Scientists: Petrol Pumps Should Carry Cigarette-Style Climate Change Warning Labels

A customer pulls the nozzle of a petrol pump from their car at a petrol station in Egham, west of London on January 2, 2011. Motorists are having to pay record prices at the pumps after a Government fuel duty was added ahead of the VAT rise which will again …
ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images

Petrol pumps in Britain should carry climate change warning labels akin to the legally-mandated health warnings on cigarette packages, a group of scientists have said.

In a blog post for the British Medical Journal (BMJ), British, American, and Indian professionals from within healthcare and environmental studies have claimed that petrol pumps, airline tickets, and even energy bills should come with “warning labels” which “state clearly that continuing to burn fossil fuels worsens the climate emergency”.

The opinion piece, published on Tuesday, draws parallels to the gory pictures of blackened lungs or rotten teeth now displayed on cigarette packages, implying that a similar tactic should be employed at “points of sale of fossil fuels”. The piece suggests that if petrol pumps and gas bills similarly use graphic imagery, “these warnings can change attitudes and behaviour”, consigning driving petrol cars and keeping one’s house at a comfortable temperature to the realms of other socially unacceptable addictions.

“Smoking is no longer viewed as a normal lifestyle choice, but as an addiction which harms the individual and those around them through exposure to second-hand smoke. Fossil fuel use also harms others through ambient air pollution that accounts for about 3.5 million premature deaths per year, as well as through climate change, which increasingly threatens the health of current and future generations,” the piece reads.

Labelling, either displaying the effects on health or on the environment, is needed to “sensitise people to the consequences of their actions” and to change the minds of climate-sceptics, they write. Not only should people be “sensitised” through shocking imagery to stop using gas, petrol, or other fossil fuels, the signatories imply that the ads should promote a “stigma” in using non-renewables comparable to the stigma that now surrounds smoking, which “is now generally viewed as antisocial”.

The labelling cannot — the group of scientists, doctors, and psychologists argue — be applied equally to all countries, but must be “culturally tailored”, for example, to make allowances for the third-world’s heavy dependence of fossils fuels, with the authors declaring that “the initial focus should be on high-income nations”.

One of the blog’s signatories is Mike Gill, the former Regional Director of Public Health, South East England, who co-wrote another editorial for the BMJ in May 2018 entitled: “Brexit Is Bad for Our Health.”

“The messages, including their pictorial element, should be stark and arresting, and they should relate directly to those effects known directly to affect health, such as air pollution causing heart disease and asthma,” Mr Gill told The Guardian. “The immediate task will be to get some really arresting designs produced, such as we already have for cigarette packet warnings.”

While the suggestion sounds like climate alarmist fancy, the tactic is already being employed in North America, with the ‘climate change’ stickers having been mandatory on petrol pumps in North Vancouver, Canada, since 2015; Cambridge, Massachusetts, voted in January to do the same. ‘Eco-labels’ will be mandatory in Sweden from May.

While the above countries have been preparing for these measures for years, the BMJ authors say that the UK must do so in time for November 2020’s COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.


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