BLOG Archive for May, 2015

Art, Inspiration, Risk

May 19, 2015

On May 19th, 2015, CoClimate organized an exhibition, entitled BREATHE, in cooperation with the World Health Organization, the Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC), and Carbon Arts. CoClimate was selected in order to engage delegates to the World Health Assembly on the matters of particulate air pollution and its impacts on health.


From the exhibition catalogue: 

BREATHE provides a chance to reflect, and be mindful about the linkages between health, the environment, and public engagement. The exhibition offers attendees a small sample of evidence, objects, visualizations, images, and gestures; each is designed to convey the impacts of air pollutants and what those impacts mean for personal and environmental health. It is hoped that the work presented here stimulates viewers to further explore linkages between air quality, climate and health, as well as between technology, culture and infrastructure in their own environment.

But why use art? Why not show the facts to spur action or exhibit more conventional persuasive messaging examples? The answer to that question lies deep at the heart of human psychology, and it stems from the diversity of human experience. People interpret information about the environment—and their experiences with the environment—in vastly different terms. As a result, risks and linkages between human and environmental health hazards are treated very differently by different people. When it comes to the environment (and even personal health), there is no such thing as common sense. Instead, the vast majority of people on the planet look to those who are closest to them for evidence of what works and for moral guidance.

The impact of art—like air pollution—exists at the level of human experience, rather than at the level of direct communication. It is an inherently “fuzzy”, ambient, imprecise, and inefficient form of communication. Those same qualities also make it special and powerful; it speaks more directly to different kinds of people through the common bonds of human experience—the senses.

Artists and designers ask what emotions are possible, and they invoke those emotions using an array of skills, materials, and meaning. Emotions connect directly with people’s deep-seated moral foundations through novel aesthetic experiences, visceral reactions of disgust, pleasure and surprise, abstract confusion and uncertainty, or even a sense of alienation about one’s own identity and role in society. Art prompts audiences to reflect on their personal experiences, to update their mental models for how the world works, and to expand their worldviews to encompass new goals for themselves and new forms of risk and reward. Art provokes informed citizenship.

Air pollution is now one of the world’s largest health risks, and the biggest environmental health risk—with some 7 million deaths annually attributable to outdoor and household air pollution from heart disease, stroke, respiratory diseases, and cancers. Now imagine that 7 million as roughly equal to the population of Hong Kong, only a little more than Rio de Janeiro (6.5 million), or a little less than the population of Switzerland (8 million). Thinking about air pollution in those dimensions offers even more perspective on the problem. It’s huge.

Art often employs metaphors, and the best examples connect directly with people’s everyday experiences and senses. What does smog taste like? Is it sweet, salty, bitter, or sour? How does it make you feel? We often write about social and environmental change using terms like “force”, “impact”, or “movement” to describe its weight in terms people can understand. But how do most people actually experience those changes? Is it hot or cold? Does climate change mitigation require the tiniest push of a pen or the Herculean effort of moving a boulder? Without readymade comparisons, it can be difficult for ordinary people to imagine the task at hand. Art and artists draw these comparisons and make them visible; they lower the cognitive effort of uncertainty.

This exhibition presents original works of art to stimulate new perspectives. By creating awareness and asking audiences to reflect, art provides a platform for different audiences to share common strands of human experience. Art takes people out of the ordinary, the expected, and the anticipated. It opens people’s minds to new possibilities, alternative scenarios, and unexpected paths of action. We hope you will do the same.

Gabriel Harp is an evolutionary ecologist who has worked in both research and design, and is a partner at CoClimate.

Media Advisory: Air Pollution, Climate and Health in the Minds of Artists

May 18, 2015


Air Pollution, Climate and Health in the Minds of Artists 

Geneva, May 18, 2015: Air pollution and climate change are having a profound impact on our health. But those impacts are often gradual and unseen – and are often described by scientists in terms that few of us in the general public understand very well.

BREATHE – an exhibition by visual and multi-media artists working at the intersection of the visual and design arts, sciences, and technology – is an effort to make air pollution, climate and health data more tangible to our senses.

The exhibit is on display from 18:00 on Tuesday 19th May at the WMO for the opening evening of the High Level Assembly of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, which is taking place during the World Health Assembly.

The exhibition has been developed to stimulate reflections on the importance of addressing air pollution, health and climate change.

It has been curated by two international groups, CoCLIMATE and CARBON ARTS. Many of the practices on display in this exhibition are interdisciplinary in nature; the artists have collaborated with scientists, engineers, or environmental health specialists engaged in research into the impacts of air pollution on our daily lives and our planet. The artworks on display include:


Typically, descriptions of air pollution and its health impacts are mediated by way of statistics, maps, and measurement data that is often abstract and difficult for the general public to understand. In Carbon Pencils, data is approached as performative and playful—so as to make an often abstract issue more personal and tangible.

