Air Pollution, Climate, and Health in the Minds of Artists

Opening of the multimedia exhibit BREATHE


The exhibit, Voyage on the Planet, features a backpack described as a “Survival Kit for the Ever-Changing Planet”, which serves as a source of sustenance for the planet’s unknown future.

Air pollution and climate change is having a profound impact on our health. Many people are exposed to both indoor and outdoor air pollution. 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.

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.

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 that kind of information more tangible to our senses, thus stimulating reflections on the importance of addressing air pollution, health and climate change.

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

The exhibit, curated by two international groups, CoCLIMATE and CARBON ARTS, was on display at the WMO for the opening evening of the High Level Assembly of the CCAC.

Many of the practices on display in this exhibition are interdisciplinary in nature. The curators of this multimedia art exhibit sought out artists working at the intersection of creativity, technology, science, health and society; 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 its 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.

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