New York City-based artist Justin Brice Guariglia creates a series of solar-powered highway signs. These are LED signs that typically say “Roadwork Up Ahead” on the motorway, but Guariglia’s have been repurposed as public art installations. His signs instead remind people that should they fail to make decisions that are better for the environment, they will be meeting the consequences of climate change down the road. By doing so, Guariglia is helping the public understand the urgency of climate change, so that they are able to learn where in their lives they can make better decisions that will help to alleviate its effects. This makes Guariglia’s signs aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Climate Action.

Photograph of Justin Brice Guariglia. Image courtesy of @ybca/Instagram.

One of the pieces in the series is titled WE ARE THE ASTEROID. This piece has been made into several editions and focuses on sharing short sentences that remind people of the adverse effects that human life has on the planet. Aside from the titular phrase, the other sentences include: “Warning: Hurricane Human” and “There is No Away.”

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), human-made emissions have been and still are the driving force behind global warming and climate change. This trend began in 1750 when rapid industrialization raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels by nearly 50 percent. Hence, the claims that Guariglia has made on his signs are not hyperbole; humans really are the asteroids that have come to destroy the planet.

WHY’S AN OCTOPUS ON MY LAWN by Justin Brice Guariglia, on view at the Washington DC National Mall. Image courtesy of @studiojustinbrice/Instagram.

On the occasion of the 2022 US Presidential Election, Guariglia was commissioned by the League of Conservation Voters (ICVoters) to bring his signs to the National Mall in Washington DC. This move was made to encourage voters and Congress to vote for candidates with concrete action plans to fight climate change. There, Guariglia erected five of his solar-powered highway signs to create a piece titled WHY’S AN OCTOPUS ON MY LAWN, whose message appropriated political candidates’ slogans such as “Make Winter Cold Again,” a play on President Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.”

WE ARE THE ASTEROID by Justin Brice Guariglia, on view at the Old Masonic Hall, Breckenridge, Colorado. Image courtesy of @studiojustinbrice/Instagram.

Guariglia’s most recent highway sign piece is titled Entanglement Is Existential. Displayed at the TED Countdown Detroit, TED Talk’s climate change initiative, the piece shows the names and pixel art of lost or forgotten animals, plants or fungi. These panels display 800 of the over 2,200 lost species that have been compiled by Re:wild, a non-profit dedicated to bringing the wild back in balance with humankind. Lost species are animals, plants or fungi that have generally been unseen by scientists for at least a decade. This means that the depicted species were previously thought to be extinct, exist in hard-to-reach habitats or are very rare to begin with.

Entanglement Is Existential by Justin Brice Guariglia at the 2023 TED Countdown in Detroit. Image courtesy of @studiojustinbrice/Instagram.

By showcasing pixel art, the species names and the years they were last seen, Guariglia and Re:wild hope to raise the public’s awareness of today’s rapid species loss. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has reported that today there exists a mass extinction event that has solely been caused by human activity. The event is referred to as the 6th extinction crisis, with species going extinct at a rate of up to 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate.

Entanglement Is Existential by Justin Brice Guariglia at the 2023 TED Countdown in Detroit. Image courtesy of @studiojustinbrice/Instagram.

This is why Guariglia’s highway signs matter. They have been made to remind viewers of humanity’s impact on the planet, one that has caused green gas effects, climate change, and mass extinctions. Most importantly, they are powerful calls to action that convey that these issues are as urgent as roadwork up ahead.

Find out more about Justin Brice Guariglia’s highway signs and their other pieces by checking their Instagram on @studiojustinbrice.

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