Cambridge, MA is first place in US to have climate warning labels at gas pumps

January 24, 2021
Climate Change
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Health and environmental warning labels on the dangers of fossil fuels will be required for the first time in the US at gas pumps in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The bold yellow stickers are intended to make clear the connection to customers between filling up their vehicles and the climate crisis.

The cigarette packet-style label reads: “Warning – Burning Gasoline, Diesel and Ethanol has major consequences on human health and on the environment including contributing to climate change.”

Cambridge, the home of Harvard and MIT, passed a city ordinance in January requiring the signs at gas stations.

A spokesman for the city told The Independent: “The City of Cambridge is working hard with our community to fight climate change. Since burning fossil fuels to power our automobiles is a big part of the cause, we know that we have to convert to less polluting transportation and replace gasoline and diesel with renewable energy.

“The gas pump stickers will remind drivers to think about climate change and hopefully consider non-polluting options.”

An example of the label was tweeted by environmental campaigners Beyond The Pump who said that Cambridge will roll out the stickers by the end of the year.

Although the signs are in a hard-to-miss shade of yellow, they do not include anything similar to the striking images attached to cigarette packets. Environmental campaigners have put forward ideas of climate labels including burning forests and other catastrophes caused by global heating.

An estimated 43 per cent of emissions in Massachusetts come from transportation. Personal vehicles cause a large portion of those emissions, Cambridge officials said.

At the beginning of 2020 Governor Charlie Baker said that Massachusetts would go beyond the 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 that is required by law, and set a goal of net-zero emissions.

Transportation accounts for 28 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in the US, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The emissions come primarily from burning fossil fuel for cars, trucks, ships, trains, and planes.

James Brooks, founder of Think Beyond the Pump, wrote in an op-ed earlier this month that warning labels are “intentionally disruptive”.

“The goal is to create a social norm around gassing up and put public pressure on consumers to find ways to reduce emissions. Of course, there is some guilt involved; drivers get the message, and they know everyone else gets it, too. That forces drivers to recognize they’re part of the problem. It creates a sense of accountability,” he wrote.

An attempt for similar labels in Berkeley, California, was unsuccessful, while Sweden made climate warning labels mandatory on gas pumps in May.

The British Medical Journal earlier this year advocated for the policy  but noted its potential downfalls.

In North Vancouver, Canada, pictorial designs denoting biodiversity loss were ‘co-opted’ by the Canadian fuel industry and incorporated into a national ‘Smart fuelling’ initiative, with any threats to health omitted,” a report noted.

In August, Extinction Rebellion activists stuck tens of thousands of labels on petrol pumps across the UK to highlight the threat of the climate crisis.

Some of the more than 20,000 stickers printed out by the group include references to the Covid-19 coronavirus, stating air pollution may “increase your risk”, while others play on the government’s maligned mid-lockdown slogan “Stay alert, control the virus, save lives” – replacing the phrase with a call to “control pollution”.

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