Ruhr Valley and Delhi. Megacity Air Pollution in Germany and India

With this case, we discuss lessons from air pollution reduction during Coronavirus induced policies in Germany and India. "Lockdowns" and health hazards of air pollution for lung diseases have been extensively discussed publicly, which we show with the example of social media. Our main anchor is that 2020 saw an extreme drop in air pollution.  

Here we focus on two densely populated areas: the Ruhr region in western Germany, which consists of several cities, and the Indian capital. The comparison of the Ruhr district and Delhi is instructive. The Ruhr area was a driving force of industrialisation, is now free of coal smoke, but still struggles with the consequences of population density and congestion. Delhi, in turn, is one of the most air polluted places in the world, driven by dense settlement, heavy traffic, heavy industries, plus other factors such as crop burning and coal stoves. The temporary decline in air pollution in 2020 helps to re-discuss daily dangers and inequalities that are inscribed into infrastructure.

For environmental justice, our story has two lessons: advocacy groups now have evidence that tackling transportation emissions at the source works and is helpful. Yet, we argue, addressing industry pollution and going beyond individual consumer responsibility is more important, as emphasized by stable and rising pollution levels. Beyond that, connecting actors through social media is a valuable resource for activists.

We speak to the cases of air pollution through our perspective as scientists employed at German universities. Stefan (Laser) has experience with environmental justice research in India, and Delhi in particular. Yet we are aware of our pandemic-related distance and the subtle and not so subtle consequences of privileged positions. We translate concerns that are being handled on the ground (add to this the fact that upper-caste and well-off actors are prominently represented in Delhi, and also the twitter data we make use of). Crucially, we use the comparison to sharpen our understanding of the Ruhr region where we were born, where we have kinship ties and where we work.

Cover image: "Nitrogen dioxide concentrations over India, before and during lockdown phases. European Space Agency (ESA) 2021,


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Created date

December 2, 2021

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Cite as

Stefan Laser. 2 December 2021, "Ruhr Valley and Delhi. Megacity Air Pollution in Germany and India", Disaster STS Network, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 10 December 2021, accessed 12 August 2022.