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, 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

5 responses

  1. We want all of you believers charged with uttering CO2 death threats to billions of helpless children.

    One would have to WANT climate change to be true considering science has never said a CLIMATE CRISIS was inevitable like they can say asteroid hits are. It’s been a 28 year old “maybe” crisis.
    Science agrees it’s “real” but does not agree it is a real crisis. Prove me wrong or stop the fear mongering. Not one single IPCC warning isn’t swimming in “maybe” and “could be” and not one single IPCC warning says it “WILL” happen.
    Help my house could be on fire maybe? Science gave us pesticides and real planet lovers didn’t WANT this misery for our children to be “real”. We need certainty otherwise your climate blame movement is unsustainable.

    1. I don’t think it’s fear mongering so much as a call to action to stop relying on fossil fuels. It’s helping people make the link between their actions and the consequence. It’s in everyone’s interest to make our habits more sustainable, and to stop needing fossil fuels would solve a lot of issues. The issue here is not whether climate crisis is real or not – which it is. Just because it doesn’t hit us like an asteroid doesn’t mean it won’t define the life future generations.

      1. The problem is not confined to the gas pump, however. That is just one facet of the fossil fuel economy.

        The real problem is that all of our economic velocity is connected to the extraction, refinement, and consumption of petroleum products. Without this activity, the economy as we currently understand it would collapse almost immediately.

        Climate scientists have been delivering a consensus warning about anthropogenic global warming for more than thirty years. Those three decades were the window in which humankind could have shifted its economy away from fossil fuels, thereby averting a major environmental catastrophe. Those thirty years are now gone. There is no longer time to transition away from fossil fuels. If we are to avert a major climate catastrophe, all anthropogenic CO2 emissions must stop immediately.

        Obviously that will not happen, and so the economy and the biosphere will remain in direct conflict with one another. They will remain diametrically opposed. One of them must yield eventually. The only question is, will our economic crisis come as a result of our voluntary abandonment of fossil fuels, or as a result of a catastrophic collapse of the biosphere.

    2. Providing a valid warning is not a death threat. But urging others to remaining willfully ignorant to warnings is.

      And yes, many scientists are very concerned. In fact the warnings of potential ecocide are based in the science itself. Or, to put it another way, to say a cigarette results in a much greater risk of an early death, is not a death threat at all. It’s the truth.

      Concordantly, science shows that worst case climate change results in terrible harm, moderate case climate change results in amazingly difficult harm, and best case climate change still causes major damage. So the warnings are appropriate, cogent and moral.

      To the contrary, your council seems to be ‘do nothing at all.’ And that would be a very bad idea.

    3. The overwhelming majority of the actual, real-world evidence collected by climate scientists demonstrates that anthropogenic global warming is real, that is not the sun or any other natural cause, that it poses real threats to the future security of humanity, and that these risks cannot be addressed without addressing our civilization’s CO2 emissions.

      These statements are supported by overwhelming evidence. That qualifies them as true. Contradicting statements are supported by little if any evidence. That qualifies them as false. If you disagree that global warming is caused by human activity and that this activity poses a risk to humanity and the rest of the biosphere, you are wrong, because to disagree with something that is true is to be wrong.

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