On climate change, nudge theory and the nanny-state

I have been approached by a hydra-headed PR agency working for an unnamed client which may or may not be a pseudo-libertarian climate-sceptic lobby group known as the Institute for Public Affairs. I say this, as an IPA statement on plain-packaging laws is linked to from the missive.

In the message received today, it is suggested that I pose the following question…

“Will plain packaging and tobacco-style climate change warnings on gas pumps lead to a slippery slope towards a government ‘nanny state’, devoid of consumer freedom and an infringement on basic human rights?”

It is a reasonable question to ask, if hyperbolic in tone and churnalistic in motivation, but that is par for the course when it comes to such matters. The reference to climate change warnings on petrol pumps follows the introduction of same in Vancouver, Canada, the result of a campaign by environmental lobbyists Our Horizon (slogan: “Think Global. Act Municipal”).

Is it a question that I am prepared to ask, in all seriousness? Don’t be silly. Nudge-inspired behavioural engineering such as the labelling programme in Vancouver may be mildly irritating, but the practice cannot be described as heralding the end of capitalism and human rights.

We are not going to hell in a (plain) cigarette packet.