August 12, 2019

By David Coletto

Abacus Data was commissioned by Seth Klein, adjunct professor with Simon Fraser University’s Urban Studies program (as part of research for a book he is writing on the climate emergency), with support from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives –BC Office, and the Corporate Mapping Project) to conduct a national public opinion survey of 2,000 Canadian adults on perspectives about climate change, positions on action, and attitudes and awareness of the Canadian version of the Green New Deal.

This was a comprehensive survey that asked a large number of questions. The full deck is available for download here, and Seth’s take on the poll is available here.

Here’s a summary of what the survey found:

82% SAY CLIMATE CHANGE IS A SERIOUS PROBLEM, INCLUDING 47% WHO DESCRIBE IT AS AN EXTREMELY SERIOUS PROBLEM.

Before exploring the views on climate change in more detail, we asked respondents to rate to what extent, if at all, five issues were problems in Canada.

82% rated climate change as an extremely serious or serious problem, second only to the rising cost of living which was rated as a serious problem to 90% of Canadians. More striking, 47% of Canadians rated climate change as an extremely serious problem, 15-points higher than wealth or income inequality, 23-points higher than increasing automation of work and the loss of good-paying jobs, and more than double the number who felt increasing immigration to Canada was an extremely serious problem.

At the same time, 1 in 4 Canadians report thinking about climate change often and are getting really anxious about it. Another 49% say they think it about it sometimes and they are getting increasingly worried about what impact it will have.

While feelings about climate change are fairly consistent across demographic groups, younger Canadians (18 to 29) are more likely to say they think about it often and are getting really anxious about it.  Quebecers are the most anxious about climate change while Albertans are the least anxious – although 58% of Albertans say they are either anxious and thinking about it all the time or think it about it sometimes but becoming increasingly worried about what impact it will have.

We find no difference in views across household income or education levels.

42% DESCRIBE CLIMATE CHANGE AS AN “EMERGENCY”.

Given this level of anxiety, it’s no surprise that a large number of Canadians describe climate as an emergency now (42%) with another 20% saying it is not yet an emergency but will likely become one over the next few years.  Only 12% of Canadians report climate change as something we should not be that concerned about.

Similar patterns emerge to this question. About 6 in 10 Quebecers describe climate change as an emergency (59%) compared with 42% in BC, 39% in Atlantic Canada, and 38% in Ontario. In the prairies, the concern is less prevalent, but even in Alberta, 27% describe climate change as an emergency, and another 20% think it will become one in the next few years.

Across age groups, half of younger Canadians believe climate change is an emergency compared with about 4 in 10 among older age groups.

Looking at the issue through another framing lens, 81% agree that climate change represents a major threat to the future of their children and grandchildren, including 49% who strongly agree with the statement.

3 IN 4 SAY THEY OR SOMEONE CLOSE TO THEM HAVE EXPERIENCED THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE IN SOME WAY.

This elevated level of concern and anxiety is at least partly caused by a sense that a clear majority of Canadians believe they or someone close to them has experienced the effects of climate change to some degree. 13% believe it has affected them in a major way, 37% to some extent, and 23% in a minor way. Only 21% say that climate change has not had any effect on themselves or people close to them.

There is a clear relationship between feeling anxious about climate change and believing that it has affected their lives or someone close to them. Among the 75% of Canadians who think about climate change at least sometimes and are worried about the issue, 61% also believe they have personally experienced the effects of climate change. Among those who say they don’t think about climate change all that much, 40% report no impact on their lives and another 33% say climate change has only impacted them in a minor way. This suggests that as the effects of climate change increase on people’s lives, we should expect to see a rise in concern about the issue.

8 IN 10 CANADIANS SUPPORT A SHIFT TOWARDS CLEAN AND RENEWABLE ENERGY, INCLUDING 44% WHO SAY IN THE FUTURE, CANADA SHOULD PRODUCE ENERGY USING 100% CLEAN AND RENEWABLE SOURCES.

When we start asking respondents about possible solutions and action to climate change, it’s clear that the public understands and supports what’s required to deal with climate change. 44% believe that in the future, “we should produce energy and electricity using 100% clean and renewable sources” while another 37% aren’t convinced that 100% of energy and electricity can be renewable and clean but support a shift towards cleaner technology.  Only 11% of Canadians believe that “shifting to clean and renewable energy sources like hydro, solar, and wind are costly and unnecessary.”

