California to shame the owners of gas-guzzlers

As if sky-rocketing petrol prices weren't already hurting them enough, the drivers of America's fleet of Hummers, monster trucks, and gas-guzzling SUVs are about to suffer sustained public humiliation, courtesy of the green lobby.

The state of California has announced plans for all new vehicles to carry "global warming" stickers next to their number plate, giving car owners – and their fellow motorists – an instant assessment of their carbon footprint.

Under the scheme, which became law this week, a "global warming score" and "smog score" of between one and 10 will appear on green information labels. The higher each score, the more environmentally friendly the car.

In the short term, authorities hope to help consumers choose vehicles with low carbon footprints. In the longer term, it is designed to turn SUV driving into a social taboo on a par with smoking cigarettes. "This label will arm consumers with the information they need to choose a vehicle that saves gas, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and helps fight smog all at once," said Mary Nichols, chairman of the California Air Resources Board. "Consumer choice is an especially powerful tool in our fight against climate change."

Green stickers are expected to start appearing later this month. New York has its own version of the labelling scheme due to take effect in 2010.

Whether the stickers work or not, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's commitment to reduce vehicle emissions by 30 per cent in the next eight years is already being helped by petrol prices that have broken $4.50 (£2.25) a gallon – a 400 per cent increase in the past five years – leading to an unprecedented drop in road use, and a collapse in the market for bigger cars.

Right-wing commentators, who call the most popular hybrid vehicle the "Toyota Pious", have branded the scheme as illiberal. They say it will add more bureaucracy to the state's already bloated vehicle licensing authority.

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