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COLE’s NOTES: Is it time to put warning labels on fossil fuel products?

Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment says more climate literacy is needed
The Suncor oil sands facility seen from a helicopter near Fort McMurray, Alta., Tuesday, July 10, 2012. The insurance industry is grappling with whether to continue supporting fossil fuels in the face of the climate change threat. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

There’s a warning label on just about everything these days.

The federal government recently announced that new warning labels will be slapped on all kinds of unhealthy foods. There’s even been talk of placing individual warning labels on each cigarette in a pack — not just the pack itself.

READ MORE: Canada to require nutrition warnings on front of some packaged food

Since it seems we’re in a Canadian-warning label renaissance, is it time to start putting warning labels on fossil fuels and other products that contribute to climate change?

We’re already accustomed to safety warning labels at the gas pump, so why not add another that tells drivers how many carbon emissions come from burning fuel? Or when you buy a plane ticket, why not include the total emissions of that flight? How about a warning on gas stoves that they contribute to indoor air pollution?

I spoke with Leah Temper about the idea. Temper is with the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and she’s leading their campaign to ban all fossil fuel advertisements.

“The campaign is acknowledging the fact that the burning of fossil fuels is leading to a public health crisis,” she said. “This public health crisis is killing — and will kill — many more people and have many more adverse health impacts than smoking.”

Studies have found that global pollution — primarily attributed to dirty air from cars, trucks and industry — is responsible for 9 million deaths every year.

READ MORE: Global pollution kills 9 million people a year, study finds

CAPE is calling for all fossil fuel ads to include disclosure of information related to carbon emissions so consumers can make informed choices.

But warning labels will have to walk a fine line where they inform the public without placing too much responsibility on individuals or desensitizing people to the issue.

Warning labels on fuels aren’t without precedent. Sweden introduced colour-coded “eco-labels” at gas pumps that show consumers the makeup and origin of their fuels.

Whether warning labels end up on these products or not, Temper says the impacts of air pollution are already impacting people.

“It requires a change in mindset. We do need this information if we’re serious about a green transition. The current level of literacy or consideration regarding the causes of climate change and our consumption is very low, so we have to work to improve it.”


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