As Climate Change Deadline Approaches, Every Minute Counts to Urge Action

Civilians gathered in a global moment of silence to commemorate the first official Climate Emergency Day on July 22. From California to Nigeria, New Orleans to London, Ghana to Pennsylvania, Rome to Jerusalem—the world watched the Climate Clock tick over from seven years to six.

I led the moment of silence under the Union Square Climate Clock in New York City. It was hot, reaching 99 degrees Fahrenheit. As we faced the clock, we felt the crisis in our bodies.

Whether or not the Biden administration eventually decides to declare a climate emergency—we know it’s here, we can feel it.

I’ve worked for the Climate Clock since its launch in September of 2020. I’ve seen it morph from an idea to a monument, to museum exhibits in major cities, to an advocacy tool for the global climate movement—shedding light on an urgent time window to push for climate solutions.

The Climate Clock sets a deadline: We must stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius warming—a major tipping point, what some refer to as a point of no return. The display pairs this deadline with scalable solutions, global metrics called Lifelines. There are currently three lifelines on the clock:

  1. the percent of the world’s energy from renewables;
  2. the amount of land under Indigenous sovereignty, and
  3. the amount of money in the Green Climate Fund.

These metrics track the planet’s vital signs in real time. On Climate Emergency Day, thousands of us around the world synchronized our bodies to one another, to the planet, and to the reality the crisis is raging on these vital signs.

That Friday, I saw it cast a different spell. I watched as one of the organization’s founders was moved to tears. I listened as those gathered held their breath and then, along with others around the world, shouted out their plans to take action with courage—as mothers, teachers and children came up to an open mic and declared their dedication to fight for each other, for those on the frontlines and for themselves. We watched time slip away, which only strengthened our resolve for justice.

When we imagine the climate crisis together, and all that’s at stake, we are feeding the momentum of a movement with revolutionary potential. Adrienne Maree Brown wrote, “We are in an imagination battle.” The Climate Clock is the drummer of this battle.

Mothers, teachers and children came up to an open mic and declared their dedication to fight for each other, for those on the frontlines and for themselves. We watched time slip away, which only strengthened our resolve for justice.

A demonstration in New York City’s Union Square as the Climate Clock ticked down from seven years to six years. (Gili Getz / via Instagram)

People, animals and whole ecosystems are dying as a direct result of the failure of those in power to enact necessary change. Who, instead, continue to promote false solutions that enable the fossil fuel industry to profit off of climate death, and destruction that disproportionately endangers people of color, women and members of the LGBTQ community. As countries like the U.S. cling to unsustainable economic strategies, and celebrate compromised victories like the IRA, other countries are working to turn the wheel of justice, led by those most impacted. (See: the system Chile used to draft a new constitution centering the power of Indigenous peoples.)

Climate Clock Research Specialist Diana Sabillón and I have long discussed adding a gender lifeline to the Climate Clock, which would display a metric relating to the greater potential for justice under women’s leadership. She wrote to me recently:

“You can’t talk about climate justice without talking about gender justice. The dispossession and extermination of our natural commons has been built through the exploitation of the productive and reproductive work that women do to sustain our communities.”

Sabillón names four keys to building alternatives to transform living conditions for the 99 percent: “Naming inequalities, embracing diversity, analyzing problems with an intersectional approach, and respecting women’s leadership and active participation in the movement.”

As a member of Luchemos, a Honduran feminist collective, Sabillón has been brought in to support the new administration led by Xiomara Castro, the first woman in Honduras to be elected as president.

The collective has led transformational change in Honduras via political education with a feminist perspective, such as taking responsibility for the new government’s transitional teams, building proposals with social movements led by women, and now as leaders in the executive branch of the government in different ministries. Sabillón said, “How else are we going to dismantle systems of oppression if we don’t change our strategies, and our whole system of ideas to one where we treat humans equally?”

Their tactics are grounded by their political and moral commitment to transform power dynamics in male-dominated spaces, to create inclusive governing structures and ultimately generate new solutions to the problems affecting Hondurans’ day-to-day lives. Luchemos is fighting for the dignity of Hondurans, who have been racing for survival for too long. In the meantime, we have run out of time for leaders who waste their power on amassing more power, proliferating white supremacy. We simply do not have time for leaders who don’t fight for justice.

I followed Shinnecock leaders in a healing prayer at Southampton Beach, ancestral land that has been made inaccessible by billionaire mansions—and a $50 per day parking fee. The Shinnecock have won back access to ancestral beaches along other stretches of coast leading to proper coastal care. A group of over two hundred supporters lined the shore, looking out at the cloudy water. Behind us, Hamptonites sat under beach umbrellas and read luxury magazines. As I listened to the chants, the water rose to reach my feet and a monarch butterfly journeyed far out over the water.

I imagined what the water might be like if it was under the care of Indigenous stewardship. I imagined it clearer and full of fish. In conversation with others, it became clear we all saw the butterfly. We were all moved. We were all imagining. Moments of collective imagining like this are rare and profound.

I remember the first time I felt transported into the world we’re fighting for, the world we know is possible. I was sitting in a second level pew at Adelaide Church in Glasgow listening to Indigenous speakers deconstruct the failures of COP 26. Every night of the conference, the COP 26 Coalition hosted activists for free dinner, a traditional Cèilidh dance, and a themed night of speeches. Speech after speech from Indigenous leaders built momentum, cracking the white shell of false solutions, capitalism, and nationalism that encloses discussions of climate policy. I started to imagine the world we’re fighting for—gift economies and oral tradition, solidarity and dancing, stewardship and freedom, dignity and accountability.

As my peers in the U.S. were getting excited about recent publishing on mycorrhizal networks, an exciting world of fungus carrying wisdom and sustenance between trees, I too was getting excited about a secret world. It’s not easy to find pathways to it. I have only found them in moments when collective attention is riveted together by shared intention, heartbreak, hope and action.

As the clock continues to tick down and we get closer and closer to surpassing 1.5 C warming, Climate scientist James Dyke reminded us, “What we do matters—our actions count and this becomes more, not less, important once we realize how grave our situation is.” Every year, every day, every minute counts.

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.

Up next:


Becca Richie is a community organizer with Climate Clock and activist based in Brooklyn.