Polluted air for the Climate SummitEthical News News & Features
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
Clean Air Initiative
As part of the Clean Air Initiative, governments must commit to making our air safe by 2030 at the latest.
To encourage urgent action on climate change for the sake of our health, WHO is urging world leaders, youth activists and the media to walk through this viscerally powerful art installation during the UN Youth Climate Summit, the UN Climate Action Summit, the High Level meeting on Universal Health Care and the UN General Assembly from 21-24 September.
‘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.’
DR TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS
Director-general of WHO
Today’s UN Climate Action Summit on 23 September, where the Clean Air Initiative will be spearheaded, comes hot off the heels of a mass global climate strike organised by young activists on 20 September.
World leaders have been asked by the UN secretary general to come to the Climate Action Summit with concrete plans to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels and end coal-fired power by 2020.
It is not known how many countries will respond directly to the secretary general’s requests on 23 September, but his asks resonate with demands from the climate strikers for leaders to #UniteBehindTheScience and put an end to the fossil fuel era for the sake of our future.
Pollution Pods on tour
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).