These days, we see warning labels everywhere. These messages tell us to stay away, use extreme caution, or keep things out of the reach of children. But what impact do they really have on our actions? Could a warning label convince of that something we use every day is a life-threatening danger?
A new Canada-based non-profit is convinced that they could. The organization, called “Our Horizon”, is currently raising money to organize support behind a labeling campaign–not for GMOs or toxic chemicals, but for gas pumps.
The organization’s founder, Toronto environmentalist Rob Shirkey, feels that it’s too easy for today’s consumers to disassociate tar sands and oil spills from the other side of the equation–our endless demand for affordable gasoline. Shirkey thinks warning labels on the gas pumps themselves “could activate guilty consciences and give people a nudge to make more environmentally friendly choices, whether that means buying a more fuel-efficient vehicle, choosing to take public transit, cycling or petitioning governments and industry for environmental initiatives,” reports Good News Toronto.
We recently caught up with Shirkey to find out more about his grassroots campaign, and what concerned citizens can do to help.
We have several unique campaigns but this is our first one. As a small organization, we don’t have the capacity to run the others just yet. Part of the inspiration was based on the idea that senior levels of government weren’t doing enough on climate change. I asked myself, “What can cities do?” and came up with a variety of ideas (I’m a lawyer with a background in municipal law). The idea is that municipalities can use their licensing powers to require gasoline retailers to place these labels on their gas pumps.
There also appeared to be many environmental organizations that were fixated on pipelines, tar sands, etc. but few actually seem to ask the question “What do we use this stuff for?” You can’t stop a pipeline or stop oil extraction without addressing the demand-side of the equation.
2. What proof is there that labels of this sort will actually deter people from driving?
A meta-study on the effectiveness of tobacco warning labels (the most comprehensive study on the subject) concluded: “There is clear evidence that tobacco package health warnings increase consumers’ knowledge about the health consequences of tobacco use and contribute to changing consumer’s attitudes towards tobacco use as well as changing consumers’ behavior. They are also a critical element of an effective tobacco control policy.”
But we like to de-emphasize the link to tobacco and focus on why the labels are particularly compelling in the context of climate change.
Climate change is also a problem of diffusion of responsibility. As individuals, our contributions to the problem are small, but collectively, our actions are altering the chemistry of our planet. Psychologists know that when responsibility for something is diffuse, we fail to act. The labels locate responsibility. The placement of the image on the nozzle takes a problem of diffuse origins and locates responsibility right in the palm of your hand.
>>Keep Reading for more with Rob Shirkey of OurHorizon.org!