11 October 2021

Pollution Pods, by artist and University of East London (UEL) reader, Michael Pinsky, started its tour to COP26 at UEL's Docklands campus on Friday 8 October.

The artist has worked closely with UEL students as part of an innovative intern scheme where students from across architecture, visual arts and engineering collaborate to support live cultural projects which engage people with climate change.

This is the first time Michael Pinsky has worked directly with students to manage a Pollution Pods tour, with the students constructing, adapting and maintaining the pods through their journey to COP26. The next step on the tour is Granary Square in King's Cross, London.

What are the Pollution Pods?

The Pollution Pods are a set of geodesic domes where the air quality, smell and temperature recreate the pollution of five locations on three continents: London, Beijing, São Paulo, New Delhi and Tautra in Norway.

Michael Pinsky first created the installation in 2017 to explore if art could change people's perception of, and action around, climate change. The pods are designed to highlight the health impact of the climate crisis, with air pollution killing around 7 million people globally each year.

Michael Pinsky said, "The pods are on a journey across the UK that ends in Glasgow, where the decision-makers are and the future will be decided. On the way they're reaching out to all these different cities to start a dialogue."

Pollution pods on docklands campus


Julian Imossi, one of the students involved in the tour, said, "The key goal is to raise awareness about air quality and climate change in the world that we live in. The pods transport people to parts of the world they have never been to before, so they experience how bad air pollution can be."

The unique polluted environments of each pod will emulate the experience of London's invisible but deadly output of nitrate oxides to New Delhi’s suffocating haze of airborne particles.

Orseer Gbashah, another student working on the project, said, "The best thing about being involved is the reaction you get from people. They might be unaware of air pollution levels but when they go in the pods and come out the other side, they are more educated and enlightened. For instance, Londoners don't really know how bad their air is, let alone the terrible conditions people face thousands of miles away."

Air pollution and climate change

Although still not meeting the World Health Organisation's (WHO's) recommended standard, London's air is far cleaner than that of the most polluted city featured, New Delhi.  It is estimated that the average Londoner, exposed to the current levels of pollution recreated in the installation, would lose up to 16 months of their life, with a resident of New Delhi cutting their life short by 4 years.

Air pollution has similar causes to climate change, namely burning fossil fuels for power, transport and industry, as well as burning crops and plastics. The solutions are also largely the same - renewable energy, public transport, walking and cycling.

Michael Pinsky said, "Although the causes of climate change aren't pollution per se, the causes of pollution and the climate change overlap hugely. By focusing on air pollution, I'm encouraging people to engage with something that affects their everyday life, rather than something that seems remote like a polar bear on a melting glacier."

Poor air quality contributes to respiratory illness, cancer and heart disease. It is increasingly being linked to mental illness as well as physical illness. Children are especially vulnerable to the effects as they are closer to exhaust fumes, their lungs are still developing, and they breathe faster than adults.

With nine out of ten people in urban areas breathing air that did not meet the WHO's air quality guidelines, now really is the time to act.

Pollution Pod tour

  • Friday 8 October pods open to the public in Docklands Campus, University of East London, London. FULL INSTALLATION.
  • Saturday 16 to Sunday 24 October pods open to the public in Granary Square, Kings Cross, London. FULL INSTALLATION
  • Monday 25 October Think Tank Science Museum, Birmingham. LONE POD
  • Wednesday 27 October Sheffield Children's Hospital. LONE POD
  • Wednesday 27 October Lancaster Arts Centre. LONE POD
  • Thursday 28 October Great North Children's Hospital, Newcastle. LONE POD
  • MAIN EVENT Sunday 31 October, 2pm, Glasgow Hospital - FULL INSTALLATION for COP26

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