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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.

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