Climate change warning labels urged for gas pumps

Pump pain may come with pang of greenhouse gas guilt as motorists fill up

The pain drivers feel at the pump from high gas prices may soon also come with a jolt of shame for helping destroy the planet.

A proposal gaining momentum with civic leaders in B.C. would see guilt-inducing climate change warning labels slapped on all gas pump handles.

The non-profit group Our Horizon has been advancing the concept on the basis that warnings that graphically show the damage from climate change could nudge motorists to cut their emissions.

It’s inspired by cigarette package warnings that are credited in the decline of smoking and the example warning labels circulated by the group are similar in design.

“Warning: Use of this fuel product contributes to ocean acidification which puts much marine life at risk of extinction,” states one label that comes with images of thriving and dead coral.

West Vancouver council will bring a resolution before the Union of B.C. Municipalities in September asking the province to make the pump labels a requirement province-wide.

City of North Vancouver council voted to endorse the idea June 15 and it doesn’t want to wait for a provincial government decision.

“We’re going to try to go it alone,” Mayor Darrell Mussatto said, adding North Vancouver still must investigate the legalities. “We think it’s the right thing to do.”

Our Horizon B.C. campaigner Matt Hulse said he believes any municipality could make gas pump labeling a condition for gas stations in its local business licence bylaw.

But West Vancouver Mayor Mike Smith, a longtime petroleum distributor in the region, said he doesn’t want to take the risk that a unilateral municipal requirement gets challenged in court.

“I personally hate spending public money on legal fees,” he said, adding his city will wait for provincial policy.

Smith said he will vote in favour of his council’s resolution at UBCM.

“It’s just a way of reminding the public that there’s a cost to be borne for using petroleum products,” Smith said. “Nobody’s advocating banning them. But you should be aware when you fill your car up that there’s an effect on the climate and on the environment of doing that.”

He called the suggested labels innocuous and doesn’t believe the oil industry would object.

No jurisdiction in Canada has yet made pump warning labels a requirement.

Hulse said the labels would help make the routine act of filling up the tank a choice to be considered more carefully.

“It places responsibility right in the palm of your hand,” Hulse said.

If the concept takes off, he said, specific impact wording and imagery could be developed to tailor the labels to each area.

“In the Lower Mainland it might be sea level rise, flooding, smog – any number of things – and it might be different in the Interior of B.C., where it might be forest fires and pine beetles,” Hulse said. “It might be ocean acidification in coastal areas such as Qualicum Beach, which has had a massive crash in its shellfish industry.”

Richmond Coun. Harold Steves noted handle labels would only be seen by self-serve pump users and suggested larger labels for the pump display be designed that are visible at full-serve stations.

SFU marketing professor Lindsay Meredith said the idea could influence fossil fuel consumption, particularly among people already considering buying an electric car or choosing other transportation options to reduce their carbon footprint.

“It’s a way of turning up the heat, no doubt about it,” Meredith said. “Does it get the hard core guy driving the Escalade or the Hummer? Probably not. Does it get a whole bunch of the younger crowd or the people who are on the margin? You bet your boots it does.”

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