Americans have been seeing health warnings on their cigarette packages since 1966; now many countries have full color, very graphic messages explaining the dangers of smoking. A 2009 study demonstrated that these warnings are effective. So why not put these kinds of warnings on other products? Burning fossil fuels is damaging our planet as badly as tobacco smoke damages our lungs, so why not have warning labels on gasoline?
Toronto lawyer Robert Shirkey answers that question with a series of labels designed to fit on that flat plastic plate on the back of gas pump nozzles. He has started a campaign, OurHorizon.org, to get municipalities in Ontario, Canada, to pass bylaws making these labels compulsory.
The name is a reference to the Deepwater Horizon disaster:
Our name is a rejection of the system that made BP’s offshore drilling rig the Deepwater Horizon a reality. This rig drilled over 10 km deep in the Gulf of Mexico only to burst and spill 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into our oceans in the summer of 2010.
Unlike many not-for-profits, we do not blame BP. Our position is that we each share in the responsibility for this tragedy. It is the decisions that we each make on a daily basis that shape our collective reality and make such a tragedy possible. We do not condemn Shell, Exxon, or even Enbridge. We are responsible.
The intent of the label is to create a direct connection between the act of filling the tank with the destruction caused by the production and use of fossil fuels.
The warning label connects behaviour with its consequence right at the point of purchase. Its placement on the nozzle takes a problem of diffuse origins and locates responsibility right in the palm of your hand. The label itself takes far away consequences – like famine, the extinction of species and extreme weather – and brings them into the here and now. The concept also internalizes cost in a qualitative way; it communicates information to the marketplace in a way that a 10-cent increase at the pump never will. Finally, the label is mirror: it is about acknowledging the role we each play in contributing to climate change and bravely facing up to the challenge.
Shirkey the Lawyer says that municipalities have the legal authority under the Municipal Act in Ontario, Canada to require warning labels, and urges citizens to contact their councillors to make it the law. Who knows, perhaps these will spread internationally like the cigarette warning labels did.
This is not the first time we have seen this idea; see Carbon Health Warnings on New British Cars