April 20, 2018 / 4:55 PM / 6 months ago

Artist's 'pollution pods' highlight global air quality problem

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The dense smog of Delhi and the haze of Beijing cloud the sky as visitors sniff the air during a unique exhibition in London aimed at raising awareness of pollution.

The new art installation allows people to experience different pollution levels using five domes that replicate the environments of the Indian, Chinese and British capitals, Brazil’s Sao Paulo and Norway’s Tautra peninsula.

British artist Michael Pinsky, whose work often focuses on environmental issues, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation he wanted to make people stop and think about how their everyday actions impact the atmosphere.

“The idea of polar bears on a melting glacier wasn’t something that makes people change their lifestyles. It’s the things that affect them every day,” Pinsky said in an interview at London’s Somerset House, where the pollution pods are on display.

“(For) London, we’ve just focused entirely on diesel emissions because that’s the primary cause of pollution. It exceeds any other form of pollution.”

The pods are climatically controlled and expose visitors to moderate levels of the different toxins, from nitrogen dioxide in London to ethanol in Sao Paulo. The Tautra dome contains the cleanest air.

“You’re seeing a comparison between different cities, and you can feel it and see it as you move from dome to dome. I think it’s a really powerful way of bringing this (issue) to people’s minds,” said South African visitor Gillian Benjamin.

Pinsky said the worst air quality was in the Delhi pod, reflecting the conditions of the Indian capital.

If exposed to levels recreated in the artwork, residents in New Delhi would shorten their lifespans by four years, while those living in London would lose up to 16 months of their lives, he said.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 92 percent of the world’s population live in places where air pollution levels exceed its safe limits.

Nearly 9,500 residents of London die prematurely every year as a result of long-term exposure to air pollution, a 2015 study by researchers at King’s College London showed.

Delhi’s state government has adopted anti-pollution measures in recent years, including limiting car use and temporarily closing coal-fired power plants.

Last November, the city struggled with its worst pollution in nearly 20 years. Around a million children were forced to miss school as a result and thousands of workers reported illness.

The “pollution pods” artwork is on display at Somerset House until April 25 and coincides with Earth Day on Sunday.

Additional reporting by Max Baring; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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