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Climate-Change Warnings for Gas Pumps Are Coming to Canada

North America’s reportedly first-ever climate labels for gas stations will soon arrive in North Vancouver.

A concept for a climate label for gas-station pumps. (Our Horizon)

In the near future, motorists filling their tanks in North Vancouver might ask themselves not only “What is this costing me?” but also “What is this costing the planet?”

That’s because the Canadian city just passed a bylaw requiring stations to put climate-change “warning labels” on pumps, informing consumers about the hazards fossil fuels pose to world stability. CBC News reports:

North Vancouver, B.C. is believed to be the first city in the world to make climate change warning labels mandatory on gas pumps.

The city council passed the bylaw unanimously in a vote on Monday night….

North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto said the city hopes to implement the stickers by early next year and will make it mandatory for pumps to have them as part of a business licence.

“The message is that burning fossil fuels causes climate change and... to add a positive spin, here are some tips when using your automobile on how to make it more fuel efficient,” he said.

It’s unclear what the labels will look like. The city council is considering designs that “deliver key messages or ‘prompts’ as reminders of positive, can-do actions people can take to reduce GHG emissions.” These might be suggestions like buying an electric vehicle, trading in an old car for a $1,360 transit pass, and saving fuel by keeping tires properly inflated. There might also be facts about greenhouse gases, such as “Burning fossil fuel contributes to climate change” or “49% of GHG emissions in the City of North Vancouver are from transportation.”

The latter approach is closer to the vision of Robert Shirkey, whose environmental group Our Horizon pushed hard for the labels. Concepts drawn up by Our Horizon are a bit more in-your-face about drivers’ personal responsibility, proposing images like a sad, presumably unhealthy child:

Our Horizon

And imperiled northern animals:

Our Horizon

In a CityLab interview earlier this year, Shirkey explained he wanted these images to “prime” motorists into associating fuel with danger, in the same way a photo of diseased lungs on cigarette packs might make a smokers think twice about their habits:

“Research from the tobacco realm shows that labels with images have more of an impact than text-only labels,” says Robert Shirkey….

“The priming aspect is also useful in that it can help to shape how the product is perceived after the labels are implemented,” he says. “If fossil fuels are thought of in similar ways as we think of cigarettes, you’re creating a social environment that gives government much more space to address the issue.”

North Vancouver’s council—which voted unanimously for the bylaw—will now review designs for the first batch of labels, which are expected to cost around $2,260 (in U.S. dollars). The implementation of the program will no doubt be watched keenly by the gas industry as well as U.S. environmentalists, who have been pushing for a similar mandatory labels in San Francisco and Berkeley.

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.