In Mel Brooks' 1987 sci-fi movie parody Spaceballs, the villainous and eponymous Spaceballs plot to steal the air supply from planet Druidia. One of the lesser-known gags involves the evil Dark Helmet, played by Rick Moranis, taking out a can of “Perri-air” and inhaling it vigorously. This gag was re-used in a much less effective manner in the 2012 adaptation of Dr. Seuss' Lorax. In both instances, these were meant as over-the-top gags whose humor lies in pure absurdity. But, in an era where the ridiculous has become normal, it’s no surprise that a simple gag has ballooned into a real world commodity that is very serious.
According to BBC Capital, a Canadian company named Vitality has found a market selling Canadian air to countries like China and India where air pollution is of paramount concern. Originally intended as a gag gift, now one can get compressed Canadian air for C$32 or $24 in the US. A UK firm, Aeathaer, sells air collected in the countryside for £80 or $103 in the US. Much like Perrier and bottled water before it, it found a surprisingly dedicated market.
In countries that face severe issues with pollution, this can be a respite. But what is bothersome is the fact that clean air has become a luxury. Under what conditions does one have the right to clean air? In our modern age, the act of breathing is subject to the same rules that would govern a consumer product like a soft drink, something that everyone has the right to buy but not the right to have. It makes logical sense that bottled water is handled in much the same way, often by soft drink corporation like Coca-Cola or Pepsi.
In this respect, water may prove to be a barometer for the fate of air. Already, water is a source of conflict through the world. The question of ownership over resources like water and air is a key issue in the discussion regarding privatization. Control over water today could signal control over air in the future. It’s also possible that conflicts over air may occur in the future, if clean air is required to live and remains scarce. It sounds ridiculous, but then again, moviegoers laughed when Dark Helmet inhaled that “Perri-air.