The Korea Herald


[#WeFACE] Earth has deadline, but also many lifelines: Climate Clock creator

Climate Clock in Seoul ticks in hope that bolder climate action can extend Earth’s deadline

By Ock Hyun-ju

Published : May 19, 2021 - 16:04

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The Climate Clock in Seoul was installed in 2021. (Park Hae-mook/The Herald Business) The Climate Clock in Seoul was installed in 2021. (Park Hae-mook/The Herald Business)
The Climate Clock on the roof of Herald Corp.’s headquarters in Seoul showed, as of May, that there were about six years and 235 days left to prevent global warming from becoming irreversible.
The Climate Clock in Berlin was installed in 2019. (The Climate Clock) The Climate Clock in Berlin was installed in 2019. (The Climate Clock)
Since the first Climate Clock was introduced in Berlin in 2019, the countdown has continued in a chilling reminder that the Earth is hurtling toward catastrophe.

Despite the grim reality, Gan Golan, one of the clock’s creators, said in a video interview with The Korea Herald that many “lifelines” were available to extend the Earth’s deadline.

“The good news is that we still have time to change course. This is our window of hope, but only if we use the time we have to make the big, bold changes that are necessary,” Golan said. “The model of the Climate Clock actually is we have one deadline but many lifelines and we need to pursue many of these lifelines during the next six years.”

Lifeline No. 1 is a move away from fossil fuels and toward 100 percent renewable energy and a net zero economy within the next six years, he said. He also stressed the role of industrialized countries such as the US, China and South Korea -- among the greatest contributors to the climate crisis -- in taking action and making investments to tackle climate change and shape a future that “leaves no one behind” and “supports front-line communities hit hardest by climate change.”

“Now, the technologies are there. There are solutions that we could put in place today. It has been the lack of political will that has put us behind schedule on the Climate Clock,” he said. “So to change this, everyone has an important role to play by pushing our political leaders to making the big changes we need in the time that we have.”

Together with Andrew Boyd, the artist and longtime environmental activist created the Climate Clock to send a direct visual warning that the Earth has a deadline.

The clock counts down how much time is left before we deplete the Earth’s carbon budget -- that is, the amount of carbon dioxide we can still release into the atmosphere while limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

According to scientists, keeping the world from warming by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius from preindustrial levels is crucial if we are to avoid the catastrophic impact of climate change -- rising sea levels, flooding, droughts, extreme heat waves, wildfires and other disasters.

The numbers on the Climate Clock reflect the amount of global carbon emissions as well as the amount of the world’s energy supplied from renewable sources, currently at 12 percent. When use of renewables rises, the time remaining until the Earth’s deadline also increases. 

The Climate Clock in New York City was installed in 2020. (The Climate Clock) The Climate Clock in New York City was installed in 2020. (The Climate Clock)
The Climate Clocks -- some small, others large -- are now being built temporarily or permanently at homes, schools and public spaces all over the world, involving artists, scientists, students and climate advocates in over 30 countries from Mexico to Kazakhstan. Another monumental clock is set to be unveiled in Rome in June, according to Golan. 

Most recently, the world’s third Climate Clock was set up in Seoul.

“Asia is critical to addressing the world’s climate crisis because it’s not just one of the world’s leading sources of carbon emissions, but it also has the potential to be a leading source of solutions and leadership in solving the problem,” he said. “Korea, specifically, is also one of the world’s great economic and cultural leaders. And so what happens in Korea will have a ripple effect on many other countries.”

“The more clocks that we have all over the world, the more that we can get everyone on the same timeline (for joint action,)” he said.

Gan Golan (The Korea Herald) Gan Golan (The Korea Herald)
For Golan, the Climate Clock is a reminder of what kind of the world his daughter will live in.

The joy and hope he felt the moment she was born in 2018 turned into fear only a week later with the release of a special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In the report, scientists warned that there were only about 12 years left for the world to take action to limit global warming.

“Even though I have been working on climate issues for many years, it became very personal to me and felt we needed to do more to make the world understand that we had limited time to protect our world and to protect the future for all generations to come,” he said.

“The clock is telling us that every day, every hour, every minute and every second counts,” he said. “We must act in time.”

By Ock Hyun-ju (