Today’s Solutions: June 29, 2022

In a bid to help its residents shift away from internal-combustion engines and towards cleaner modes of transportation, Cambridge, Massachusetts, will be using gas pumps across the city as a means to do this.

Now how exactly can gas stations, the existence of which is in itself a threat to our climate, nudge people to walk or bike more? The answer is simple: warning labels. Starting next week, the city will adorn all of its gas tanks with stickers warning drivers about the impacts of burning gasoline on public health and climate change.

The idea is the brainchild of lawyer-turned-activist David Shirkey who, years ago, began advocating for an intervention that could give drivers a simple reminder of their connection to the environmental impact of the oil industry.

His efforts are now bearing fruit in Cambridge. From next week on, every gas station in the city will have to display the bright yellow cautionary stickers which read: Warning: Burning Gasoline, Diesel, and Ethanol has major consequences on human health and the environment including contributions to climate change.”

“Will it change behavior? We don’t know for sure. But we do know that this kind of education can change behavior,” says Patricia Nolan, a city council member who helped push the city to roll out the new labels. “In this case, will people drive less? I hope so. I hope they are also reminded: ‘Every single time I fill up my car, I am literally contributing to a public health problem, and to the climate crisis.’”

On top of having the potential to nudge some drivers to walk or bike more, the labels could also help build political support for broader action, says Shirkey. For example, by raising awareness about the issue, Shirkey hopes that the stickers will be able to inform the discussion on legislation regarding clean transportation.

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