Pumping up awareness

Campaign to put climate change warnings at gas stations gains traction in Berkeley and San Francisco

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Warning! This is just a friendly reminder that your petroleum habit is hurting us all.

Berkeley's Community Environmental Advisory Commission recently approved the concept of stickers to be placed on gas pump handles that warn drivers that greenhouse gases such as those emitted from automobile tailpipes contribute to global warming. If it makes sense to warn that cigarette smoking increases the likelihood of developing lung cancer, then hey, why not remind drivers that by using fossil fuels, they're increasing the planet's temperature and volatility.

The campaign is led by 350 Bay Area, a grassroots environmental organization affiliated with 350.org, a global climate movement. The name reflects its main goal: follow scientists' warnings to reduce the amount of C02 in the atmosphere from its current level of 392 parts per million to below 350 ppm, a crucial threshold of climate instability.

While Berkeley has gained the most political traction for 350 Bay Area's "Beyond the Pump" campaign, 350 Bay Area is also working on getting San Francisco to adopt the gas pump stickers and other planet-saving tactics.

Since last year, advocates with 350 Bay Area worked in collaboration with Sup. John Avalos on a 10-Point Climate Action Work Plan that was officially adopted in April. This plan commits the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. The group has also been in contact with Avalos and his legislative aide Jeremy Pollack about sponsoring an ordinance to place the warning stickers on gas pumps in San Francisco.

"I think it's great. We need reminders about the impact of fossil fuels on an individual basis," Avalos told the Guardian. "We have choices, and this is a great way to build awareness of those choices."

Avalos said that his office has already started looking into the idea of putting stickers on gas pumps. Right now, he's still waiting on enough research to ensure the stickers can pass legal muster against any challenges by the petroleum industry.

"Hopefully it will work out. The City Attorney is looking into it, and we're waiting to see what happens with Berkeley," Pollack told the Guardian. "We tried something similar with warnings about cell phone radiations, but the court struck it down."

He's referring to the nearly three years of legal battles with the mobile phone industry group CTIA over a San Francisco law passed in 2011 that had required every store selling cell phones in the city to display the specific absorption rate of radiation expected from each phone model.

CTIA took San Francisco all the way to the 9th Circuit US Court of Appeals, saying the law interfered with their free speech rights. And, it won. Finally, last May, San Francisco gave in and killed the warning law. Those legal battles are not something San Francisco is likely to forget, no matter what environment-happy warning labels come along.

Yet the San Francisco public might not mind a gentle push. According to a recent poll by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, 77 percent of San Franciscans think that residents should be doing more to address climate change. The stickers could serve as a gentle push in that direction, and though Avalos is confident his city will get stickers eventually, it looks like Berkeley residents will get their warnings first.

"We're not going to stop at Berkeley," Jack Lucero Fleck, 350 Bay Area Steering Committee member, told us. "Right now, there's no clues in gas stations that fossil fuels might be a problem. But advertising works. That's why corporations spend billions on it. The human mind can't ignore it."

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