Climate Change Labels On Gas Pumps Are a Low Cost Way To Inform Public

(3BL/JustMeans) A simple, low-cost way exists to raise the public’s awareness about climate change and its impacts. It’s a label on gas pumps; Robert Shirkey, a Canadian lawyer, came up with the idea. His goal is for people to understand the threat climate change poses. 

In 2013, Shirkey launched a non-profit organization called Our Horizon to further his gas pump label idea. The concept is one that is taking off, particularly in the greater Vancouver, Canada. The council of the City of North Vancouver voted unanimously to require climate change warning labels on gas pumps. It is the first municipality in the world to pass such a resolution. Other municipalities in Canada have passed non-binding resolutions. 

Shirkey expects other cities on Canada’s West Coast to support the idea and pass resolutions similar to the one that North Vancouver passed last month. However, the “bigger picture is province-wide,” he explained. He is taking a “bottom-up approach” by first working on local level initiatives. However, he says he has “already started engaging the federal government.” 

The idea of climate change labels on gas pumps is spreading worldwide. After the North Vancouver resolution, people talked about it all over the world through social media and the media itself, Shirkey said. As he explained, “all it takes is one person to champion something.”

There are four U.S. cities looking into the warning labels. Those cities include three in California: San Francisco, Berkeley and Santa Monica. The other city looking into the labels is Seattle. “We randomly get inquiries from the U.S.,” Shirkey said.

The prevailing approach by environmentalists to bring awareness of climate change tends to be to shame businesses. However, Shirkey’s approach is to “frustrate” the use of fossil fuels by making consumers ask themselves,” What am I supposed to do?” The gas pump warning labels can stimulate demand for reform, whether it be enacting a carbon tax or more public transportation, he added.

Industry must have impetus for creating alternatives to fossil fuels, Shirkey believes. More financing is needed for research and development (R&D), and climate change labels can help stimulate demand for it. One way the labels can stimulate demand for alternatives for is by listing a website on the label containing information on what consumers can do. Or as Shirkey put it, the labels are “a simple, low-cost intervention to stimulate demand for alternatives.”

The labels work similarly to a carbon tax, according to Shirkey, but use image and text to communicate the environmental cost of fossil fuels. “This intervention communicates the hidden cost despite price fluctuations,” he said. The labels “might be a more compelling intervention” than a carbon tax, he suggested. 

Photo: Our Horizon