Climate Change Warning Labels for Gas Pumps

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e1c42545-d1d9-4e75-907c-d9c79820caeaSometimes simple ideas are well, deceptively simple. San Francisco, Berkeley, and Santa Monica (Canada too:!) have legislation that will no longer allow oil companies to sell gasoline without a ‘climate change warning label’. These labels would connect people’s personal use of gas with the larger issue of climate change; taking something abstract and distant, and making it more personal and proximate.

Burning fossil fuels contains a hidden danger in the form of future climate change. However, we humans respond best to threats that engage our sense of fight or flight. When we consume gas, we don’t see drought, floods, and sea level rise as a direct result of our actions~ the physics of climate change, the lag between cause and effect, is our enemy in seeing these dangers. The labels would communicate them in the here and now.

Because no 1 person can lower transportation emissions alone, this program utilizes the tools of social norms. Tobacco warning labels, started in 1965, are the most famous example of utilizing these tools By publicly communicating the hidden health risks from smoking, the labels placed broader social pressure tor change by simply making it less socially acceptable to smoke.

Real efforts to decarbonize our transportation system start when we collectively decide its too dangerous to continue burning fossil fuels. The labels job is to begin this conversation. Smoking labels created negative emotions around smoking, and by design, helped create the necessary political space to start addressing the problem of smoking through policy changes. The economist Albert Hirschman cited these emotions, particularly anxiety, as the one’s most capable of summoning our creative capabilities. Without them, there is little incentive to change.

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Jamie Brooks is the campaign manager for the Think Beyond the Pump campaign seeking legislation to require ‘climate change warning labels’ on gas pumps in California and lives with his husband (and their gorgeous dog Ellie) in Oakland, CA.

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