Behest of the West: Pump up the warning labels

It’s a no-risk initiative with possible high and diverse rewards. Why isn’t Ucluelet talking about it?

When Toronto-based lawyer Rob Shirkey pitched his idea of putting climate change warnings on gas nozzles to Tofino’s council back in September he delivered the smoothest and most well put together presentation this current council had ever received.

His passion for the idea, or at least the passion he presented, mixed with his professional background synched into the perfect pitch.

Some undoubtedly entered that meeting thinking the nozzle idea would be a lark to be met with polite nodding followed by a pleasant, ‘You’ve certainly given us a lot to consider,’ but the smooth-talking Shirkey made mincemeat of that perception.

Was it the idea that struck a chord though, or had a bamboozling occurred?

Let’s be generous and use the word tepid to describe the reception Tofino councillor Greg Blanchette received in November when he put forward the motion to move ahead with Shirkey’s idea.

This would mean a bylaw amendment forcing local gas stations to put warning labels on their gas pumps.

Council approved but the public online chatter since has been more nay than yay.

Humans look inward before looking outward so when we hear of a shiny new bylaw we immediately put our own perspective on it. Those who would not be swayed to use less gas by any sort of label have naturally decided no one else would either. Those who find the labels compelling fear tourists would naturally find them compelling as well and could be convinced to never drive their vehicles to Tofino, or any other place, again.

There are also those who deny climate change has anything to do with human activity and those who won’t be in favour of anything Tofino does that isn’t related to sewage treatment but climate change is caused by us and a sewage treatment plant won’t be arriving tomorrow so we’ll focus on whether these labels will have an impact and what that impact might be.

There is a precedent to mine for clues as cigarettes have been here before but tobacco use carries very personal and immediate risks to individuals whereas it’s a hard sell to convince adult drivers to consider the consequences of their gas usage a this-lifetime concern.

There is a stark difference in appealing to one’s love of themselves and appealing to one’s love of future generations.

It is very likely that gas will continue to be pumped into cars so that easily walkable distances can be driven regardless of any warning labels but maybe this bylaw isn’t specifically designed to stop that from happening. Maybe simple conversation is the real prize to be won. Commuting is necessary and not all commutes can be walked but burning fossil fuels to drive five minutes down the road is an extremely selfish and outlandish thing to do. Maybe if we started saying that or hearing that more we’d realize that it’s true.

Our dependence on fossil fuels is catastrophic, not potentially but factually. Every time you turn your ignition you release carbon dioxide into the air, which joins the carbon dioxide the rest of us have selfishly spawned and the result is heat becomes trapped in our atmosphere. Maybe the fact that we’re warming the planet towards a level our neighbour’s grandkids won’t be able to survive in is something we should be talking about.

Or maybe not. Maybe we’ll just ignore the labels and maybe we’ll even vandalize the pumps we see sporting them but tourists are absolutely going to love them.

They won’t see these labels and decide to never travel again; they will see them as fitting right in line with the community they traveled to. They might even have some fun with it and leave their cars at their resorts and choose to rent bikes or take Tofino’s summer shuttle service and that means more parking for us.

They could end up telling their hometowns’ councils about the labels and at the very least that will help spread the word that Tofino is a fun place to visit.

There’s big business in small town charm and if these labels help buoy the perception of Tofino as a forward thinking community then the very small investment made to purchase them will be returned ten-fold.

It’s a no-risk initiative with possible high and diverse rewards. Why isn’t Ucluelet talking about it?

Andrew Bailey is the editor of the Westerly News. You can find his weekly column ‘Behest of the West’ on page 4 of our print edition every Wednesday.