Surprisingly, these views are fairly consistent across the country. While Albertans are less likely to support a full transition to clean and renewable energy sources, 28% do while another 47% think that a transition is required but that 100% may not be possible.

We also find a generational divide on this question. Again, while overall Canadians of all ages support a transition to clean and renewable energy sources, younger Canadians (under 45) are about 10 points more likely to think we should produce energy entirely from clean and renewable sources.

In another question, we tell respondents:

“In order to combat climate change, scientists say we must substantially reduce the amount of fossil fuels we use in all aspects of our lives, in society, and in the economy. This includes oil, coal, and natural gas.”

When we follow up that statement and ask, by how much should fossil fuels be reduced to effectively combat climate change, 24% believe we need to move away from fossil fuel use almost completely while 38% say we need to reduce fossil fuel use a lot, change how we produce energy, how we get around, and how our economy works. 6% don’t think we need to reduce the use of any fossil fuels while 22% think we need to reduce some fossil fuel use, but don’t need to fundamentally change the way we live or how the economy works.

Albertans stand out as different from other Canadians on this question. 50% of Albertans think that we don’t need to change our use of fossil fuels or we may need to reduce them but don’t need to fundamentally change how we live or how our economy works. This compares to about one in four Canadians in other parts of the country.

HALF THINK IT’S POSSIBLE TO CUT GHG EMISSIONS BY 50% BY 2030 AND TO BE CARBON-ZERO BY 2050.

When we tell respondents that the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the world’s top climate scientists) recently issued a report warning that carbon pollution – global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions –must be cut in half by 2030 and that the world must be carbon-zero by 2050, 53% think it is definitely or probably possible to achieve those targets.

But there is still some convincing to be done as most of those who think it is possible are not completely convinced. Only 16% of Canadians at this point think its definitely possible to achieve those targets.

As we’d expect, there is a relationship between perceptions about what’s doable and concern about climate change. Among those who think climate change is an extremely serious or serious problem (52% of Canadians), 59% say it is definitely or probably possible to achieve the IPCC’s targets. But a sizeable group of those most concerned about the issue are less convinced. 28% think it is probably not possible, and 5% think it is not possible at all while 7% are unsure.

This points to the importance of connecting clear and realistic action and solutions with the increasing concern people are feeling.

ABOUT 6 IN 10 FEEL THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT IS DOING TOO LITTLE TO COMBAT CLIMATE CHANGE.

Given the extent of concern about the issue, there’s a sense among a majority of Canadians that the federal government is not doing enough to combat climate change. 57% think the federal government is doing too little, 18% think it is doing enough, while 9% think it is doing too much.

This view is shared in most parts of the country and among all demographic groups. Younger Canadians are more likely to think the federal government isn’t doing enough than older Canadians while women are 7-points more likely than men to feel this way.

FRAMING CLIMATE ACTION: 1 IN 3 THINK WE SHOULD MOBILIZE AS WE DID DURING WWII WHILE 47% THINK GOVERNMENTS NEED TO BE MEASURED AND CAUTIOUS.

Despite the clear concern about most Canadians and the feeling that the federal government is doing too little, only a minority of Canadians feel that mobilizing action as we did during war comes closest to how they see the issue.

33% feel their view is best reflected in the statement:

“Like we did in WWII, our governments need to be ambitious and mobilize everyone to do what is necessary to combat climate change and quickly move our society and economy off fossil fuels.”

While 47% preferred the statement:

“Governments need to be measured and cautious, making sure that moving our society and economy off fossil fuels is not too costly and doesn’t displace too many jobs.”

The remaining 20% said neither statement came closest to their view.

However, when we rephrased the question and asked whether they agree or disagreed that
“the climate emergency requires that our governments adopt a wartime-scale response, making major investments to retool our economy, and mobilizing everyone in society to transition off fossil fuels to renewable energy,” 58% either strongly agreed (21%) or agreed (37%) with the statement.

Younger Canadians (under 45) were more likely to agree than older Canadians. Those in Quebec, Ontario, Atlantic Canada, and BC were more likely to agree than those in Alberta. There was no difference across gender, household income or educational groups.

