Do Canadians Believe in Climate Change?

The recent federal budget allocated $1.3 billion over the next five years for protecting nature, investing in new parks and protected areas and developing the science about the climate change and the environment.

There are a few other big ticket items in the budget including $1 billion to rejig Canada’s environmental assessment laws, $172.6 million towards ensuring First Nation’s reserves have access to clean drinking water and $167.4 million to protect endangered whale species in Canada.

Overall, the Federal budget reflects an increasing desire to see environmental sustainability addressed by our economic and political agendas. But how do Canadians really feel about all this climate change stuff?

The Sustainability Network hosted a webinar presented by Université de Montréal’s Dr. Erick Lachapelle and James Boothroyd, Managing Director at EcoAnalytics, that discussed Canada’s opinion on environmental issues.

The EcoAnalytics survey (Oct 2017) determined that the country can be divided into 5 categories based on their attitude towards climate change:

  1. Alarmed
  2. Concerned
  3. Disengaged
  4. Doubtful
  5. Dismissive

Based on the survey results, people who are ‘Concerned’ about climate change make up the largest group but the number of people who fall into the ‘Doubtful’ and ‘Alarmed’ are fairly similar in size. These findings were based on a variety of questions ranging from “do you perceive solid evidence that the Earth is getting warmer?” to “who should pay for the costs of climate change?”

The survey identified that nine out of ten Canadians perceive solid evidence that the Earth is getting warmer. Although there is much less consesus among lay people about the influence of human activity on climate change, that number is increasing. 97% of climate scientists agree that human activity is causing the change in climatic conditions, however only three in five Canadians believe that global climate change is caused mostly by humans.

About half of Canadians think they will be harmed by climate change either “a great deal” or by a “moderate amount”. In 2014 only 34% of Canadians believed that climate change is already hurting Canadians but by 2017, the majority, 55%, believe that climate change is hurting people in our country. According to Dr. Erick Lachapelle, this 21% jump in such a short period of time is very uncommon in public opinion.

It’s important to note that the 2017 survey was taken in the fall after wildfires had ravaged Western Canada, extreme flooding had driven many people from their homes in the East and beyond our borders hurricanes were destroying country after country with record-breaking strength. 

Overall, the presenters from Ecoanalytics concluded that we need improved messaging and education to reinforce that climate change is “human-caused”, “here and now” and our “collective responsibility.” Elements of this survey will be published to the public this spring.

I believe that there is a need for people to connect on a deeper level with the environmental movement. This will require a re-framing of the problems to increase the relevance in people’s lives and connect to existing values. As it stands, many Canadians see this as a problem for future generations that will affect people far away. It’s not that we don’t care about the future or other people, but we have trouble caring enough to change our behaviour today or we feel that are teeny tiny contribution is nothing in the face of massive corporate polluters. But more Canadians are recognizing the urgency, believe in the science and want to support organizations and technology that offer solutions.

Over the next few weeks, I will profile solutions from Canada and around the world and describe ways that you can get involved.



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