Follow TV Tropes


Paying for Air

Go To
Breathing on the bill first and foremost.

"Was Earthside once and heard expression 'Free as air.' This air isn't free, you pay for every breath."
Mannie Garcia, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

In Real Life, you have to pay for many things that enable you to survive (assuming you're a normal human being), which include piped-in water, food, shelter, and more (again, this may depend on the person and country). That said, there's one thing nobody asks you to pay for: air. You breathe it automatically and there's no easy way to count how many breaths you've taken over a particular day, and trees take the carbon dioxide you exhale and release back oxygen.

However, in fiction, especially science fiction, someone may force you to pay for air, particularly if you live on the Moon or elsewhere off Earth, or are traveling to such a place through space. This can be done to show a really Corrupt Corporate Executive or that Capitalism Is Bad. Some companies may be sinister enough to destroy the environment to either invoke this or prevent the trope from being defied. This can also happen if Earth (or its ecology) is ravaged in the future and there's no way to get oxygen from trees, resulting in it becoming scarce. This can apply to Water Is Air settings as well. Air may come in bottles, be paid for through a mandatory tax, or cost money in some other way. Can't pay and you're screwed, likely resulting in suffocation within minutes, or at least accruing insurmountable debt.

In more technical terms, air is normally not scarce, meaning that there is no need to buy, produce, or sell it. Paying for air is thus commodification of public goods taken to the extreme.note 

Do not confuse this with paying for airtime, which is what most smaller donor contributions to publicly-funded media outlets like PBS are earmarked for.


    open/close all folders 

    Comic Books 
  • Judge Dredd:
    • 23rd-century Luna bills for air as it would for heat and electricity. One minor villain was killed because he could not pay his bill, and the air was simply turned off. Luna-1 residents even have a saying with regards to this: "A smart man can beat the law, but only a fool bucks the Oxygen Board."
    • In another story, Mega-City-One issued a one-time "clean air tax" to cover the losses caused by the stupidity that ensued from altering some city-block numbers.
    • Judge Cal establishes a fresh air tax during his reign as Chief Judge, among his various insane laws.
  • Scrooge McDuck:
    • One comic had Scrooge go to two neighboring worlds (each an opposite Planet of Hats) with one devoted to wasteful Conspicuous Consumption (like taking a shopping trip, filling up the cart, and leaving the full cart behind), and the other where everyone was obsessed with saving and making money to the extent of having to pay for breathing. Naturally, Scrooge is happy on the second planet only until he finds out he has to pay for just about everything he does.
    • One Donald Duck comic centers around a golden viking helmet that will allegedly give whoever owns it authority to rule North America. When Donald succumbs to the temptation, he decrees that he'll allow everyone to keep living their lives exactly like they were before, except that he'll charge people for air.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Lorax (2012): In the city of Thneedville, inhabitants have to buy air in bottles due to the lack of trees, until they come back and Aloysius O'Hare is overthrown near the end.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Implied in Spaceballs: the villainous President Skroob of Planet Spaceball has "squandered their precious atmosphere," making it difficult to breathe unassisted on the surface of planet Spaceball. Though he vigorously denies that there's an air shortage, President Skroob keeps a drawer of Perri-Air canned, sparkling, salt-free air in his desk for relief.
  • Total Recall (1990): This is how the Big Bad Cohaagen stays in charge of the planet Mars. He owns all the oxygen in the colonies, which basically gives him absolute power (it's implied Earth won't stop him because he also controls a valuable mineral). His plot is to destroy a Martian machine that can generate air for the whole planet. The end of the film is a Race Against Time to activate the machine, as Cohaagen has turned the oxygen generators off.

  • In The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Loonies have to pay for the oxygen they breathe, since, on the Moon, it is produced by devoted entities. New residents are loaned money for their air.
  • In The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, one character remarks that if it were possible to do so, the entrepreneurial capitalist classes would appropriate the air to themselves and turn it into a source of profit, charging people to breathe it, and you would daily see people suffocating to death for want of the price of air to breathe. And that those used to paying rent to landlords for homes to live in would see this as normal.
  • In the Geronimo Stilton book A Fabumouse Vacation for Geronimo, Geronimo ends up in a very badly managed hotel that has absurdly high prices for everything. One of the extra things you have to pay for is the air you breathe while staying inside (30 euros per day, plus 10 more if you want the oxygen too).

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Doctor Who Episode "Oxygen", the unnamed corporation that controls the space station Chasm Forge has passed rules limiting the oxygen on board to employees personal spacesuits. When the TARDIS transports an excess of oxygen to the station, Chasm Forge's A.I. complains that the spare oxygen wasn't authorised by corporate and vents it into space to "keep prices competitive".
  • In the Red Dwarf episode "Fathers and Suns", Lister quits his position at the Jupiter Mining Corporation. The ship's new computer, Pree, decides that he has now forfeited his "oxygen allowance" and removes all the air from his quarters to force him out of the ship.

  • "All in My Head" by Hobo Johnson criticizes the commercialization of everything:
    "They sell water, soon enough they'll sell air, they sell dirt and no one even cares"
  • Mitch Benn's "Budget Air", about how they make up for the cheapness of the ticket with all the hidden fees:
    They charge me just for charging me, though why I cannot tell,
    I'm scared to breathe the air in case they charge for that as well.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Variation: A duo of Dilbert strips depicts a contractor named Carl at the company, being told that their air is for their actual employees only and rather than use it, he needs to supply his own. Next thing, he has a mobile air tank hooked up to his mouth and can't say anything while Wally complains, "He's using our light!" The next strip continues this state of affairs, where (while he tries to argue from behind the air mask) the Pointy-Haired Boss says that he's still using their ''gravity'' and wonders if he could hover.
  • One B.C. storyline had Peter running an "air factory" and charging the other characters for using it.

