Images from BREATHE at the WHO

August 2, 2015

Smog Tasting: Distant Environments, Science Communication, Metaphors, and Moral Disgust

June 14, 2015

GenevaSmogThis tweet popped up during a symposium of the International Environmental Communication Association taking place this week in Boulder, Colorado.

One tactic is Smog Tasting.

Smog Tasting is an experimental food cart for simulating the smell and flavor of air pollution from various places and times. CoClimate recently debuted the Smog Tasting chamber as the work of the Center for Genomic Gastronomy and Nicola Twilley during the exhibition BREATHE at the World Meteorological Organization’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.


The Smog Chamber smog-tasting cart builds on earlier smog-tasting work conducted by the Center for Genomic Gastronomy. In 2011, inspired by reading that an egg foam is 90-percent air in Harold McGee’s guide to culinary chemistry, On Food and Cooking, the Center took whisks, mixing bowls, and egg whites out onto the streets of the city, using the structural properties of meringue batter to harvest air pollution in order to taste and compare smog from different locations.


Inspired by this project, Edible Geography-author Nicola Twilley began to speculate about the concept of “aeroir,” and the idea that urban atmospheres capture a unique taste of place. She researched the history and technology of smog science, visiting the atmospheric process chambers at the Bourns College of Engineering, at the University of California, Riverside, in order to learn how scientists studying the relationship between emissions and atmospheric chemistry actually create synthetic smog in the lab.

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Smog is formed by a mixture of different pollutants reacting together—a reaction that is usually catalyzed by “baking” the chemical mixture in the sun. To recreate air pollution in the lab, scientists inject precise amounts of different precursor chemicals into a Teflon chamber, where they are cooked under hundreds of UV lights. Different precursor emissions and weather conditions produce different kinds of smog, each with distinct chemical characteristics—and a unique flavor. Indeed, Arie Haagen-Smit, the man known as the “father” of air pollution science, was originally a flavor chemist who rose to prominence thanks to his work on pineapples. “I am engaged at the present time on a super flavor problem—the flavor of Los Angeles,” he wrote in the 1950s, announcing his shift in research from fruit flavors to smog science.


Working together, and with advice from Professor David Cocker and Mary Kacarab at UC Riverside, the Center for Genomic Gastronomy and Edible Geography have designed and fabricated a small-scale smog chamber and developed a range of synthetic smog recipes. For Ideas City 2015, they recreated a classic London peasouper, the atmosphere of Los Angeles in the 1950s, a present-day Atlanta air-quality-warning event, and a present-day Central Valley agricultural smog. These four places and times showcase the four classic “types” that atmospheric scientists use to characterize smogs: London is a sulfur- and particulate-heavy fog, whereas 1950s Los Angeles is a photochemical smog created by the reactions between sunlight, NOx, and partially combusted hydrocarbons. At its worst, Atlanta’s smog is similar in composition to that of Los Angeles, but with the addition of biogenic emissions (an estimated 10 percent of emissions in Atlanta are from a class of chemicals known as terpenes, from organic sources such as pine trees and decaying green matter). Finally, the Central Valley iteration incorporates the ammonia and amines that accompany feedlot agriculture, resulting in a distinctive alkaline smog. Visitors will be able to choose which locations they wish to taste and compare in meringue form.



The Center for Genomic Gastronomy and Edible Geography hope that the meringues serve as a kind of “Trojan treat,” raising awareness of the impact and ubiquity of air pollution. Inhaling smog over extended periods is extremely damaging to human health. In New York City, which has the 12th worst ozone levels in the nation according to the American Lung Association’s Annual “State of the Air” report, air pollution levels are highest in neighborhoods that are majority non-white and low-income—a particularly insidious form of environmental injustice. By transforming the largely unconscious process of breathing to the conscious act of eating, the smog-tasting cart creates a visceral, thought-provoking interaction with the air all around us.

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.

9 Way to Disentangle Worldviews for Design

March 23, 2015

Worldview Cards are great for exploring different perspectives. They work well for individual learning, small groups, and large group settings. They are as appropriate for middle school-aged students learning about different perspectives as they are for board room empathy and decision making.

Worldview Cards build the capacity of individuals and groups to make choices based on their values. They develop self-reflection and understanding of others. Worldviews can help move conversations away from conflict and contention and towards recognition, action, and leadership.


The cards can be used as conversation starters, to introduce new ideas, to explore different perspectives, for play, or for invention. They can be used as prompts for personal reflection or group discussion. They are practical tools for engaging with peoples’ beliefs in different ways and for finding new ways to interact with the world.

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Here are 9 ways to put the cards into practice to solve common problems:

Learning: Build your worldviews vocabulary. Can you identify how different worldviews are represented in politics, media, and everyday life? Select combinations of cards from one or more of the 7 dimensions.

Reflection: Use the cards to allow others to share their perspectives. For each dimension, have participants choose the card that best represents what they believe. Have them describe why they believe it, what influenced their thinking, and when it matters most.

Audience Understanding: Work through all or a subset of the cards. Which cards describe your target audience or stakeholders? What evidence can you point to that shows how their worldviews are put into practice? Which worldviews are likely to be the most important or sacred to their beliefs and decisions?

