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How the NYC doomsday clock starts important climate conversations

Seven years, 103 days, 15 hours, twelve minutes, and six seconds. That’s the window of time humanity has left for action to counteract climate change. Or had left at the doomsday clock’s revelation on September 19. Now, there are even fewer days, hours, minutes, and seconds left. 

The clock, the brainchild of artists Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd, was a temporary installation on Union Square for NYC’s climate week. The artists have previously created a portable version for climate advocate Greta Thunberg. They hope to eventually have the clock up permanently and in multiple different locations around the world. Their next stop is Berlin. 

“The world is literally counting on us,” said Golan in an interview with the New York Times. Golan and Boyd wanted the piece to feel like a monument since “a monument is often how society shows what’s important, what it elevates, what is at center stage.” They hope that this clock, though temporary, will make climate change a global priority. 

“This initiative will encourage everybody to join us in fighting for the future of our planet,” said Stephen Rose, chairman of the developer that owns the building the clock is on, said in a statement. He believes this constant reminded will urge people to join the efforts to stop climate change. 

The reaction on social media doesn’t reflect this idea. One tweet by @houseofhazel reads:

This thought was supported by at least 700 people and received almost 200 retweets. News outlets’ tweets about the clock received responses such as “who is this clock for?” and “why is the responsibility placed with individual consumers instead of with large corporations?”.

The reactions this tweet received, point to a cultural anxiety around climate change; we know where the issues are and don’t feel like we as individual consumers can necessarily have an impact on the biggest polluters. We feel as if we aren’t the ones that should be addressed and called to change, corporations are. 

This is partly right. According to the Carbon Majors Report, just 100 companies are responsible for more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.

These companies include ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, and Total. “It follows that the actions of these producers over the medium-long term can, and should, play a pivotal role in the global energy transition,” reads the report.

From this, it’s natural to conclude that the biggest change needs to happen in governments and corporations. However, it is important to acknowledge that corporations and governments aren’t single entities and instead are made up of individual actors. Placing some responsibility with individuals and how they contribute to these systems is not the most outlandish idea.

What this need to point out the corporations’ responsibility, however valid, and to distance ourselves from the solutions reveals, is the sense of powerlessness and fear individuals carry around climate change.

Dr. Renée Lertzman, a climate strategist and researcher, has been working for more than a decade on figuring out climate solutions based on human psychology.

In her TED Talk ‘How to Turn Climate Anxiety into Action’, she addressed exactly the helplessness one could feel around climate change issues.

“It’s normal to feel anxious and overwhelmed by climate change,” she said. Her TED Talk explores her findings on how to turn these feelings into something more productive. 

She describes a trip she went on when she was feeling extreme pressure and insecurity from what she had learned in her environmental studies class.

The two-month-long field trip in California was the starting point of her environmental research. “We talked about how we were feeling about the world, honestly, and no one told me to be more positive or more hopeful,” Lertzman said. 

Climate issues are intimidating and scary but looking the other way won’t solve the environmental crisis. According to Lertzman, talking, taking action, and listening is really our best bet at making a change.

Child psychologist Dr. Charlotte Reznick has similar thoughts on climate action. She has noticed a rise in anxiety of her clients, aged anywhere between four and 24 years old, in the last ten years.

Her advice is to communicate. “You should talk with friends and family and see what changes you can make in your direct environment,” she told Kulture Hub on the phone. “Small actions can make a big difference.” 

The doomsday clock did not bring comfort, but it did, for the one week it was up, make us talk and consider climate change more than we otherwise would. We can’t look away and avoid responsibility.

The climate crisis isn’t and won’t be comfortable for us to talk about but that shouldn’t stop us from engaging with the issues and coming together to find solutions, even when there isn’t a 10-story-high clock ticking away our seconds.