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Cambridge, MA Becomes First U.S. City to Mandate Climate Warnings on Gas Pumps

Cambridge, MA Becomes First U.S. City to Mandate Climate Warnings on Gas Pumps
An aerial view of Harvard Hall in Harvard Yard in Cambridge, Massachusetts on April 16, 2020. Blake Nissen for The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The city of Cambridge, Massachusetts will mandate climate change warning labels on fuel pumps, The Guardian reported.

The yellow stickers warn drivers that burning gasoline, diesel and ethanol has "major consequences on human health and the environment including contributing to climate change," making Cambridge the first U.S. city to do so, according to The Guardian.

While similar mandates can be found in Sweden, a similar idea surfaced in Berkeley, California in 2014, but was never enacted, according to Business Insider.

"The gas pump stickers will remind drivers to think about climate change and hopefully consider non-polluting options," a spokesman from the city of Cambridge told The Guardian.

City of Cambridge

In 2018, Cambridge updated its Climate Action Plan, aiming to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. The label mandate is a step towards achieving this goal and an attempt to reduce the city's transportation greenhouse gas emissions which account for almost half of the city's total, according to the city's order.

"Requiring these labels at the gas pump will provide consumers with information about the impact of fossil fuel consumption directly at the point of purchase," the order adds.

"Labels are designed to create a feeling like someone has broken a rule or violated a law," Jamie Brooks, founder of the organization Think Beyond the Pump, told The Guardian. "This feeling, along with increased social pressure, like smoking labels, can translate to a collapse in trust for the current system, thereby increasing the public appetite for alternatives."

Labels, warning drivers of their contribution to climate change, may encourage more people to reduce the effects of their fuel consumption, but the financial incentives of switching to alternative transportation methods, like electric vehicles, remain unclear.

Considering the varying costs of gasoline and electricity across states, the NRDC reported that in Washington state "the electricity required to run a battery-powered electric car can be as much as $14,480 cheaper than fueling up an internal combustion vehicle," according to a study published by the journal Joule. Yet, in Hawaii "charging up your electric car could ultimately cost $2,494 more than topping up a gas tank over 15 years."

While placing climate warnings on gas pumps may not alone transition the transportation sector off fossil fuels, they may link consumer choices directly with climate consequences – and inspire more to have conversations on climate change.

With historic wildfires in the American West and record-breaking hurricanes in the East, many Americans are witnessing the effects of fossil fuel combustion in their daily lives.

"Conversations about climate change have broken into everyday life, to the top of the headlines and to center stage in the presidential campaign," The New York Times reported. Evidently, more are asking, "Can this be reversed? What can be done to minimize the looming dangers for the decades ahead?"

A recent article by Grist analyzed society's "psychic numbing" towards these realities. "Climate change is going to be with us for the rest of our lives," Susanne Moser, a Massachusetts-based researcher told Grist. "How are we going to stay alert and respond effectively to something that is stuck with us for so long?" she asked.

Local initiatives, like mandating labels on gas pumps, could produce tangible ways for consumers to stay aware and take action.

"Warming labels are intentionally disruptive," Brooks wrote in Grist with Drew Shindell, a Nicholas Professor of Earth Science at Duke University. "A new gas-is-bad norm will help generate the necessary support lawmakers need to make public infrastructure investments like EV charging stations, bus rapid transit, and bike lanes, which will save money in the long run by circumventing future climate change and air pollution-related health problems."

City of Cambridge / Facebook

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