Visitors might begin experiencing shortness of breath after one or two minutes inside artist Michael Pinsky’s Pollution Pods, but there’s nothing dangerous in the air in the pods.
Safe perfume blends and fog machines imitate the air quality of some of the world’s most polluted cities – London, Beijing, São Paulo, New Delhi – as well as one of the most pristine environments on earth, Tautra in Norway.
Outside the pods, however, air pollution has been declared a public health priority by the World Health Organization (WHO). Largely caused by the same burning of fossil fuels that is driving climate change, polluted air is poisoning nine out of ten of us and killing over seven million of us prematurely every year. Children are especially vulnerable: 600,000 children die prematurelyevery year from air pollution related diseases.
As part of the BreatheLife Campaign, which mobilizes governments and communities to reduce the impact of air pollution on our health & climate, this viscerally powerful art installation will be installed at the COP25 climate summit.
Negotiators, observers and world leaders attending the summit will be encouraged to walk through the pods, which are being brought to Madrid by Cape Farewell, WHO, Clean Air Fund and Ministry of Ecological Transition, Spain.
Pinsky, said: “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.”
Visitors to the Pollution Pods at COP25 will experience the sensation of air pollution for a few minutes, but breathing toxic air is the reality for millions of people every day of their lives.
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 air quality guidelines.”
Throughout the life course, exposure to air pollution is a major risk for chronic heart and respiratory disease and can inhibit proper brain and lung development in children.
A study by the Lancet showed that four million cases of childhood asthma every year, including 240,000 in the United States, could be caused by air pollution resulting from traffic fumes.
Dr Maria Neira, WHO director of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, said: “The true cost of climate change is felt in our hospitals and in our lungs. The health burden of polluting energy sources is now so high, that moving to cleaner and more sustainable choices for energy supply, transport and food systems effectively pays for itself. When health is taken into account, climate change mitigation is an opportunity, not a cost”.
Teresa Ribera, Minister for the Ecological Transition of Spain, said: “Air pollution and climate change are the two sides of the same coin. The symbolic installation of the Pollution Pods at COP25 should remind everybody that we are negotiating for cleaner environments, cutting emissions and gaining better health for all.”
Jane Burston, Executive Director, Clean Air Fund, said: “The Clean Air Fund has projects in all four of the cities represented in the Pollution Pods. Air pollution has a terrible impact on people’s health in these cities and many more around the world – but the positive side is that reducing pollution can simultaneously tackle climate change and will save millions of dollars in healthcare costs and increase productivity.”
This article is based on a press release from Theresa Simon & Partners, working with Michael Pinksy.