Public Smog

An initiative to create clean air parks in the atmosphere by buying and withholding emission certificates from the emissions trading market

Public Smog is a project that engages with the emission trading of air-polluting gases, a system that aims to create an economic incentive for pollutants to switch to less polluting practices. In the scheme, a central authority like the European Union, allocates a certain amount of permits for emissions. Polluters that emit less than the permits they hold can sell their "spare" emissions as certificates to others that emit more. Within this system, Public Smog encourages the global public to "buy back the sky" by acquiring emission certificates and withholding them from the market, effectively decreasing air pollution and figuratively creating clean air "parks" in the atmosphere.

The project distinguishes between upper parks, concerning mainly CO2 emissions, and lower parks, focusing on nitrogen oxides responsible for smog close to the ground. Throughout the project three temporary parks of varying sizes were opened above regions in California (2004), Chicago(2010), and the EU(2006-2007). The artist behind the project, Amy Balkin is based in San Fransisco and has created numerous projects around air pollution and climate change. While it is stated on the project website that no industry donors were involved in Public Smog, it remains unclear where the funding for these parks came from.

The project is effective in communicating the mechanisms of the often very abstract emissions trading scheme and motivates debate on how it functions and where it fails. While the project documentation acknowledges that the only environmentally just framework would be a total clean air park with no accepted zones of compromised air quality, from a climate justice point of view it seems absurd to propose citizens buy back clean air, especially considering the disproportionate global distribution of climate change effects and wealth.

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