  • How Green Was My Cactus. Paul Bearer (a parody of then-Australian federal treasurer Paul Keating) suggests a tax on breathing to King Bonza.


    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Traveller Adventure campaign, the planet Aramis has no breathable atmosphere and the inhabitants of the underground city of Leedor must pay a 10 credit per day fee to the government to cover the cost of the city's artificially generated air.
  • In the Starfinder adventure path Fly Free or Die the player characters land in the drow city of Nightarch, on the airless planet Apostae, and immediately upon leaving their ship they get a message from Nightarch Air and Water billing them for air at a rate of 1 credit per day.

  • In Ben Elton's Gasping, a CEO tells his marketing people to come up with a product that effectively creates a new market. They hit on the idea of "designer air". Air from nice places, like high in the Alps, or from the heart of previously untouched rainforest, is bottled and shipped to consumers in Europe who plug them into machines that were originally medical devices to help asthmatics breathe. Pretty soon, the commodification causes the previously pristine places from which the designer air came to become polluted hell holes where people suffocate without the aid of personal space suits or massive industrial air pumps.

    Video Games 
  • In Rapture of BioShock, run under Objectivism under its owner Andrew Ryan, even air has to be paid for. Ryan taunts the player by telling how he's a thief for not paying for the air he breathes. Julie Langford planned to invest into the air business, as Fontaine did.
  • In Hardspace: Shipbreaker, oxygen refills midshift cost money, thus adding to your debt. At the smallest tank size, you'll have to buy twice to get through a 15 minute shift. Once your tank is upgraded enough, it can last an entire shift without a refill, unless you crack/break your helmet.
  • Star Control: The Druuge species run themselves as a gigantic Megacorp called the Crimson Corporation, with everything the Druuge own being company property... including the oxygen on their planets. As a result, getting fired from it means immediate execution for "stealing company property" by breathing. The retirement packages include (reduced) oxygen allowances.
  • One of the food items in NEO: The World Ends with You is a tin can full of high-quality air. It's one of the best ways to increase your Style stat but somehow it still contains calories like normal food.
  • In the portable version of The Urbz, Daddy Bigbucks plans on taking over Simcity in order to fleece its inhabitants out of every penny they have; this will include charging them for air or to walk on the street.
  • Void Bastards gives your Client the ability to purchase extra oxygen using Merits if they exhaust the ship's free supply, which also extends the Client's maximum oxygen for the duration of the salvage.

    Web Original 
  • Jreg: "Centricide 4.5: Ancapistan" has the Capitalists mention that in the episode's titular city, they pay 12 bucks for breath of air, but everyone's a billionaire (except for the cripplingly poor).
  • In the "Water" episode of You Know Whats Bullshit, the Bullshit Man jokes that if the Coca-Cola company could, they would actually attempt to sell air, after filling it with chemicals, as part of a jab at their Dasani brand of water.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Fairly OddParents! episode "Truth or Cosmoquences", Cosmo, pretending to be rich to impress his old high school classmates, claims to have invented oxygen, which means he's paid a quarter every time someone inhales.
  • At the beginning of Porky Pig's Feat, we see Porky's hotel bill list a number of "luxuries", one of which is "Air for breathing".
  • Robot and Monster: In one episode, the titular duo forgets to pay taxes, with one of them being a tax for oxygen.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In the episode "Squid on Strike," Mr. Krabs makes his employees reimburse him for "goofing off," (pictured above) which includes activities as simple as breathing. Squidward finds it so unfair that he starts a workers' strike.
  • An segment of Garfield and Friends (Fit For a King) has Garfield reading a fairy tale called The Royal Appetite in which an obese king played by Jon is beloved by his subjects because another king has agreed to give the king his weight in gold (literally, King "Jon" is on one end of a scale while the gold is piled on the other end), so King Jon doesn't need to tax his subjects. One of his vassals, the Duke of Blurp, wants the throne and plans on taxing the citizens for everything ,including breathing air.
  • In "Clean Air!" from Sid the Science Kid, Sid pretends to be a slick-talking salesman offering bottles of clean air for one million dollars each. Gerald offers to buy one, Gabriela to buy two, but they are eventually lured away by May, who points out that they can just plant trees.
  • In Miraculous Ladybug, "Mega Leech", the mayor has plans to build Project Oxygen, a supposedly eco-friendly facility to purify polluted air and sell it back in bottles. But, as is pointed out by some protesters, to do so they will demolish a park (full of trees, nature's air filters) and the bottles will become more plastic waste.

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television in polluted China, as a restaurant gives an additional 15 cent fee for fresh air and Chinese people are willing to pay up to $30 for bottled fresh air.
  • In a downplayed example, some high-end hotels in high-altitude Peruvian cities like Cusco offer the option to have oxygen pumped into one's hotel room to ease the effects of altitude sickness. These enriched-oxygen rooms typically run an extra $50 a night. Hotel Monasterio is one example that advertises the service on their website.
  • Compressed air and oxygen - used heavily for medical and research purposes, underwater work and recreation, high altitude activities, or deep mining operations - certainly isn't free, due to the expense of bottling, storing and shipping it. The rapid consumption of bottled oxygen for ventilators due to the Coronavirus outbreak has raised concerns about a bottled-oxygen shortage and possible price increases note 
  • Technically, anytime you buy manufactured goods in countries with environmental laws, you're doing this. Factories incorporate technologies to reduce their pollution output, such as scrubbers on the exhaust towers. All that equipment has to be paid for somehow, which means the cost is factored into the price of the products. Unless of course your stuff is made somewhere that's less environmentally conscious, like China.