According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the health burden of toxic air pollution, which is largely driven by fossil fuel combustion, is staggering, with 9 in 10 people breathing polluted air and 7 million people dying prematurely from air pollution related diseases. Tackling climate change, and ensuring everybody can breathe clean air, go hand in hand. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO said: “We need to agree unequivocally on the need for a world free of air pollution. We need all countries and cities to commit to meeting WHO standards for air quality.”
Raising awareness on this global epidemic of air pollution, Artist Michael Pinsky has created a series of geodesic domes whose air quality, smell and temperature accurately recreate the pollution of five different locations on three continents: London, Beijing, São Paulo, New Delhi and Tautra, a remote peninsula near Trondheim in Norway. This immersive artwork was commissioned to change people’s perceptions of, and actions around, climate change and air pollution in our cities.
WHO has invited Pinsky to install Pollution Pods in front of the UN Building in New York for the Climate Action Summit, taking place 23 September 2019. The summit is being convened to help boost global climate commitments, accelerate the implementation of the Paris Agreement and protect our health from dangerous climate change. WHO and other partners will be spearheading the Clean Air Initiative, calling on governments to commit to achieving clean air for their citizens.
Visitors to the Summit from around the globe will be able to enter the pods, passing through the climatically controlled chambers to compare the air quality of global environments. All potentially harmful gases have been removed from the Tautra pod to allow visitors to experience what it is like to breathe truly clean air and compare it with that of the metropolises to follow, such as an emulation of London’s invisible but deadly output of nitrous oxide and New Delhi’s suffocating haze of airborne particles.
Pinsky says: “In the Pollution Pods, I have tried to distil the whole bodily sense of being in each place. For instance, being in São Paulo seems like a sanctuary compared to New Delhi, until your eyes start to water from the sensation of ethanol, whilst Tautra is unlike any air you’ll have ever breathed before, it is so pure.”
By linking the pods so that one has to pass through all of them in order to exit the installation, we get the sense that the environments of the world – and particularly our impact on them – are interconnected.
Environmental psychologist and Climart co-ordinator Prof. Dr. Christian A. Kloeckner of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) who commissioned the artwork in 2018, explains: “We wanted to assess the potential for art to impact behaviour around climate change. There are some horrific statistics that Michael’s research has brought to light, such as the fact that children are much more vulnerable to the effects of pollution as they tend to breathe more through their mouths and don’t regulate their breathing to try to filter out pollution. We believe that by immersing oneself in this kind of art environment, which engenders a physical AND an emotional response, one can hope to shift behavioural patterns.”
The Pollution Pods have been experienced by over 20,000 people since their launch at the Starmus Festival in Norway in June 2018. Cape Farewell, an international not-for-profit programme based in the UK to raise awareness about climate change through the arts, has managed a tour with locations including: London’s Somerset House for Earth Day (April 2018); Place des Nations – at the UN building in Geneva – for the first WHO Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health (October 2018); and TED’s annual flagship conference in Vancouver (April 2019). After New York, the Pods will travel to Brussels to be installed outside the Parliament building (October 2019).