Group concerned about climate change proposes warning labels for gas nozzles

TORONTO - An environmental group focused on the dangers of climate change is lobbying for Canadian municipalities to pass bylaws that would require warning labels on gas station pump nozzles.

Lawyer Robert Shirkey says the warning labels on the nozzles would be similar to those found on cigarette packages and would act to warn users of the negative effects of fossil fuels.

"The future of the planet is literally in the palm of your hand (when you pick up the nozzle)," Shirkey, founder of Our Horizon, told an audience Thursday at the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto.

"A lot of people won't like seeing them but the placement is important because it speaks to diffusion of responsibility," he said. "Collectively, we're endangering the planet."

The labels state that demand for fuel products may harm wildlife, damage ecosystems, cause drought and famine, cause anxiety and depression in children, and put 30 per cent of species at risk of extinction.

Pictures of at-risk arctic caribou, starving families in Africa, and a sad child looking at his own reflection accompany the warnings.

"Imagine if we see these labels every time, how long will it be before we demand more from government institutions," said Shirkey.

Canada led the world when it placed health warnings accompanied by images on cigarette packages, and Shirkey said that he hopes Canada can once again be a pioneer.

Our Horizon has been campaigning since January in Toronto.

Its website features a database of municipal councillors across Canada and encourages users to send a letter of concern to their local councillor.

Shirkey said he is working to expand and complete of a database of every municipal leader across the globe and is using crowdsourcing to achieve his goal.

"I'm trying to rally the troops," Shirkey said.

Cost would also not be an issue as Shirkey says the funding to put warning stickers on all the pumps of one gas station could be found underneath a couch.

"In my wallet right now, I probably have enough to fund half the city."

Shirkey said that the environmental effects of fossil fuels are threatening to the earth, noting that in 2011, 31.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide was emitted.

"We have not had carbon dioxide levels this high in 15 million years," he said.

Shirkey said he was inspired when he had a conversation with his grandfather who told him to "do what you love" after he said he wasn't happy working as a lawyer.

Two weeks later, his grandfather died and Shirkey received an inheritance cheque.

As he opened the envelope, his grandfather's words rang in his head and he immediately went to the Osgoode Hall Law School to research if municipalities had the power to pass such a bylaw, and if it would conflict with provincial or federal law.

Heather Neville of the Centre of Social Innovation is enthusiastic about the project and wanted to share it with her community's members.

"If you're concerned with helping people but not the environment, it's like putting a bandage on someone sitting in a boat that has a giant hole in the bottom," Neville said. "We're all dependent and addicted to fossil fuels."

Audience member Christopher Lee, 18, said he's impressed by the idea.

"It's a wonderful idea," Lee said. "So simple, yet sophisticated. It localizes the responsibility for climate change."

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version had an incorrect quote attributed to Heather Neville.