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What Gasoline Pumps And Cigarette Packs Will Now Have In Common

Everyone, smoker or not, is probably familiar with the health warnings printed on every pack of cigarettes in North America. Now such warnings will be issued to motorists fueling up in North Vancouver, Canada.

And if the non-profit environmental group Our Horizon has its way, the city in British Columbia will be only the first to make such warnings mandatory.

On Monday night, the council of North Vancouver unanimously passed a motion that requires all gas pump nozzles in the city to be emblazoned with warning labels about the link between the use of fossil fuels and climate change. Other Canadian and U.S. cities are considering similar action, but North Vancouver is the first to make it law.

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“It’s significant globally,” said Robert Shirkey, a Toronto lawyer and founder of Our Horizon. “I think it’ll have a significant impact. In Canada, we tend to talk about climate change as an upstream problem – that it’s pipelines or offshore drilling – and I think in doing so, we distance ourselves from the problem.”

He said reminding motorists that petroleum products are likely significant contributors to climate change makes them understand that it’s their behavior, as well as that of energy companies, that may be contributing to the problem. “By doing that,” he said, “you’re taking this habitual, automatic behavior of pumping gas and you’re disrupting it, you’re challenging it.”

While the motion has passed, the labeling program isn’t yet a done deal. First, it isn’t yet known when the labels must be displayed, and the design for the labels hasn’t been settled, either. On top of that, there’s debate over the wording, as some fear that a negative message may alienate rather than edify motorists.

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Darrel Mussatto, the mayor of North Vancouver, said during the council session that the city needed to seize the opportunity to get out the message about individual drivers’ responsibility for protecting the Earth’s environment. “It is 2015,” he said, “and we need to talk about how we are going to move forward as a society on a reduced-carbon or carbon-free diet, and it is going to be a challenge.”

Some gasoline retailers have expressed concern about losing valuable advertising space on the pumps. Andrew Klukas of the Western Convenience Stores Association noted that British Columbia is the only province in Canada that requires pre-payment for fuel, a practice that provides what advertisers call “eyeballs” to ads on the gasoline pumps.

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“So to have a negative image on that very valuable piece of real estate right around the pump – we would rather put something positive there,” Klukas said.

There’s no need for a negative message about climate change, Mussatto told the hearing before Monday night’s vote. He told the council members that the warning messages need not focus only on the harm caused by fossil fuel, but also could list simple alternatives to burning fossil fuels.

“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. “I couldn’t live without my vehicle, but I can certainly reduce the number of trips I do use it for.”

By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com

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