate clock in New York City: help or hindrance?

At the end of Climate Week NYC, the largest climate summit of 2020, artists Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd presented a clock that shows the vital timings the human race has left in order to stop the effects of global warming becoming irreparable. The Metronome of NYC usually counts down the hours, minutes and seconds to and from midnight. “The Earth has a deadline” shone above the numbers, catching the world’s attention. But what are the reactions to this? Who should be made to feel responsible, and who is to be held accountable to change the deadline?

The scale of this discourse now forces people to look and reflect about what this time actually means, and what we as humanity need to do to secure our future on this planet.

Most people’s initial answer as to whether this form of activism is helping or hindering would say helping, as no one can deny that it has created an increased awareness of the implications of climate change. Although there have been other forms of activism that have been popular, such as David Attenborough’s documentaries, this conscious artistry is one of a kind. 

The news of the simple installation spread rapidly, varying from thousands of shares on social media to articles from prominent news outlets such as The New York Times. The scale of this discourse now forces people to look and reflect about what this time actually means, and what we as humanity need to do to secure our future on this planet. With the increased dialogue, it is hopeful that businesses who partake in large contributions to climate change, such as Shell Oil, recognise how they can be held accountable for their past and present choices and how to change for all of our futures.

However, there has been mixed reviews of the clock, with many saying this is just an example of pushing ‘eco-anxiety’ on the wrong people. It makes us wonder, who is really the intended audience of this message? Is this art in the best place of reception?

It is undoubtedly large corporations that are the biggest contributors to climate change, however they will be least impacted by this display. It is the citizens of New York who are most affected by this piece. Extra pressure will be placed on poorer communities who have no choice but to make decisions that do not help the planet, but help them stay alive, such as choosing to eat foods by companies that emit more greenhouse gases.

This suggests the only thing this clock has spread is increased amounts of environmental injustice, with more people viewing this as a daunting ‘doomsday’ date, which they are constantly reminded of, no matter what their own contribution is to climate change. 

What was believed to be a moving and necessary piece, is now questioned on whether it is just another Instagram trend that will soon be forgotten.

Forbes.com wrote an article on the climate clock, describing it as “New York City’s Latest Attraction”. This can be considered a strong point of the climate clock being an ineffective tool, with the connotations of “attraction”; this is supposed to be a ‘massive wakeup call’ for the world, not an attraction for tourists. 

This then brings the question of what are the unintended consequences of this clock? If more people want to travel to New York to see this piece of art, therefore buying plane tickets or travelling from afar to see it, isn’t this contributing to capitalism by making purchases that are the very villains of climate change, such as unnecessary travel and increased fuel use? What was believed to be a moving and necessary piece, is now questioned on whether it is just another Instagram trend that will soon be forgotten, and who is actually profiting from this attention? 

It’s safe to say that the climate clock plays an important role in creating awareness for climate change. Not only is it a unique form of activism, but it is one that has clearly caught notice for its intended purpose. However, the level of its effectiveness depends on who you ask. Whatever the opinion on whether the climate clock is successful or not, no one can deny we are in a state of emergency, and only time will tell if strategies like this are making people think twice about their choices that affect our world, and if this will increase the time we have left, before we are no longer able to make a decision at all.

By Natalie Horrobin

Image: by Dia Dipasupil via Creative Commons

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