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Councillors, Remember That Effects of Burning Fossil Fuels Aren't Felt Immediately

06/26/2014 05:22 EDT | Updated 08/26/2014 05:59 EDT

Last night my Twitter feed was made up of pictures of the Don Valley Parkway flooding, subway stops under water, and friends half submerged on Bayview Ave. How much more extreme weather -- be it flooding, ice storms or heat waves -- will our city have to endure before we acknowledge we have a problem? With climate change, these events are becoming more and more the norm -- and the longer we avoid confronting this challenge, the worse it will get.

A recently released federal report cites "limited motivation" as a barrier to addressing climate change. In my recent TEDx talk, I explain how the very nature of climate change limits motivation to act. Part of the problem is that there's no feedback -- the consequences of burning fossil fuels aren't felt immediately. Another aspect of the problem is that responsibility for climate change is diffuse -- we each contribute only a little bit to the problem so none of us feel much responsibility to address it. Fortunately, there is a ridiculously simple solution to address these difficulties and help motivate greater action: climate change & air pollution information labels on gas pumps.

I've had the pleasure of meeting many of you since I launched this campaign in the winter of 2013 and I'm happy to say that the idea has broad support across the political spectrum. People on the right recognize the low-cost, pro-market nature of the idea (it's quite likely one of the cheapest climate interventions in the world) and people on the left appreciate that it addresses one of the most significant public health issues of our time. Given the simple nature of the proposal (it is just a sticker, after all) and given the gravity of the issue it seeks to address, I naively thought that this would already be law in Toronto.

We were getting ready to move the idea forward at the Licensing and Standards Committee last summer when one of our 'yes' votes got plucked off the committee to replace outgoing Councillor Robinson on Mayor Ford's Executive Committee. The weird irony is that she got booted simply for suggesting that Rob Ford face his problems - and that's all I'm suggesting we do.

As a result, we decided to pivot our campaign. I raised $15,000 via an online crowdfund to take our idea across Canada. I gave talks at universities, high schools, and elementary schools from coast-to-coast to inspire young people to bring the idea forward in their own communities. I wanted to give youth an opportunity to voice their concerns to local government and I wanted to create some precedents before bringing it forward in Toronto. West Vancouver is now leading the way (video clip from Global TV News) and a group I've been helping in Berkeley is doing the same and is now preparing to move it in San Francisco too.

It's now time for Toronto to step up and lead.

I know you've got an election coming up, but let's at least get the ball rolling on a staff report so we can further explore the idea in the new council term. I'm not asking you to say "yes" or "no" to the concept, I'm just asking you to commit to learning more about it. The City Youth Council of Toronto already voted to support it. Let's respect this generation's concerns.

I wrote a 40-page legal report that makes the case for implementing these labels under the Municipal Act and the City of Toronto Act and have had several other lawyers agree with my analysis. We just started doing outreach to university professors and our concept is now being endorsed by academics across North America. The David Suzuki Foundation, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the Clean Air Partnership and many other NGO's have also endorsed the idea. We plan on seeking corporate endorsements later this summer. The concept is fast becoming a no-brainer. In fact, I've already received emails from all over the world about it. With the warning labels on cigarette packaging in over 60 countries, this concept has been primed to go global.

Unfortunately, as simple as the idea is (again, it's just a sticker), I'm realizing it's going to take a little more political courage to actually get this done. One of the most revealing comments I heard from a Toronto City Councillor was this: "But people don't want to see this when they gas up." That's kind of the point. As long as we continue to look away from the problem, I'm not sure we'll ever have enough impetus to act. A complacent, disconnected market has little motivation to change - a little discomfort can be a good thing. Unfortunately, pitching that to a politician isn't always easy.

No matter the issue -- whether you're a mayor with a substance abuse problem or a society with an addiction to oil -- the first step in addressing that challenge is to honestly face it. So I'm asking you to have the courage to take that first step. Think about it: If we're too timid to acknowledge our problem -- if we can't even put a simple sticker on a gas pump -- what hope do we have in actually addressing climate change?

As an elected representative, you have the opportunity to make a historic contribution to the fight against climate change. These labels can be a catalyst for change. So let us have the courage to face what we're up against so we can finally begin to move forward in meaningful ways.

Please sign and share our petition at Change.Org to help pass these labels into law.

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