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Our Horizon plans to put responsibility in your hands

CCE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

On a muggy June day, founder of environmental rights group Our Horzion Rob Shirkey and his Chief of Operations Kai Reimer-Watts are in Waterloo trying to drum up support for their first official campaign. They show off a prop gasoline nozzle. Attached to the handle is a warning, not dissimilar to the ones you would find on cigarette pack. “Use of this fuel product contributes to climate change which may put up to 30 per cent of species at a likely risk of extinction.” The picture is an infant caribou following its mother.

“This connects cause and effect right at the point of purchase,” Reimer-Watts explained. He and his group are attempting to get people to understand that their actions do have an impact on global warming, even if they might not see those impacts first hand.

Shirkey and Reimer-Watts believe that with enough local pressure, residents of cities and towns across Canada — and even the world — can pressure their city councillors to enact bylaws that would require all gas stations to put the warning labels on the pumps. One of Our Horizon’s projects is actually creating a massive world wide data base of government officials that locals can voice their concerns too. “The flavour generally is to think globally and act municipally,” said Shirkey. “Our organization empowers citizens and communities to change the world.”

The pair came to Waterloo hoping that the inventiveness that has defined the Region’s approach to technology and academia would also define its approach to environmental issues. “Waterloo is about innovation,” said Shirkey. “It’s about being bold and taking risks.”

Shirkey got the idea for gas pump label warnings in part from the successful use of pictorial cigarette warning labels in deterring smoking use. Canada was the first country to use pictures in cigarette warning labels, a decision defended by the Supreme Court Court of Canada on the basis of public health. Shirkey believes the same justification could be used to defend the gasoline warning signs. “This is perhaps the most compelling public health issue of all time,” he said.

Shirkey’s background has been helpful in promoting his cause. He was working as a dissatisfied lawyer in Toronto, fitting in advocacy work in between his case load. One day, his grandfather called him.

“He sensed I was not all that happy at work,” recalled Shirkey. “His last words to me were ‘do what you love.’” Two weeks later his grandfather passed away. It was the push Shirkey needed to end his legal practice and start Our Horizon.

Today his legal research concerns saving the earth. He hopes that this campaign will be the precursor to larger campaigns that will encourage governments to adopt programs like carbon taxes.

But for the Our Horzion team, today is all about convincing one person at a time that change is possible. “The image and text [of the warning]…takes that far away consequence – extinction, famine, drought – and brings it into the here and now,” said Shirkey. And if it gets another person to consider buying a hybrid car, cycle to work or use mass transit, Our Horizon considers it a boon to their overall cause.

Without actions like those, Shirkey fears it may be too late. “Until humanity takes a good honest look at what we’re up against, recognizes that we’re all a part of this, what hope do we have in actually addressing climate change?”

You can learn more about Our Horizon at ourhorizon.org