Labelling not the solution

Our Horizon’s campaign of labelling gas pumps is akin to labelling chocolate bars for health warnings

Not to minimize the serious implications of climate change, but Our Horizon’s campaign of labelling gas pumps is akin to labelling chocolate bars for health warnings. It’s easy to see the ineffectiveness in the latter. But why also about the former?

The reason is that the transportation sector (which includes cars, planes, trains, and ships) contributes less GHG emissions than the animal agriculture sector, 13 per cent versus 15–25 per cent. If we are to label anything with climate change warnings, we should start with animal products for a much greater impact. Case in point, beef and dairy production accounts for 61 per cent of animal agriculture’s GHG emissions. So why aren’t we talking about labelling packages of steaks, ground beef and cheese with climate change warnings instead? This will have greater impact on reducing global GHG emissions.

Moreover, even within the transportation sector, air travel is by far the most egregious in terms of emissions per passenger kilometer (according to the David Suzuki Foundation). Dr. Peter Kalmus, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, indicates that “Hour for hour, there’s no better way to warm the planet than to fly in a plane.”

If this is the case, does it not make more sense to place those climate change warning labels on plane tickets rather than gas pumps? Why not aim for a more sizable reduction in transportation GHG emissions by targeting the air travel industry?

Thus, if society is serious about reducing GHG emissions, we should target the most egregious contributors in the most prominent sectors first, not the other way around. Perhaps environmental groups, including Our Horizon, should consider lobbying for this more meaningful labeling campaign.

Our Horizon’s approach is penny-wise, pound-foolish. Its target is misplaced and the messaging is not helpful in laying the foundation for significant climate change mitigation. The relationship between fuel consumption and CO2 emissions is well known, but the larger GHG emissions of air travel and the impact of our food choices on climate change are not yet common knowledge, and they need to be brought to the forefront. This is where a labeling campaign would bring much-needed awareness.

Dr. Patricia Tallman


Environmental policy consultant