Gas pump warnings make beachhead in B.C.

North Vancouver City mandates climate change labels on pump handles, urges other municipalities to follow

A non-profit group proposed these gas pump warning labels but North Vancouver plans to come up with their own to caution drivers about climate change while also making constructive suggestions on cutting emissions.

Climate change warning labels for gas pump handles will come to at least a few gas stations in Metro Vancouver next year – in the City of North Vancouver.

Council there voted this week to make the labels – still to be designed – a mandatory condition of business licences for the six stations that exist in the city.

The Union of B.C. Municipalities had already voted in September in favour of advocating for provincial legislation requiring all petroleum retailers to display warning labels.

But North Vancouver City Mayor Darrell Mussatto said his council has given up waiting for a coordinated approach across B.C. to emerge from UBCM and the province.

“They’re just taking too long,” he said. “This is something that’s not rocket science here. So we’re just taking the lead on it.”

Mussatto hopes other cities in the region follow with their own local rules.

He said North Van has legal advice that the nozzle topper labels can be an enforceable condition of the business licensing bylaw, although he acknowledged a court challenge by petroleum companies is a possibility.

Activists who have spearheaded the idea hope guilt-inducing labels inspired by those for tobacco that directly confront drivers as they fuel up will prod more of them to choose lower emission ways to get around.

The non-profit group Our Horizons has circulated suggested labels with stark imagery of global warming impacts. One shows dead coral and warns “use of this fuel product contributes to ocean acidification which puts much marine life at risk of extinction.”

Mussatto said North Vancouver will develop its own messaging that tries to strike a constructive tone.

“We don’t want doom and gloom – that doesn’t work,” he said. “We want to point out that use of fossil fuels contributes to climate change, which is very important, so that will be a message on there.”

But he said there will also be a second message at each pump that gives emission-reduction tips.

Those could include fuel efficiency advice such as keeping tires properly inflated and not carrying excess weight in the vehicle, he said.

A city staff report cautions that fear-based negative messages could backfire.

It says other “positive can-do” messages could tell drivers about B.C.’s $5,000 incentive to buy an electrical vehicle, the Scrap-It program’s offer of a transit pass worth $1,360 if you “trade in your clunker”; and that “idling your vehicle for more than 10 seconds wastes more gas than restarting your engine.”