The world’s first climate change warnings on gas pumps are up in Cambridge, MA

The world’s first climate change warnings on gas
pumps are in place in Cambridge, MA

In the last days of 2020, warning labels were attached to all gas pumps in
Cambridge, MA. They warn that the burning of fuels has major impact on health, the
environment and climate. The warnings resemble those found on cigarette packages,
introduced already in the 1960s.

Photo: City of Cambridge

The warning labels are the result of eight years of advocacy by small campaign groups in the U.S. and Canada. Previous attempts to pass similar legislation have stumbled on the finish line. An initiative in North Vancouver 2015 was hijacked by the fossil fuel industry, which transformed the warnings into harmless labels encouraging people to pump the tires, and the like.

There are similarities between the warning labels and the eco-labels on fuel pumps that become mandatory in Sweden in 2021, and have already been introduced by the fuel suppliers Kraftringen and E.ON on a voluntary basis.

Both kinds of labels aim to couple a long-term effect such as climate change to a cause here and now – to grab the fuel nozzle in order to fill your car with fossil fuels. Both aim to make a diffused responsibility personal. Both aim to make people conscious and willing to change. That may trigger more drastic political action at the top in order to solve the problems.

There are also differences. The Swedish eco-labels give consumers the opportunity to choose between better or worse alternatives. This gives fuel companies a chance to compete with sustainability in a fair and transparent manner, and aims to steer the fuel market gradually in a sustainable direction by means of consumer power.

– The Swedish Green Motorists hope that the initiatives in Cambridge and Sweden will inspire more cities and countries to follow, says the Green Motorists’ chairperson Marie Pellas.

When the first warning labels and eco-labels are in place, they should be gradually improved. The warnings on cigarette packages became larger by degrees, got more drastic messages, and started to be accompanied by pictures.

A final goal would be that the UN to adopts a convention on fossil fuel control, akin to the WHO framework convention on tobacco control. The latter contains demands that information about contents and emissions shall be produced (Article 9) and disclosed (Article 10), and also that warning labels shall be displayed (Article 11). This is what the Green Motorists together with the groups in the U.S. and Canadaand many others, are campaigning for when it comes to fossil fuels.


More information

Article by campaign manager James Brooks from Think Beyond the Pump, and professor Drew Shindell: Guilt at the gas pump? That’s (part of) the idea.

Media: The GuardianThe IndependentForbesNBC Boston7News WHDH Boston

Press release by the Green Motorists when the City Council of Cambridge, MA, passed the warning label bill in January2020

Essay by the Green Motorists: Cigarettes and cars – same same, but different

The Green Motorists’ campaign We Want to Know

Contact: Per Östborn, campaign manager, the Swedish Green Motorists, per.ostborn@gronamobilister.se, +46 (0)73 819 61 54

The world’s first climate change warnings on gas pumps are up in Cambridge, MA