Stickers aim to take climate message to the Cowichan pump

Robert Shirkey wants Cowichan to take on climate change right at the gas pump.

In a presentation to the Cowichan Valley Regional District board last week, Shirkey described the project of his non-profit organization, Our Horizon.

The group is lobbying for cities and towns across Canada to require climate change and air pollution information labels to be affixed to gas pump nozzles, where everyone filling up will see them.

"We know we need to transition to new technologies," Shirkey said. The warning labels are "a simple, low-cost intervention" to prompt such a transition away from vehicles that depend on oil and gas to things such as hydrogen fuel cells or electric, or other technologies that are but a gleam in the automotive industry’s eye.

Warning labels on gas pumps will work much like warning labels on tobacco, he said.

In the case of cigarette packaging, the warnings have been proven to change both attitudes, and behaviours, exactly what Shirkey’s hoping will happen with gas.

The warning labels are designed to address a key issue of getting people to take action on climate change: there is a big delay between cause (filling up your car and creating carbon emissions) and effect (the calamities of climate change), he said.

"In the absence of feedback, it’s harder to adapt," Shirkey explained.

The warning labels will fill that gap, giving consumers immediate feedback on their actions.

The sticker campaign also addresses the action-hindering thinking that as individuals our contribution to the problem is small.

The stickers locate responsibility "right in the palm of your hand," Shirkey said.

Often, going to a gas station "doesn’t even register as a thing that we do," he said. Having the nozzle notices can help jar a person into thinking about their actions, as they take them, and making that person a little bit dissatisfied with the experience, leaving them in a better frame of mind to consider alternatives.

Shirkey said it is these dissatisfied consumers that will stimulate demand for alternatives and create a shift in the market, so that vehicles running on alternate energy sources are both developed and come down in price.

"We are capable of better," he said.

The nozzle sticker idea has already gained traction in West Vancouver. Council there is getting a report from their staff and looking at bringing forward a resolution on the subject to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Union of British Columbia Municipalities. Further, Shirkey said, the mayor there owns several gas stations and has requested stickers to put on his own pumps.

The CVRD board followed the presentation with a request to staff to bring them a report on the idea. It will come to a future Regional Services Committee meeting.

Cowichan Valley Citizen