Welcome to the luxurious world of clean air

By Sofia Gallarate

Published Sep 17, 2018 at 03:45 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

On the website of a luxury real estate agency in Singapore, the typically flowery description of the flats on the market reads, “One of the most unique offerings would be quality indoor air at Treetops Executive Residences.” The high-end apartments have “state-of-the-art” indoor air filters that provide the lucky (and undoubtedly wealthy) occupants clean, healthy air and, essentially, a break from the highly polluted atmosphere that circulates everywhere outdoors. If in Western countries having access to purified air has not yet been categorised as a privilege—despite the fact that London has almost the same alarming levels of nitrogen dioxide as Beijing and New Delhi—in countries such as China, Singapore or India, clean air is becoming a rare and precious amenity.

As a vast majority of the world’s population is exposed to toxic air on a daily basis, it does not come as a surprise that an increasing number of people living in countries or cities with dangerous pollution levels seek new ways to access clean air, and furthermore, are willing to pay for it. Ultimately, clean air equates to a healthy life, and who does not want to have that secured, no matter the costs or sacrifices?

Marco Miraglia

Unfortunately, though, what also does not come as a surprise is that the immediate, hand-to-mouth solutions to air pollution and its health risks, especially when they are run by private, profit-driven companies, do not offer everyone the same opportunities. From Vitality Air, a Canadian startup that takes fresh oxygen from its rural area, bottles it in cans and sells it to the Asian markets, to Singapore’s luxury flats whose inflated prices depend on the purity of indoor air, as the demand for unpolluted air naturally rises, business ventures are targeting the rich with a new kind of luxury: breathing clean air.

As long as pollution levels in our air continue to rise (which they will), any private business occupying this new clean air industry is only distracting from any real form of ethical or moral measures that need to accompany the commodification of a good that is, as simple as it sounds, the basis of life. In other words, what I like to call the air industry is paving the way towards a long term catastrophic issue with short term solutions.

Are companies privatising the atmosphere by putting a price on air? No, they are not. What they are doing however is putting a price on the clean air they package, filter, or bottle. Unpolluted air is becoming the next commodifiable good, and it is hard to predict what dubious paths this new market will walk down or to what extent it will affect our lives three or four decades from now. One thing is certain, the imminent threat of pollution is turning what is recognised as the ultimate common good, the air we breathe, into the ultimate privilege.

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