For more than 20 years, Metronome, which incorporates a 62 feet-wide 15-digit electronic clock that faces Union Square in Manhattan, has been one among the city’s most prominent & baffling public art projects.
Its alphanumeric digital display once told the time in its own unique way, counting the hours, minutes and seconds to and from midnight. However for years observers who didn’t understand how it worked suggested that it had been measuring the acres of rainforest destroyed annually , tracking the planet earth population or maybe that it had something to try to-to do with pi.
On Saturday Metronome adopted a replacement ecologically sensitive mission. Now, rather than measuring 24-hour cycles, it’s measuring what 2 artists, Gan Golan & Andrew Boyd, present as a critical window for action to stop the consequences of Global Warming from becoming irreversible.
On Saturday at 3:20 p.m., messages including “The Earth has a deadline” began to seem on the display. Then numbers — 7:103:15:40:07 — showed up, representing the years, days, hours, min & sec until that deadline.
As a couple of supporters watched, the amount — which the artists said was completely based on calculations by the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and climate change in Berlin — began ticking down, second by second.
“This is our new way to shout that number from the rooftops.” Mr. Golan said just before the countdown began. “The world is literally counting on us.”
The Climate Clock, because the 2 artists call their project, are going to be displayed on the 14th Street building, One Union Square South, through Sept, 27, end of Climate Week. The creators say their aim is to rearrange for the clock to be permanently displayed, there or elsewhere.
Mr. Golan said he came up with the thought to publicly illustrate the urgency of combating global climate change about 2 years ago, shortly after his daughter was born. He asked Mr. Boyd, an activist from the Lower East Side , to work with him on a project.
The artists said that they had previously made a handheld climate clock for Greta Thunberg, the teenage activist from Sweden, before her appearance last year at United Nations Climate Action Summit.
Their goal of making a large-scale clock was influenced partially by the Doomsday Clock, maintained online by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and by the National Debt Clock near Bryant Park in Manhattan. Mr. Golan & Mr. Boyd decided that the Climate Clock would have the foremost impact if it were displayed during a conspicuous public space and presented like statue or an artwork.
“This is arguably the foremost important number in world,” Mr. Boyd said. “And a monument is usually how a society shows what’s important, what it elevates, what’s at center stage.”
Eventually, Mr. Golan and Mr. Boyd seized on “Metronome,” a mixed-media work by Andrew Ginzel & Kristin Jones that covers a 10-story-high area on the north wall of 1 Union Square South, a residential high rise.
The work also includes concentric circles rendered in gold-flecked brick that ripple outward from a round opening. When it had been unveiled in 1999, clouds of steam and musical tones issued from the facade.
Over the years the sound and steam have ceased. The numbers, however, kept moving.
The original artists had been brooding about reimagining the work to deal with the deepening climate crisis when, in February, they got a letter from Mr. Golan & Mr. Boyd.
“It was quite magic,” Ms. Jones said, calling the timing “beautiful synchronicity.”
“The Climate Clock will remind the World daily just how perilously close we are to the brink,” Stephen Ross, chairman of Related Companies, the developer that owns One Union Square South, said during a statement. He added, “This initiative will encourage everybody to hitch us in fighting for the future of our planet.”
To describe the project, Mr. Golan and Mr. Boyd have created a Web , climateclock.world. It includes explanation for the Climate Clock numbers, including a link to a report by Intergovernmental Panel on climate change, United Nations body that assesses the science associated with global climate change .
The report, issued in 2018, said Global-Warming likely to reach 1.5°C over preindustrial levels between 2030 & 2052 if it continues at this present rate. That level of warming is projected to increase damage to several ecosystems and cause an estimated $54 trillion in damage, the report said.
The website also tracks the growing percentage of the world’s energy supplied from renewable sources. And it provides directions on the way to build small, low-cost clocks just like the one given to Ms. Thunberg.
“You can’t argue with science,” Mr. Boyd said near Union Square on Saturday. “You just need to reckon with it.”