WATCH: ‘Pollution pods’ give visitors a taste of smog in different countries

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 27 2019 04:21 PM | Updated as of Sep 27 2019 07:57 PM

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Ever wondered what it’s like to experience pollution in Beijing or New Delhi?

Artist Michael Pinsky found a way to bring this experience to different parts of the world through his art installation “Pollution Pods.”

Currently exhibited at the United Nations headquarters in New York, the pods allow visitors to virtually tour the world and be exposed to different kinds of pollution by entering domes filled with perfumed air.

But instead of sweet and fresh scents, the perfumed air recreates the heavy, sometimes unbearable smog, from heavily polluted cities.

The experience starts with the pleasant smelling air from Norway’s Tautra island. The visitors are then directed towards the London pod filled with thick smog. Many find it hard to push through with the third pod, which recreates the hot, oppressive and hazy air of New Delhi. Wrapping up the experience are the cooler but smog-filled pods of Beijing and Sao Paulo.

Pinsky said he made the installation to bring climate change discussions close to the people. 

“The problem with the climate change debate is that it’s too large to engage with it, too epic. So I start to think about how I can engage with people’s everyday life,” he told ABS-CBN.

“I start to think about how I could create an installation where people could embody the experience of air pollution and therefore possibly change their opinions and change their lifestyle,” Pinsky added.

“Having cleaner air benefits their health,” he said, explaining that people might be more motivated to help solve it compared to appealing to the “altruistic motivation” of climate change.

At the UN Youth Climate Summit, participants and visitors left the “Pollution Pods” surprised at the suffocating quality of air in some of the simulated cities. 

“I visited New Dehli once or twice and that’s pretty much the situation there,” said graduate student Aksha Nanavati.

Ines Del Giudice, who is also a graduate student, said she was “shocked” to learn how bad pollution was in other parts of the world like New Delhi.

“I think it’s a really good experience to live the way they did. I was pretty shocked because I’m not from any of those places,” she said. 

Pinsky said he wanted to actually source air from the different cities but it posed challenges in chemistry.

Eventually, Pinsky had to work with a group that could create perfume or fragrances of air pollution.

“I had to think about what kind of smells the pollutants created. Are they the smell of burning coal or burning plastic. I looked at the city and the causes of their pollution,” he said. “They recreated those smells.”

Humidity and other factors were also factored in to give the visitors an experience that is as close as the real thing.

Pinsky said the pollution pods have been exhibited in different parts of the world, and that he hopes more people will realize how climate change is impacting people’s everyday lives.