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Af Rob Shirley, advokat og stifter af organisationen Our Horizon, Toronto, Canada

I was recently contacted by Omstilling Nu to share an innovative, new approach to climate change that my organization, Our Horizon, is pursuing in Canada. We’re working to get climate change warning labels on gas pump nozzles similar to those we see on tobacco packages. Please watch my recent TEDx talk below to learn more.

It was a little over a decade ago that I travelled through Europe with – as has become a rite of passage for many young Canadians – a Maple Leaf stitched to my backpack. I recall exploring Copenhagen by bicycle, reading Hans Christian Andersen at the Hovedbiblioteket, and witnessing a beautiful sunrise after spending a night dancing to an amazing Danish DJ. I also remember wearing that Maple Leaf with pride.

More recently, I found myself travelling to Europe for a friend’s wedding. I recall my mother phoning me just before I left the Toronto airport to remind me to buy a t-shirt with a Canadian Maple Leaf to give to a cousin during my travels. So I found myself at a gift shop in the airport looking at t-shirts, hats, and all sorts of items branded with my country’s emblem. I remember feeling a profound sense of shame.

I have been worried about climate change for as long as I can remember. And I have been frustrated and ashamed by my government’s domestic policies and its obstructionist approach to international efforts to address the greatest challenge of our time. It’s one of several reasons that I launched Our Horizon.

When the world met in Copenhagen at the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties in 2009, countries agreed to limit the average increase in the Earth’s temperature since the industrial revolution to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. Working backwards from this ceiling, one realizes that we simply can’t go on burning fossil fuels at the rate we are today. Given this reality, my organization has developed a simple tool to encourage a transition away from fossil fuel-based economies. Our low-cost, easy-to-implement idea helps to engage a broader segment of society in climate dialogue and has the potential to catalyze innovation from business and governments.

When it comes to climate change, activists and media in my country often focus on the tar sands, offshore drilling, pipelines, shipping, etc., when the reality is that these are all symptoms, not causes. While we are loathe to admit it, the truth is we are addicted to fossil fuels. This means it’s a lot more comfortable to focus our efforts upstream, but will those efforts bring about meaningful change? While we seldom look downstream, the elephant in the room is us: a well-to-wheel analysis reveals that the vast majority of greenhouse gases from this sector come from end use; emissions from extraction, processing and shipping pale in comparison to emissions from combustion in vehicles.

It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention: if we want to transition away from fossil fuels, we need to be made to feel a little more uncomfortable with the status quo. A comfortable, disconnected marketplace will never drive innovation upstream. Our idea helps us to connect the dots between our use of fossil fuels and the impacts of climate change. It disrupts the status quo and stimulates demand for alternatives. While our labels will result in some individual behavioural change, it is this broader shift in market demand that will facilitate meaningful action from businesses and governments on climate change. Instead of lobbying an unresponsive federal government with our idea, we’re empowering cities and towns across our country to pass it into law.

Pictorial warning labels on tobacco packaging started in Canada in 2001 and our innovation has since spread all over the world. For the last two years, Denmark has had these warning labels on tobacco packaging. Research shows that these labels help to change attitudes and behaviour – I have written about this research and some of the psychology behind our idea at the Huffington Post. With the warning labels already on cigarette packages, citizens in countries like Denmark have been cognitively primed for our concept. We’re now working hard to have these climate change labels take root in communities across Canada. We want to lead by example to inspire communities like yours to follow. I encourage you to begin a local campaign by downloading an advocacy kit from our website and adapting it to fit your community.

Maybe the next time I visit Denmark, we’ll have these labels in both our countries, have made more  progress on addressing climate change, and I’ll be wearing my Canadian Maple Leaf with pride again.

Please reach us at communications@ourhorizon.org with any questions.

Rob Shirkey is a lawyer and founder of Our Horizon. Follow us on Twitter at @OurHorizonOrg

Stifter af organisationen Our Horizon Rob Shirkey mener at konsekvenserne af vores valg som forbrugere skal gøres mere synlige i dagligdagen.