Our Horizon: Climate Change Labels on Gas Pumps

This is a guest blog written by Mary Chartrand. The opinions expressed in this article are of the author’s, and are not necessarily reflective of the views of GreenPAC.

Talk of climate change inundates us on a daily basis and is, as Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon describes it, our “only one truly existential threat.” For the most part, we know this information already, so why is nothing changing? We lay blame at a distance for this fossil fuels debacle that we’ve backed ourselves into, pointing to the tar sands and to pipeline plans, and we have little luck in changing things when we do so. Our Horizon, a climate change not-for-profit based in Toronto, believes that we can’t distance ourselves from the lack of progress, and seeks to bring some of that responsibility back to us as individuals. Our goal is to jolt consumers into action through a simple, low-cost initiative: placing climate change labels on gas pump nozzles, and making this a legislated requirement for gasoline retailers nationwide.

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The Argument for Climate Change Labels

Simple, cheap, and low-risk, we believe climate change labels are a great place to start in tackling climate change in a more meaningful way. First, climate change can be seen as a problem of diffuse responsibility, and this is why we fail to acknowledge we have a choice to act on an individual level. We have to get to work and maybe we live somewhere that  transit options are few-to-none, so what else can we do but gas up? Climate change labels can force the consumer to ask, “What am I supposed to do? What are my other options?” When enough people are asking this question, businesses become incentivized to deliver more alternatives to market. Secondly, climate change has hidden externalities - loss of habitat in the Arctic or rising sea levels are not built into the price of gas. Unfortunately, these externalities are very real, and the current and future risks we impose on ourselves and others needs to be reflected, through both price and in more tangible ways. The warning labels can communicate these externalities to the consumer, bridging the harm of burning fossil fuels with consumption.

Climate change labels are receiving lots of support. Ontario cities like Guelph, Waterloo and Oakville have endorsed the concept, as well as the 53 member municipalities of the Association of Francophone Municipalities of New Brunswick. Mayors and Councillors from across British Columbia voted at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities to support the initiative, and implement it wherever possible. The idea also gets a lot of support from academics and experts, as well as NGOs such as the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. As a low-cost initiative that has proven its effectiveness in communicating the effects of climate change to the consumer,  many people are surprised that this approach is not already widespread in 2015.

Get Involved!

We think climate change labels are a huge step in the right direction for tackling our most pressing environmental issue, and for any readers that agree, good news: you can help!

Prior to COP21, Our Horizon is trying to build a global database of politicians’ emails in countries that have implemented visual and textual warnings on cigarette products. The goal is to get this idea into the heads of as many politicians as possible, creating a lively buzz around the topic heading into the climate talks. A way you can help is by adopting a country through Our Horizon staff correspondence, review the country’s government website, and start plugging in as many emails as you can. The idea is that a politician who receives this email could bring it up amongst their peers, and a conversation about the initiative could spark more interest. Wouldn’t it be incredible if an address you collected was responsible for a step toward meaningful change? The work is simple, but important.

If you’re interested in helping us build this database, or want more information, please contact Mary Chartrand at mary@ourhorizon.org.

Mary Chartrand is interning with Our Horizon through Ryerson University, where she majors in Environment and Urban Sustainability and minors in public administration.


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