The designers estimated the amount of PM10 that would be captured by an air pollution monitor in a busy part of London, or inhaled by the typical adult or child around the site, in the course of a 1–3 year period. Those exposures are then compared to the amount of carbon found in a pencil. Pencils of different lengths are used to reflect the amount of pollution exposure.


Puff is a cloud-shape car accessory that attaches near the exhaust pipe of automobiles. Its color changes dynamically and visualizes the amount of pollution the car is producing. Green indicates the lowest rate of pollution, red the highest. The app logs driving data like total amount of CO2 emitted, the average rate of emission, the total number of miles driven, and the average fuel efficiency. It also estimates how much NOx, CO2, and hydrocarbons have been released. Puff captures feedback about how much pollution is produced during driving, helping drivers learn and improve driving practices that will minimize their impact.


Resembling the growth rings of trees, these graphics help solve a key knowledge challenge of information overload by showing the meaningful air quality patterns that emerge from visual comparisons of cities, seasonal variation, and time. Sky Color of 10 Chinese Cities displays a decade of air pollution index values for 10 different Chinese cities. The graphics were produced with the open-source statistical software package, R, using official data from the Ministry of Environmental Protection, China. The exhibit helps identify the impacts of air pollution interventions, such as how Beijing’s air quality changed between August and September, 2008 when the city hosted the Olympic Games.


Also on display, for it’s global premier, will be a new piece of 3D pavement art commissioned by the World Health Organization from the original and leading street artist Kurt Wenner. The interactive piece will draw attention to the multiple causes of urban air pollution on the one hand, and the artists vision of a healthy and green city on the other.


“While framing the problems is an important first step – doing something about them is the greater long-term challenge. Public policies can help shape a healthy environment in which to live, work and raise families through all stages of the life cycle. WHO works to promote such policies for primary prevention in housing, energy, transport and food production through a range of activities.” DR MARIA NEIRA, DIRECTOR FOR PUBLIC HEALTH, SOCIAL & ENVIRONMENTAL, DETERMINANTS OF HEALTH, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION

“This exhibition marks the first event of a new campaign entitled Breathe Life, which aims to increase awareness and understanding of the main sources of air pollution amongst members of the general public and media, as well as amongst stakeholders in the health sector, in national and urban governments and other sectors.” HELENA MOLIN VALDÉS, HEAD OF THE SECRETARIAT OF THE CLIMATE AND CLEAN AIR, COALITION TO REDUCE SHORT-LIVED CLIMATE POLLUTANTS (CCAC)

“Wherever you are from you will find creative practitioners who are integrating science, health, and society in your city, country or region – people who may be eager to engage with you to use art as a tool for positive change. This is the spiit that we have captured in this exhibition and we hope it will act as a catalyst for further synergy between the arts, health, and environmental well-being.” JODI NEWCOMBE, CARBON ARTS

“We are delighted to be invited to display works of art from many parts of the world that provoke us to step back and be mindful of our health, our environment and the legacy that we are creating for ourselves and the next generation”. ZACKERY DENFELD, CoCLIMATE

For more information visit, @CCACoalition

Tiy Chung, CCAC Communications Officer, (+33) 6 86 30 71 28;
Imogen Martineau, Consultant WHO (+44) 794 440 1111;


More about: Air pollution, climate change and health
Air pollution is now the world’s single largest preventable environmental health risk, responsible for an estimated 7 million premature deaths every year, or one in eight of every such deaths in 2012, according to the latest data from the World Health Organization.

Some 3.7 million deaths globally are attributed to outdoor air pollution. Among the key sources are traffic emissions, power generation, outdoor waste, and biomass burning. Another 4.3 million deaths are linked to household air pollution, mostly from exposure to smoke from rudimentary biomass and coal cookstoves and fires which nearly half of the world’s population uses for their daily cooking.

Many people are exposed to both indoor and outdoor air pollution. Due to this overlap, mortality attributed to the two sources cannot simply be added together hence the total estimate of around 7 million deaths in 2012.

Significantly, many of the most harmful air pollutants also exacerbate climate change. These include black carbon (a component of fine particulate matter emitted by burning fossils fuels and biomass) and ground-level ozone – another air and climate pollutant, and a component of urban smog, which is formed through the interaction of diverse urban and peri-urban pollution emissions.

About the CCAC 
The Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC) is a voluntary global partnership of governments, intergovernmental organizations, business, scientific institutions and civil society committed to catalysing concrete, substantial action to reduce SLCPs (including methane, black carbon and many hydrofluorocarbons). The Coalition works through collaborative initiatives to raise awareness, mobilize resources and lead transformative actions in key emitting sectors.