Warning! Climate Signals Hit the Boardwalk


“No Icebergs Ahead,” “Climate Change At Work,” “Human Agenda Ahead,” “Alt Facts End Now,” “Climate Denial Kills.” Do we have your attention yet? If not, a new sign on the boardwalk hopes to grab your attention with these messages. Last week, a highway sign flashing LED messages about climate change appeared on the boardwalk at Beach 94th Street. It isn’t part of some political protest, but rather a city-approved art installation that’s taking place across the five boroughs.

When the highway sign displaying the climate change-inspired sayings in English and Spanish, appeared on the boardwalk at the beginning of the month, it sure raised a lot of questions, proving that the mission of the sign is already working. The sign and the nine others like it, located across the five boroughs, are meant to garner attention and draw people in to the climate conversation so they start thinking and talking more about the subject. The signs are part of an exhibit presented by The Climate Museum, in partnership with the NYC Mayor’s Office – Climate Policy and Programs, called Climate Signals. Also partnering with the NYC Parks Department, permission was granted by Parks, with the blessing of the Rockaway Beach Civic Association, to place one of the signs on the boardwalk.

The signs and sayings are the brainchild of contemporary visual artist, Justin Brice Guariglia, whose art often focuses on environmental subjects. Guariglia is a Howard Foundation Fellow at Brown University and an artist-in-residence at the Anchorage Museum and Woods Hole Research Center. In 2016, Guariglia became the first artist to fly on earth science missions with NASA. He currently has another highway sign piece on display in Storm King Art Center’s climate-focused show, Indicators: Artists on Climate Change. About a year ago, Guariglia says Miranda Massie, director of the Climate Museum, approached him with a proposal to display his work around the city and planning began.

“This project is about getting people to think ecologically, and because this project is done with the Climate Museum, it’s focused more on climate-related efforts and climate justice. Climate change and global warming is a global issue, not just a small local issue. It’s the greatest challenge that humanity has ever faced and it’s paradoxically difficult for us to communicate,” Guariglia said.

However, one way to catch people’s attention and get the word across is with highway signs. “I was traveling down a highway and was thinking about the words of philosophers I had been reading, and I started thinking of ways to communicate these words in a way that really appeals to the public and gets their attention since this stuff is so urgent. It’s hard to get things across since we’re drowning in social media and advertisements and TV, so I was thinking, how do you cut through that? One of the ways they do that on highways is by putting up these flashing LED signs that get your attention really fast,” Guariglia said. “If the signs can do that on a highway, but we pull it out of its context and put it in a park space, that really gets your attention. The sign represents a warning, so when we put it in a place that’s really unexpected, we have this double whammy where if it gets people to stop, and it gets people thinking about climate change, then hopefully we’re doing our part as a public service announcement.”

The Rockaway boardwalk is just one of those locations where people may not expect to see a highway sign, and according to the organizers of the exhibit, it’s a fitting spot. “Rockaway is on the front line of climate change, in terms of its vulnerability with it being hit hard by Sandy, and in terms of response post-Sandy, as the people there have been leaders in thinking about resilience and preparedness and responding to the reality of the climate crisis. We were excited to bring the Climate Signals to Rockaway to celebrate that leadership that Rockaway has demonstrated and we love how the sign looks with the boardwalk on one side and the ocean on the other,” Claudia Villar, the Climate Museum’s Research and Communications Coordinator, said.

“Rockaway is a very vulnerable area. The conversation on climate change needs to be happening in places that are vulnerable. My hope is that the community will start thinking and talking about these issues,” Guariglia added.

Besides having the sign on display, The Climate Museum has teamed up with the Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy and other organizations to offer programming in conjunction with the exhibit. One of these programs will take place on Sunday, September 30. All are welcome to join for the Bay to Beach Climate Walk and Arts Workshop from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. The program includes a tour of Rockaway from the bay to the beach, as participants see evidence of the impacts of climate change, such as elevated homes, Sandy water lines, plus the changes that Rockaway has made to become more resilient, such as the new boardwalk. The tour will end at the Climate Signal. Following the tour, there will be an artist-led workshop focused on expressing climate emotions through visual art.

As climate change is a subject that won’t go away anytime soon, the Climate Signals exhibit is just the beginning of what The Climate Museum has in store. Although this is the Museum’s second exhibition, The Climate Museum does not yet have a permanent home. On September 21, the Museum will be celebrating not only the Climate Signals project, but the opening of a temporary Climate Museum hub at the Admiral’s House on Governor’s Island. This temporary hub will be open through the end of October. The Climate Museum then aims to open a temporary “museum lab” by 2020 to test out other exhibition concepts and to begin fundraising for a permanent home for The Climate Museum, which aims to draw in one million visitors a year.

Even though the permanent museum is a long ways away, organizers say the time to discuss the climate is now, hence early efforts like the Climate Signals project. “There’s an urgency to get climate programming out there. We want people talking about this problem sooner than later,” Villar said.

The Climate Signals exhibit will be on display through November 6. If you spot a sign, organizers encourage people to take photos and use the hashtag #climatesignalsnyc on social media, so others can learn more about the project. There are also opportunities to win prizes if you tag all 10 signs across the city. For more about Climate Signals, check out www.climate-signals.org/ and visit http://climatemuseum.org/ to learn more about the Climate Museum.