The World Health Organisation (WHO) is inviting visitors to today’s New York Climate Action Summit (23 September) to be immersed in polluted air. The goal is to convince world leaders to act on climate and clean up our air.
Pollution Pod installation
One or two minutes inside artist Michael Pinsky’s Pollution Pods and visitors might begin experiencing shortness of breath, but there’s nothing dangerous in the air in the pods.
Safe, innovative 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.
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 with 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.’
The true cost of climate change
Air pollution has been declared a public health priority by the WHO. Visitors to the Pollution Pods at the UN 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.
Largely caused by the same burning of fossil fuels that is driving climate change, polluted air is poisoning nine out of 10 of us and killing over seven million of us prematurely every year.
Children are especially vulnerable: 600,000 children die prematurely every year from diseases related to air pollution.
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.
‘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.’
DR MARIA NEIRA
WHO Director of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health