Can Teddy Bears Help Fight Air Pollution in London?

When air pollution levels spike in London, new coughing teddy bears tweet at local politicians with a message about the dangers of dirty air.

Air pollution is becoming a massive global issue. Just take a look at this interactive map, and you’ll notice that a worrisome amount of the world is in the yellow and red. The World Health Organization actually estimated that unsafe levels of air pollution caused seven million deaths globally in 2012 alone. That is an astounding one out of every eight deaths for that year caused by dirty air.

The majority of the world’s most polluted cities lie in growing industrial nations, like India and China, but cities like London are starting to feel the devastating effects of air pollution. In fact, a lot of Londoners are gravely concerned.

“This is now a matter of life and death, and the government has one last chance to put it right,” said London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, last year.

Around 9,500 people die annually due to London’s poor air quality. That’s significantly more than the number of Londoners who die in car accidents. What’s more, there are 800+ schools in London that are regularly exposed to high levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air (from road traffic) that surpass the E.U.’s legal limits. Air pollution is a silent killer, and it has grown into a health emergency.

And yet, London’s government has been slow to act. So one company decided to start making a blatant statement—with an animatronic teddy bear.

The bear is named Toxic Toby, and it is the brainchild of creatives at the advertising agency, McCann London. Toby gets strapped on the side of the road surrounded by flowers, reminiscent of a memorial, but it’s not just a lifeless teddy bear tied to a post.

“The 3D-printed bear is fed real-time air quality data from a company called BreezoMeter,” Zoya Teirstein writes at Grist, “When pollution hits dangerous levels, Toby lifts his little paw and coughs.”

Yep, the bear coughs when the air quality is bad—very realistically (and heart-wrenchingly). It’s pretty hard to ignore as a passerby. And every time he coughs, he sends a nagging little tweet to local politicians with a message about the dangers of air pollution.

Raising awareness on the streets while pushing politicians to make change—it’s an ingenious way to make a difference. And who can ignore a sick teddy bear?

While the US has significantly better air quality than many other parts of the world, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned. Los Angeles  is barely behind London when it comes to terrible air. And if you live elsewhere, bad news—air pollution travels, thanks to wind. Air pollution is everyone’s problem, no matter where you live.

Take action by contacting your local government and demanding stronger anti-pollution action. Clean air is a human right. Maybe we need a few Toxic Tobys on our side of the Atlantic to get the message across.

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Image via Thinkstock


Melisa B
Melisa B10 days ago

thanks very much

Jan S
Jan S2 months ago

thank you

Sophie A
Sarah A3 months ago

Thank you

fotini horbou4 months ago

very cute and interesting!

Val P
Val P5 months ago


HEIKKI R5 months ago

thank you

Alexandra Richards
Alexandra Richards5 months ago

Thank you.

Paulo R
Paulo Reeson5 months ago


Rauni H
Rauni H5 months ago


David C
David C6 months ago

thanks, awesome and I love teddy bears even in my 50s