SAN FRANCISCO — Buy a pack of cigarettes, and a printed warning from the surgeon general will remind you that smoking causes cancer.
Obviously, you’ve chosen to smoke anyway. But maybe one day you’ll look at that message, printed on the pack, and resolve to change your ways.
Now, apply that idea to global warming.
A group of Bay Area environmentalists wants to slap warning stickers on gasoline pumps, telling drivers that the fuel they’re buying is cooking the planet. The stickers would constantly remind consumers of the link between driving and climate change.
“Human beings are not really wired for seeing the cause and effect of climate change,” said Jamie Brooks, with the Bay Area chapter of 350.org. “The cause is burning fossil fuels, but we’re not going to feel the effects until well into the future. There’s no immediate signal to a consumer of gasoline to show their effects on climate.”
That’s where the labels would come in.
Brooks’ group proposes a simple design and straightforward message. The labels would tell drivers that the state of California has determined global warming, caused by greenhouse gas emissions, to be a major threat.
Although chapters of 350.org are active around the world, pushing for action on climate change, the organization’s Bay Area branch is pursuing the warning label idea on its own.
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Brooks and his colleagues are pitching the idea to city governments, saying cities have the legal authority to impose the labels on local gas stations. Members of 350.org have already discussed the idea with city officials in San Francisco and Berkeley, Brooks said. They also plan to target Oakland.
Officials may be loath to give the idea a try. Gas station owners and oil companies would almost certainly sue to block the labels, if any city required them.
But Brooks said his group believes the labels would survive a legal challenge. Gas pumps already have labels warning that the chemicals in gasoline can cause cancer.
The global warming stickers, Brooks said, could be a relatively easy way to prod drivers to use less gasoline, perhaps by buying a car that uses fuel more efficiently or runs on electricity.
“The goal isn’t to take transportation away from people and say, ‘You’re a bad person,’” Brooks said. “The goal is to create a signal saying, ‘You need to change your behavior.’”
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