Tofino is working on an amendment to its business bylaw that would force gas stations to put climate change warning labels on every gas pump nozzle.
Tofino’s municipal council directed staff to work on the draft amendment in a motion brought forward by Coun. Greg Blanchette during Nov. 24’s regular meeting.
“It’s always the senior governments and major corporations that are listed as kind of the players in climate change but I think there’s a lot that we can do about it here at the municipal level and one of the things is by changing our individual behaviours,” Blanchette told the Westerly News.
“We don’t really think about that a lot so a gas pump label is kind of an interesting reminder that, ‘Yes,’ there is in fact stuff we can do.”
Blanchette said the labels could motivate behavioural changes, like reaching for a bicycle instead of car keys when it’s sunny out, but he believes the real value will come from their ability to push climate change to the top of social discourse.
“It puts climate change a little bit higher into the minds of people,” he said. “It might make people a little bit more inclined to ask about it, think about it and do something about it.”
He added the warnings would also send a strong signal to tourists.
“We live at the end of a long road where we get upwards of 800,000 visitors a year, most of those arrive by car and they’ll fuel up here,” he said.
“They too will see these gas pump labels and they’ll think, ‘Wow, Tofino is a pretty far thinking community.’ It really fits well with the Tofino brand as being a leader in environmentalism.”
He noted Tofino boasts a young population of locals who could see the effects of climate change in their lifetimes.
“Our median age is 34 years old, and it’s these people and their kids who are going to be living the effects of climate change so they’re a lot more enlightened than us old folks, shall I say, because it’s their future they’re talking about,” he said.
“Tofino is right out on the front lines of climate change. Sea level rise is going to literally change the geographic, and economic, face of this community if we allow it to happen. We’re really poised to both see the effects and to do whatever we can to lessen those effects.”
He was delighted to see his fellow councillors support his motion.
“I’ve really got to say my kudos to this council because this council is reflecting that spirit pretty strongly,” he said.
“I was really in some doubt as to whether (the motion) would go through and it was talked about quite a bit but people came through and council eventually adopted it.”
He noted all bylaw amendments must go through a public process and assured locals would have a say in whether the proposed amendment is adopted.
“I imagine the businesses won’t be too terribly pleased,” he said.
“I’m hoping that they will understand why it’s necessary and that they’ll go along with it.”
He said the labels won’t spring up overnight and suggested Tofino’s staff is “swamped with really pressing matters” like the district’s ongoing liquid waste management plan.
“There’s a whole pipeline of issues that staff is going to be concentrating on; this is almost a moral statement so I think it’s probably going to be lower on the totem pole. They’re not going to be rushing this one through,” he said.
“Which is fine. We want people to have a chance to absorb it and talk to their councillors about it.”
He expects to see the draft amendment hit council’s desk in time for a decision to be reached before the busy season.
“I’m hoping that we can get it onto the ground here before the summer season really kicks in and then we can really make an impact with both locals and our visitors,” he said.
The warning label idea was first introduced to council by Toronto-based lawyer Rob Shirkey who pitched it during a September council meeting.
Shirkey told the Westerly he hatched the idea while waiting in a Toronto traffic-jam in 2010.
BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was thick in the news at the time and Shirkey was listening to conversations about it on the radio.
“Every single caller, every single pundit and radio host and so on was saying, ‘Shame on BP,’ meanwhile I’m looking out and in every direction there are thousands upon thousands of vehicles, all burning fuel that had to come from somewhere under the earth. That happens every day at rush hour and the same story unfolds all over the world,” he said.
“I think perhaps we inadvertently almost perpetuate the status quo because we distance ourselves from these problems.”
He believed putting warnings in the sightlines of fuel consumers could put a dent in this status quo and a phone conversation with his grandfather motivated him to ride the idea to fruition.
“He said, ‘You have to enjoy what you’re doing. Do what you love,’” Shirkey said.
“Those were his last words to me on that phone call…and he passed away two weeks later so those were actually his last words to me.”
During his grandfather’s funeral, Shirkey decided to commit to the cause.
“I was looking down where he had been buried…immediately to the right of that my father had been buried a few years prior and to the right of that is this empty patch of green grass. So I’ve got in the back of my head, ‘Do what you love,’ and meanwhile I’m sort of facing my own mortality,” he said.
“It’s inescapable. It’s where we all end up and the question is, ‘What do I do with the time I have left?”
He launched a non-profit climate-advocacy group and dubbed it Our Horizon—named after the Deepwater Horizon spill—in 2013.
He said many of the communities he’s spoken with have supported his idea in principle but only Tofino, Port Moody and North Vancouver have taken the next steps to implement it.
“Why I’m so grateful for the leadership coming out of places like Tofino is our ambition was never to have this happen in a few communities, that’s just the beginning point,” he said.
“Wouldn’t it be an amazing story if this super-simple low-cost Canadian innovation actually spread and changed the world? I truly think that could happen and that’s why I’m all in on this.”
He said he has traveled across Canada pitching the idea to various local governments and was not surprised to see the nation’s west coast pick up on it first.
“For some reason, culturally, there is something about the west coast [of Canada] where, when it comes to environmental issues, you guys are more progressive,” he said.
“It makes sense that communities on the west coast are championing this.”
He added that Our Horizon makes no profits from communities who choose to go forward with the warning labels and he encourages those communities that do to come up with locally minded messaging.