#16yearsleft exhibit launch

January 18, 2013

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Our Horizon launched their national climate change campaign at Creatures Collective art gallery in Toronto last night. The campaign advocates for the use of warning labels on gas pump nozzles similar to those found on tobacco packages. Rob Shirkey, the executive director of Our Horizon, described the concept as “connecting a behaviour with its consequence right at the point of purchase.” An exhibit with panels explaining aspects of the project and mock-ups of warning labels on nozzles will be at the gallery until February 13th, 2013.

The name of the campaign #16yearsleft is a reference to the amount of time we have left until we exceed the 2°C global warming limit established at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at Copenhagen in 2009. Scientists estimate it will take about 565 Gigatons worth of emissions to reach this 2°C threshold. Given that we emitted 31.6 Gigatons in 2011, which is a 3% increase over the year before, we have about 16 years left until we hit this upper limit. Canada is a party to the Copenhagen Accord and has stated that it intends to comply with the agreement.

Mr. Shirkey observes that this is not enough time. He says, “We’re in a planetary emergency. Going over two degrees would be catastrophic. We desperately need something to shake us out of our sense of complacency – and a carbon tax of 5 or 10% isn’t going to be what saves us.”

The warning label’s placement on a gas nozzle is intended to take a problem of diffuse origins and locate responsibility “right in the palm of your hand.” The image on the label also brings far away consequences – like famine, extinction of species and extreme weather – “into the here and now.” Mr. Shirkey notes that the label also internalizes cost in a qualitative way. He says that they communicate important market information in a way that a price increase never could and adds that Adam Smith himself would have probably liked the idea but “that’s a panel you really need to sit down for.” The gallery that is hosting the exhibit actually has two stools in front of the “Adam Smith Re-visited” panel and invites visitors to “take a seat for this one.”

Mr. Shirkey practices law in Ontario and notes that municipalities here can use their general health and welfare powers and their licensing powers to require gasoline retailers to place the warning labels on their pumps. If a municipality passes such a by-law and a gasoline retailer fails to comply, it could have its licence revoked and be prohibited from operating their business. With the project now officially underway, Mr. Shirkey is seeking to collaborate with lawyers across Canada to empower over 4,000 municipalities to pass this by-law.

He says, “Why put all your eggs in one basket? Why spend time lobbying an unresponsive federal government when you can empower independent representatives in communities across Canada to stand on guard for our earth.”

Mr. Shirkey adds that this by-law is globally unprecedented and believes that the innovation will rapidly spread throughout the world.

“The first Canadian municipality to do this will make history. It will quickly spread through international media. It could be a watershed moment in our global efforts to stop climate change. One day, historians may just point to a few brave councillors in a community in Canada that forever changed the course of human history.”

Members of the public are invited to explore Our Horizon’s #16yearsleft exhibit at the Creatures Collective art gallery at 822 Dundas Street West until February 13th, 2013. Hours of operation are Tuesday-Saturday: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday: Noon to 6 p.m. Admission is free.

Please note that the exhibit will close at 6:30 p.m. for private functions on the evenings of Saturday, January 26th and Saturday, February 2nd, 2013.

Contact: communications@ourhorizon.org

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