As a child I was very interested in cars. Therefore I jumped on the magazine Motor each time I found it in the postbox outside my parents' house. It's a magazine for the members of the organization Motormännen (The motor men), which is an interest group for car owners in Sweden. They offer car tests, publish road maps and do other good things. However, when I read the editorials in Motor I often got mad. This was in the beginning of the eighties, and people were concerned about the acid rains that were caused in part by NO2 pollution. Nevertheless, Motormännen argued that a national legislation that required catalytic converters to remove NO2 from the exhaust gas would make the Swedish car manufacturers Saab and Volvo go bankrupt. Furthermore, the environmental benefit would be negligible since acid rains would continue to sweep in from the Baltic and the North sea. I heard the voice of a special interest trying to cover itself under a coat of reason that is too small, flapping the sleeves wildly so that nobody would notice the naked belly. Well, the metaphor just came to me, but it reflects the feeling I had as a kid, a feeling that was a kind of political awakening.
As a grown up, I have learned that the same pair of arguments is voiced over and over again to oppose action aimed at protecting the environment. I understand better now that the economic effect on companies of new regulations and taxes must be carefully taken into account. However, I still get equally mad when I hear that it doesn't matter what we do or don't do in our small corner of the world, that it's a piss in the Mississippi. With the same argument, it doesn't matter whether you go to work in the morning - the effect on the national economy is minuscule. Well, the obvious point is that if everyone argues like that, the effect becomes devastatingly large. Someone has to start convincing others by example to go to work and to regulate exhaust gases. In the latter case California started requiring catalytic converters, Germany and Sweden followed, and by now they are everywhere.
A Volvo PV from 1947 at a railway crossing in my home village Vittsjö
Sometimes Gröna Bilister leaves town and goes on tour. In june 2009 a station selling biogas opened in Sundsvall. This made it possible in principle to drive by biogas from Smygehuk in southernmost Sweden all the way up to Riksgränsen in the far north. My friend Per-Jakob Kamienski and I tried to do it for real in order to promote a fuel made mostly by municipal waste, and we had a wonderful time.
To inspire Swedish municipalities in their transport-related environmental work, my friend Mattias Goldmann wrote the book Utmaning 2010 (Challenge 2010) more than ten years ago. Together, we wrote the follow-up Utmaning 2020. We boast in the book that we do not come up with a single new idea, we just pass good ideas and examples on from one municipality to another. More recently, my colleague from Gröna Bilister Fredrik Holm has written still another book about environment and transport in the municipalities: Hållbar mobilitiet från Umeå till Malmö (Sustainable mobility from Umeå to Malmö). It focuses more on the processes that led some municipalities to become outstanding in their work, including interwievs with key people who recall both fruitful and less fruitful actions along the way. Fredrik Holm followed up on that book with the sequel Vänd pyramiden - planera för en hållbar mobilitet (Turn the pyramid upside down - plan for a sustinable mobility)
There is a politcal aim in Sweden since several years to make road transports independent from fossil fuels by 2030. An investigation ordered by the state put forward the more concrete goal to reduce the use of fossil fuels by 80 % between 2010 and 2030. It seems that a similar reduction factor of 70 % will soon be politically decided.
Together with the 2030-secretariat I work with the development and maintenance a set of statistical indicators aimed at following up this transition. Gröna Bilister contributes to a corresponding set of local indicators, following up the transition in individual municipalities. Gröna Bilister has always stressed the importance of the transport related environmental work made by the muncipalities. Historically, they have often taken the lead in this work in Sweden. Then the politicians at the national level have followed, in a kind of "trickle-up" process.
When we go to the grocery store, many of us use to check the information at the packages to see where the fish is caught or where the meat comes from. When we buy a refrigerator, we cannot avoid seeing the sticker telling us how much energy it consumes. But when we go to the gas station we don't get a clue about the origin or the environmental impact of the fuel that we pour into our car.
A few years ago Gröna Bilister (The Swedish Association of Green Motorists) published a report about the sustainability of the fuels sold in Sweden. Working on that report, we realized that there is actually enough official information available to be able to design a sticker to put on all fuel pumps, telling us with reasonable detail the origin, the raws materials and the climate impact of all fuels on the market, inluding electricity. Gröna Bilister started the campaign Vi Vill Veta (We Want to Know), where we try to make such stickers come true. Since then, several Swedish fuel companies have improved their consumer information, but there is still a long way to go. Therefore we are glad that the Swedish government announced in the summer of 2016 that they are preparing a law that requires stickers with standardized sustainability information at all fuel stations in Sweden.
We hope that consumers enlightened with sustainability information will put pressure on the fuel companies to avoid the worst fossil alternatives. This will become ever more important as many conventional oil fields in respectable countries are drying up, and the risk grows that oil from the sensitive Arctic, oil that fuels dictators, and oil made from unconventional raw materials like tar sands enter the market. The fuel companies complain that they have little possibility to choose between better or worse oil on the world market. If so, naked consumer information about the unavoidable facts will speed up the transition to renewable fuels. Furthermore, it will help the best renewable alternatives, which may be a bit more expensive to begin with.
Of course, the impact of sustainability information at the gas station will be limited if it is available in Sweden only. However, the underlying information about the fuels is present all over Europe, thanks to directives from the European Union. This means that if Sweden put stickers on all fuel pumps, the rest of EU might quickly follow. Ideas of a similar kind are voiced in North America. So far, they mainly concern the introduction of warning texts, like those found on cigarette packages.
UPDATES: Stickers with sustainability information will be mandatory on many Swedish fuel pumps and charging stations from October 2021. The first climate warning labels on petrol pumps were introduced in Cambridge, MA, in December 2020. The Terminator is on board.