Canadian Lawyer Wants Climate Change Warning Labels On Gas Pumps

5 cent stickerClimate change is a very real threat to humanity, as many scientists have warned us. A Canadian lawyer named Robert Shirkey wants all Canadians who pump gasoline to understand the threat of climate change. He started a campaign, ourhorizon.org that calls for labels to be put on gas pump nozzles. The campaign aims to get municipalities in Canadian provinces to pass legislation that require the labels.

There are 4,000 municipalities in Canada. The campaign’s website contains a database of municipal councilors in Canada, and encourages people to send a letter to their local representative, called a councillor, in Canada. The database has “every single municipal councillor’s email in all of Canada.” Through the website, a user can email a letter to their local councillor just by clicking a button.

Does the name of the campaign sound vaguely familiar? It is a reference to the offshore drilling rig, the Deepwater Horizon that spilled 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. As the campaign states, “Our name is a rejection of the system that made BP’s offshore drilling rig the Deepwater Horizon a reality.” However, the campaign makes it clear that it does “not blame BP,” but takes the position “that we each share in the responsibility for this tragedy.”

There are a few interesting facts about the campaign, including that it is market-based, as its website stresses. The purpose of the warning labels is to “supply the market with relevant information and let the market do its thing.” The way it will work is that the “label will change some behaviors but, more importantly, they will create a shift in the social environment to facilitate political action on climate change.”

The campaign is funded through crowdsourcing via a donation page. The donation page asks users to donate in order to help the campaign do two things:

  • Fund a legal campaign for every province and territory in Canada in order to empower representatives to pass legislation, which carries an estimated $40,000 price tag
  • Send a postcard to every elected official in Canada with an image of the campaign’s concept and an explanation on the back, which carries an estimated $20,000 price tag

The European Union requires the use of climate change warnings in regards to new car sales. In 2008, the EU’s Department of Transport (DfT) issued new guidelines which required all promotional literature for new cars sales to include information about carbon dioxide emissions.

Warning labels with graphic images work

Our Horizon labelThe campaign’s website compares the warning labels, which contain strong images, to those on “tobacco packages.” In 2001, Canada became the first country to use images in its cigarette warning labels. The use of such warning labels works, according to a 2009 report by the European Commission, Directorate General for Health and Consumers.  The report found the following:

  • Warning labels on cigarette packages “increase consumers’ knowledge about the health consequences of tobacco use and contribute to changing consumer’s attitudes towards tobacco use as well as changing consumers’ behavior”
  • Warning labels are “a critical element of an effective tobacco control policy”
  • Warning labels have a high impact in educating consumers about the risks of tobacco use, and a medium impact in changing smokers’ behavior
  • Fear-induced warnings (using shocking images related to health risks) are the most effective way to educate consumers on the health risks of tobacco use and to change their attitudes and behavior

Photo: Our Horizon

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.