First They Took Your Soda, Now Berkeley Wants Your Car

Can the rabble-rousing birthplace of the Free Speech Movement compel gas station owners to warn customers that their products contribute to climate change?

We’re about to find out.

The Berkeley City Council in California voted Tuesday night to draft a first-of-its-kind ordinance requiring all local filling stations to place a climate change warning label on gas pumps. The idea is to persuade drivers to drive less, use public transportation, and switch to electric cars and other zero-emission vehicles.

The exact language has yet to be finalized, but the Bay Area outpost of the environmental group, which proposed the initiative, has suggested wording along the lines of the below.

“Although the link between motorized vehicle use and [greenhouse gas] emissions is widely known, making this information available at the point of purchase may contribute to behavioral changes to reduce motorized vehicle use,” Max Gomberg, chair of the city’s Community Environmental Advisory Commission, wrote to city council members. “These labels are analogous to the health warnings placed on cigarettes. They are a contributing element to environmental sustainability, though their specific impact is difficult to measure.”

The oil industry is not amused. It has threatened to sue the city on the grounds that such a warning label violates gas station owners’ First Amendment rights by forcing them to adopt the city’s position on climate change.

“Messages about climate change go beyond factual information,” Michael McDonough, an attorney representing the Western States Petroleum Association, told council members Tuesday night. “It’s really not a warning. It is about education, it’s about advocacy, it’s about marketing.”

“Those are laudable goals,” he added. “What is not acceptable and not constitutional is to put those words in the mouths of station owners.”

It’s an argument McDonough will be making more frequently in the months ahead. The city of San Francisco is considering a similar ordinance, also at the behest of

City council members, who successfully took on big soda in the November election by winning the first tax on soft drinks, did not appear cowed by big oil.

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, who gets around town by walking or taking the bus, even upped the ante. 

“Why don’t we make this required at all automobile dealerships?” he asked at the meeting.   

That Berkeley would pass such an ordinance doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. The city has set a goal of reducing local emissions by 80 percent as of 2050, and the streets are clogged with Tesla Model S’s, Nissan Leafs, and other electric vehicles. One out of five cars sold in Berkeley is a Toyota Prius.

Not all council members believe the gas pump climate change warnings will be effective though.

“I think when someone is going to pick up their kids from childcare or school or going to work, that’s not the time to guilt-trip them about buying gas,” said council member Gordon Wozniak. “I think this is a feel-good solution looking for a problem. It doesn’t accomplish anything. It’s not going to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. It’s not a good policy.”

Others were puzzled that warnings also would be required at electric charging outposts and biodiesel stations (the idea being there are carbon emissions associated with those fuels as well).

Still, the motion to draft the ordinance passed nine to two.

“I do believe this will have some impact,” said council member Laurie Capitelli. “It will be a long-term impact. It’s a reminder every time I go and fill up.”

Related stories on TakePart:

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Original article from TakePart