NYT Air Pollution Simulation

Air pollution is a problem for most cities worldwide, though it can be hard to show just how bad (or how good) some places have it. In December of 2019, the New York Times ran a groundbreaking article and accompanying virtual reality experience that allows people to project air pollution onto their own environment using their mobile phone. Turn on the camera, take a picture of the QR code (or simply click on it if you’re on the NYT app) and your camera superimposes the pollution into the camera view. The small gray dots that can litter your camera view show the concentration of microscopic particulate pollution of almost any city in the world (what gives the appearance of haze in and around cities, sometimes colloquially called smog). Go to New Delhi and see your screen become filled with pollution and a small blurb about how the concentration of particulates is far above what the EPA classifies as extreme air pollution. Take a trip to Portland, Oregon and take a virtual breath of fresh air and breeze past a blurb about the benefits of living in an area with low air pollution. Now, while the VR experience is good at transporting the reader to different cities and giving them a look into what others experience, one can’t account for small-scale differences within cities within the app. However, the accompanying article is quick to point out that poor communities and communities of colour usually bear the brunt of the worst urban pollution within cities and thus also experience higher incidences of pollution-related illnesses and deaths. It also appears that data for the current time is imported into the experience as it becomes available, so the VR experience appears to be operating in real-time With air pollution on the rise in the United States for the first time in 2016, and cities like New Delhi and Beijing nearly becoming synonymous with air pollution, this VR experience and educational component provides a new perspective.

Popovich, Nadja, et al. “See How The World Most Polluted Air Compares With Your City’s.” The New York Times, December 2, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/12/02/climate/air-pollution-compare-ar-ul.html?smid=tw-nytclimate&smtyp=cur.


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