Pic courtesy: The Telegraph
First, it was water. Now it is the turn of clean air. Whatever be the outcome of the recently concluded Paris accord on climate change, the fact that bottled clean air (yes, I said bottled clean air) is now being traded across borders is a pointer to where the world is headed.
Bottled clean air from the Rocky Mountains in Canada is now being sold in China. What started as a joke has now turned into an attractive business opportunity. Moses Lam, co-founder of the company Vitality Air told The Telegraph, London, (Dec 15, 2015) in an interview: “Our first shipments of 500 bottles of fresh air were sold in four days.”
In a country where clean air is becoming a luxury, the demand for bottled air is picking up fast. When smog peaks in winters, Beijing puts up giant digital screens to show its residents how did the sun look like on that particular day. Sun rise and sun set are regularly beamed on giant screens. In such a gloomy scenario, grabbing an ounce of fresh air turns it into a priceless possession. Even though bottled fresh air is priced fifty times more than mineral water, it is certainly worth every penny. But before you start worrying about its high price, think of how the very idea of selling fresh bottled air has taken the world to a dead end, almost to the very dead end.
Commodification of air was always on the card, I was never in doubt. Writing in The Hindustan Times several years ago, I had talked of how the world was fast moving towards privatization of air. The privileged for instance had access to cool air flowing from air-conditioners, to centrally heated conditions, all coming with a price tag. As the pollution levels began to rise in cities, the advent of air-purifiers in homes and offices became quite a norm. This is nothing but pricing clean air for those who could afford. For the lesser mortals, they must learn to live with murderous air.
Later, some companies started manufacturing personal air-purifier gadgets that could be hung around the neck or tied to a belt. The access to ambient air therefore was linked to a price one could afford. I wasn’t therefore surprised when at a time Beijing announced a red alert over worsening smog levels last week, a Chinese restaurant in Zhangjiagang city in Jiangsu province began charging an extra fee for dining in an ambience of purified air. Although the Chinese authorities booked the owner for ‘selling’ purified air which is not allowed, I wonder what the reaction would be over the sale of bottled fresh air.
Delhi tops the air pollution chart relegating Beijing to the second spot. But it’s not only Delhi that is heavily polluted. Of the world’s top 20 polluted cities, 13 are in India. An evaluation of the latest National Air Quality Index of the Central Pollution Control Board shows that 15 of the 17 cities being monitored fail to meet the ambient air quality standards. Most cities have exceeded China’s levels, with at least four cities – Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Muzaffarpur and Faridabad – should be issuing a ‘red alert’ warning considering the poor air quality levels attained.
And yet, New Delhi’s elite is building up a strong case for continuing with business as usual, opposed to trying out the odd-even policy for plying cars. As Business Standard columnist Mihir Sharma aptly puts it: “Certainly, one truly extraordinary statement of our cultural biases is that most people seem more willing to pay thousands of rupees for air purifiers for every room than to deal with road rationing for a few weeks. If the electricity goes off, no worries! The diesel gen-set will kick in, spewing more fumes into the air. This is my right; and it is a problem only for those with neither air purifiers nor electricity.”
Since the elite are unlikely to make any lifestyle changes, I wouldn’t be surprised if some enterprising business’ takes up production and marketing of bottled fresh air. While Canada-based Vitality Air may soon add India among its attractive marketing destinations, there would be ample avenues available for local entrepreneurs. The retreating Himalayan glaciers may be a cause of worry for environmentalists but may turn out to be an economical proposition to bottle mountain fresh air. It may appear to be an outlandish idea in the beginning, but like in the case of bottled water when people were initially shocked at the very sight, India’s packaged bottled water industry has grown exponentially over the years, projected to touch $ 160 billion by 2018.
With clean air turning into a marketable commodity, the Right to Clean Air is an idea whose time has probably come. A few years back, we scorned at the very idea of Right to Water. But gradually it began to be accepted. I wouldn’t therefore be surprised if the demand for a Right to Clean Air is articulated at the forthcoming CoP 22 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change scheduled to be held at Marrakesh in Morocco in November 2016. But the bigger question still remains unanswered: after polluting water, and now air, what more is left to destroy.
After bottled water, we will now be purchasing clean bottled air ! ABPLive.in Dec 17, 2015