Political Ecology: How do the worldviews of different political economies compare to each other? How do different worldviews come to bear on institutional rules and norms, legal doctrine, and economic assumptions?

Negotiation: Provisionally prioritize the values of individuals or groups competing for resources or power. What dimensions and worldviews matter most? Which are sacred? Which are flexible to material or economic incentives?

Foresight: What would a different set of worldviews mean for the shape of technology, social interactions, economics, or everyday life? How might different alternative futures shape the distribution of worldviews a decade from now?

Persona Building: Select worldviews to help define and develop personas. Use worldviews to build understanding, prompt empathy, and create vivid depictions of other perspectives.

Play: Add the worldviews to your game. Use the cards and their perspectives to build your community. Use the worldviews to create a reward system. Use the cards to build characters for role playing.

Invention: Create a new tool, technology, or way of working that satisfies one or more of the worldviews. Do the same to resolve a tension between competing worldviews.

See seven additional motions and interaction techniques for card decks on the Deckaholic Blog.

Many people have never had the opportunity to talk about their beliefs with anyone. Discussing worldviews openly can reduce the discomfort that comes with sharing personal beliefs. Some people may have objections to some of the worldviews described. Address the objections honestly and earnestly. Take it further by asking what participants think and how they feel about it. Try to build understanding around obstacles or resistance, why it exists, and what assumptions might be involved.

Do you have ideas for using the worldviews cards? Send us a tweet @coclimate


Ecosystem Service Design workshop

October 16, 2014


How would you create a design if your client was a native wetland plant species? What are its wants, needs and desires, and how does it connect to the humans which utilize its services?

This Ecosystem Service Design workshop introduced participants to the concept of ecosystem services, and identified animals, plants and biospheric flows that are believed to be undervalued. Service design strategies were then implemented to imagine and prototype new connections between humans, technology and the natural environment, culminating in a series of insights and patterns. Through the session participants developed a set of tools for thinking creatively about specific environmental opportunities and challenges, and a set of metaphors for conducting design research with non-human clients.

Following on from their commissioned projects Nowcasting artists James Bridle and Rachel Jacobs, were joined by Dr Candice Howarth – Senior Research Fellow Climate Action & Cultural Systems at Anglia Ruskin University – and Professor Mike Wilson – Loughborough University, The School of the Arts, English and Drama – to discuss their approaches to working with data to develop new narratives and experiences.

The event was held at Loughborough University, The School of the Arts on October 15, 2014.


July 28, 2014

Weather is something we react to everyday, in the clothes we wear, the transport we take and food we eat. If it suddenly begins to rain we get an umbrella or seek shelter. Strange weather makes us act strangely. We don’t expect to wake up to a city underwater or live through a drought that lasts decades. We find ourselves in novel situations, lacking
familiar tools or habits that we can employ successfully without thinking too deeply. When anomalous events happen more frequently, we have to change our ways—developing new behaviours, artefacts and ways of existing in the world. Sustained strange weather requires planned change or adaptation. The exhibits in this section prototype new ways of being, focusing particularly on the new psychologies and societies we can imagine for ourselves in the face of significant disruptions and changes.


July 27, 2014

This is where things get very unusual indeed. Desperate times call for desperate measures and strange weather calls for creative mitigation strategies. This collection of tools and narratives ranges in tone from celebratory to cynical. Each artist in this section constructs a future where humankind attempts to use technology to directly intervene
in the weather patterns on planet Earth. Although humans have informally and inadvertently manipulated the weather since at least the dawn of agriculture, and definitely since the large scale burning of fossil fuels, these projects ask what happens when we start trying to shape the
weather and control the climate intentionally, continuously and with specific outcomes in mind. The story of climate mitigation is only just beginning, but thus far we have learned: we have always been geoengineers and we have not been very good at it.

STRANGE WEATHER: Understanding

July 26, 2014

What is rain? How is the Arctic region changing? How does space weather affect us here on Earth? The works in this section seek to understand the physical properties, processes and patterns of weather and climate. Additionally, the works take into account human activities and desires as one aspect of understanding the natural world. This is unusual in the natural sciences. Historically, understanding nature required erasing the contributions and traces of human activity. This collection of tools, maps and experiments explicitly include the human animal in the web of biogeochemical and physical interactions that comprise the patterns on our planet. Taken as a whole, these pieces help us understand that humankind both affects and is affected by the planetary processes we call weather and climate.


July 25, 2014

Documenting is a process of taking notice, collecting evidence, making meaning and leaving a record for others to interpret. Documenting strange weather poses a significant challenge. Weather consists of difference: flows and events which can disappear and melt away as quickly as they appear. What kind of physical evidence can be collected about rain, wind and heat waves? What are the physical artefacts resulting from a blizzard, tornado or lightning strike? Strange weather leaves behind memories, new language, changed habitats and occasionally damaged human artefacts. The works in this section are collections of particularly ephemeral evidence that await your interpretation. What do they say about our planet, humankind and the strange moment we find ourselves in?