Opinion

Please Advise! This Gas Pump Needs a Warning Label

For starters, how 'bout: 'No, that sports car does not redeem your middle-aged ass?'

By Steve Burgess 5 Feb 2015 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Find his previous articles here.

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Nozzle photo via Shutterstock.

[Editor's note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a Ph.D in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]

Dear Dr. Steve,

A movement to have climate change warnings on gas pumps is gaining some torque in West Vancouver. Reacting to a proposal by Collingwood School student Emily Kelsall, West Vancouver council voted unanimously to present the proposal to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities meeting this June, as well as the Union of B.C. Municipalities meeting in September. One sample sticker shows an elk and calf and the message: "Warning: Use of this fuel product contributes to climate change which may put up to 30 per cent of species at a likely risk of extinction."

Will you lend your support to this worthy project?

Signed,

Pump Up the Volume

Dear Pump,

As usual, California is way ahead of us on this -- similar stickers will be placed on the handles of gas pumps in Berkeley later this year. Good for them. Still, I have my doubts. Believe me, I'm no climate-change denier. But this plan seems like it might get complicated. Consider the many side effects of our automotive-centred society and the many potential advisories that could result. Once you start down this path, gas pump warnings could end up looking like the iTunes Terms and Conditions.

Start with the mild stuff: "Warning: That sports car does not make your middle-aged ass appealing to young women who would otherwise refer to you as 'Uncle Pervy.'"

"Warning: Continued use of this vehicle will mean surrender to a cabal of mysterious garage-dwelling wizards who may or may not have made up the term 'crankshaft metering valve seal failure' five minutes before announcing it will cost you $700."

"Warning: Your vehicle may not have been voted 'Best in Class' by JD Power and Associates. Your choice of pickup truck may earn you the scorn and contempt of Sam Elliott and all his buddies. Also, the phrase 'All new for 2015' was probably a bit of a fib."

Eventually the plethora of cautions might crowd out a warning already present at gas pumps: No Smoking. Missing that one could result in rapid and catastrophic personal warming. That's not even to mention the cancer angle.

Where does it end?

And to be totally fair and comprehensive, shouldn't the warnings cast a wider net? Instead of an elk, why not a picture of Alberta Premier Jim Prentice? "Warning: Reliance on fossil fuel extraction could leave you hostage to a boom-and-bust economic cycle that may reduce your budget projections to a pile of shredded paper large enough to transform a rainforest into a fully-loaded fleet of fuel-sucking dump trucks."

Or perhaps President Obama? "Warning: Fossil fuel dependence means you will be forced to attend the funeral of King 'Blogger Flogger' Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and pretend the country's legal and social systems don't make Pope Leo X look progressive."

Personally I'd like to see something even more advanced at the pumps -- say, a gif of urban theorist Jane Jacobs shaking her head sadly. Maybe a continuous scroll of Charles Montgomery's book, Happy City. Or perhaps just a cyclist with great muscle tone standing beside you as you pump, whipping you with a bike chain. It's for a good cause.

Eventually, we could get to some hard truths: "Warning: Are you by any chance driving two blocks to get more Haagen-Dazs and Cool Ranch Doritos, perhaps to console yourself because you couldn't pick your own feet out of a police lineup? If so, don't worry about climate change -- you're not likely to be around long enough to be affected. Serious though it is, climate change will have to whip up a lot of floods and tornadoes before it beats the death toll of over 2,200 Canadians who typically die in motor vehicle accidents every year. Keep texting in traffic and climate change will be the least of your worries."

Perhaps we need another approach. Anti-smoking campaigns aimed at teens often forgo the early death angle in favour of an appeal to vanity (i.e. "Never mind cancer -- smoking causes wrinkles"). The same approach might work at the pumps. Imagine on every gas pump a picture of a commuter whose haggard look reflects the truth of a recent survey linking longer commute times with feelings of personal dissatisfaction. Hair askew, eyes bulging, left hand flipping the bird to the asshole who just cut in after illegally using the HOV lane -- it's an ugly portrait. And just below it, the simple phrase: "This is you on gasoline."

By the way, I notice the price seems to be heading back up. Stressful. If you're planning to self-medicate, please don't drive.  [Tyee]

Read more: Environment,

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