First Person Blog

Voices, video, and photos from Oxfam's fight against poverty

The Human Countdown: a view from the hourglass

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Photo by Kate Vacanti / Oxfam America
Photo by Kate Vacanti / Oxfam America

Yesterday I found myself wrapped in a pale blue plastic poncho, arm in arm with my friend Kate on one side and a total stranger on the other. Hundreds of people rushed toward us as we stood squinting in the late afternoon sunlight—and then, in time with the music echoing over the sound system, they all turned as one, raising both arms to point at the sky. As a sea of extended arms lowered, beat by beat, an ominous countdown echoed overhead: “Tck. Tck. Tck.”

That’s what it looked like from where I stood, anyway—one among the thousands who turned out for Oxfam’s Human Countdown event in New York’s Central Park.

Viewed from above, the carefully choreographed spectacle makes more sense. An army of volunteers transform themselves into a massive, perfectly rendered planet earth, which trickles down through an hourglass, then forms the words “tck tck tck.” Our group was the bottom of the hourglass, while the blue- and green-clad dancers in front of us formed the earth’s oceans and continents.

But beyond just looking really cool, yesterday’s event sends a clear message: Time is running out for our leaders to act on climate change.

Though the problem is global, the countdown to climate action begins right here in New York, just blocks from the empty ice skating rink where we assembled. Tomorrow President Obama and other world leaders will gather for a special UN climate summit, the first in a series of key decision moments about the future of our planet.  This meeting could generate the momentum we need for leaders to deliver fair, ambitious, and binding climate treaty at the UN Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen this December.

Many of the volunteers I met yesterday came ready to have fun, but were also aware of the significance of the day’s events.

“As long as there are people who care enough to stay out in the sun and make an hourglass, this issue will get attention,” said New York University student Kate Cordry, who stood next to me in the formation.

Her friend Rosemary Devine, from New Brunswick, New Jersey, agreed. “A small group of people can change the world,” she told me quietly as we ran through our moves one more time, media cameras filming us from above. “Today shows that they can.”

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    Thank you for uploading your pictures!
    It was a great afternoon, and this week seems to be really gearing up in terms of getting that message out.
    Will Oxfam be releasing video from the upper crane? I’m so curious to know what it looked like from the top.


    I know you’re trying, and I know you mean well, but producing a thousand new t-shirts and caps (plus, from the article, ponchos) is just exactly the problem, not the solution. For real change, we have to get comfortable with imperfection — everybody wear a blue t-shirt from home, and settle for that.

  3. Anna Kramer

    Thanks for commenting! Stuart, there is definitely going to be an official video coming soon from the crane up above the event – it should be up on YouTube shortly, and once it is I will add a link to it here. I’m looking forward to seeing it too.

    Kit, thanks for your concern; you raise a good point about the caps, t-shirts, and ponchos. In fact, I had a conversation about this same issue with someone at the event (that wasn’t you, was it?) and I passed the feedback on to my colleagues. I believe leftover the shirts and caps are being recycled or donated, but I will check with colleagues and find out more.


    Hi. My family and I participated yesterday and it was an amazing event that gave us an opportunity we otherwise wouldn’t have to try and have an impact on the Global Climate Change Debate. Kit makes a good point, but for what it’s worth, I can say that the t-shirts are of good quality and I and the boys will be using ours going forward — that is one less t-shirt I will have to buy in the future. So perhaps the potential negative effects will be less significant if not offset completely.


    Hi Anna! It was great to meet and talk to you on Sunday. And thank you for this fabulous posting of the event, which captured everything very well from a first person’s point of view. Keep up the good work and I look forward to reading more of your posts!


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