PERSPECTIVES ON SPECIFIC CLIMATE ACTIONS

To understand support and perspectives on several bold actions that the government could take to deal with climate change (ambitious actions that go beyond what the government has currently proposed), we asked respondents two questions about a series of options. First, we asked whether it is possible or not to accomplish a set of goals and then asked whether they support or oppose the action.

Majorities felt it was at least probably possible to transition all government vehicles in its fleet to electric vehicles over the next 5 year; to require all new building and homes in Canada to heat space and water using electricity and not a fossil fuel  by 2022; to phase out the extraction and export of fossil fuels over the next 20 to 30 years; to require all existing buildings to switch their fuel source for heating off of fossil fuels by 2040; to end the use of all coal, gas, and oil-generated electricity by 2030; and to ban the sale of all new gas-powered vehicles by 2030.

At the same time, there was broad support or acceptance for all of these goals with support correlated with expectations about whether it was possible or not to achieve them.

We also asked whether several outcomes would make respondents more or less supportive of a bold and ambitious climate action plan. In all cases, respondents said the outcomes would make them more supportive, including 78% who said they would be more supportive if their own income taxes didn’t increase as a result of the plan, 78% who said they would be more supportive if the wealthy and large corporations were required to contribute more in taxes to help pay for plan, and 79% who said they would be more supportive if governments provided financial support to low and modest-income households to help them transition away from fossil fuels.

PERSPECTIVES ON “A GREEN NEW DEAL”

There has been a lot of discussions both in Canada and the United States of a “Green New Deal” that would both seriously tackle climate change and restructure the economy to support those impacted by the transition.

In Canada, only a minority are aware or think they have heard of the term “Green New Deal.” 14% say they have definitely heard something about it while 19% think they have heard something. Awareness is higher among younger Canadians and those with a university degree. Among those aware of the term, about half say they are at least somewhat familiar with it and 69% either strongly (29%) or somewhat support (40%) a made-in-Canada Green New Deal.

When those unaware of the concept or term were told about it, support was very high with 72% either strongly or somewhat supportive. Only 12% were opposed while 17% say they do not have clear views on the issue.

Support for “A Green New Deal” finds support across all demographic, socio-economic, and regional groups. Even in Alberta, 56% who were unaware of the term say they support it based on the description we provided in the survey. Support is highest in Atlantic Canada (79%) and Quebec (77%) and among younger Canadians.

Support for made-in-Canada Green New Deal exists among:

  • 28% of those who oppose phasing out the extraction of all fossil fuels in Canada over the next 20 to 30 years.
  • 35% of those who don’t think climate change is a serious problem.
  • 37% of those who don’t often think about climate change.
  • 48% of those who think shifting to clean and renewable energy is costly and unnecessary.
  • 40% of those who believe we don’t need to reduce the use of any fossil fuels.
  • 72% of those who say the rising cost of living is a serious problem.
  • 68% of those who say they currently work in the oil, gas, or coal industry, or in a job closely related to those sectors.

UPSHOT

For years climate change has been discussed and debated. I remember talking about the Kyoto Accord in my grade 11 geography class over 20 years ago. But this survey confirms what we have seen in other research – Canadians are increasingly concerned about climate change, and many feel they are feeling the effects of it on their day-to-day lives.

What was less clear was whether the public is ready for serious action to deal with the issue. This survey finds broad support for action, including clear majority support for the concept of a made-in-Canada Green New Deal.

There is sufficient public support and acceptance for serious action for political leaders to lead.

But a few points are worth considering for those advocating for serious climate action.

First, while anxiety and worry about climate change is growing, how action is described and communicated matters. While most Canadians feel the federal government is doing too little to tackle climate change, instinctively many Canadians don’t buy into the idea that we need to mobilize action like we did during World War II. At the same time, majorities support aggressive policy outcomes like phasing out all oil and gas extraction within 20 to 30 years, banning the sale of gas-powered vehicles by 2030, or requiring all existing buildings and homes to switch their fuel sources for heating from oil, gas, or propane.

Second, while climate change is seen as a serious issue by most Canadians, there’s also a deeply felt concern about the rising cost of living. Effectively dealing with this issue and addressing it head-on by showing how climate action won’t increase costs substantially or better, will help reduce costs over time, needs to be part of the communicators’ toolbox.

Finally, there is clear evidence that the idea of a made-in-Canada Green New Deal is supported by a majority of Canadians, including many who we might otherwise think would be opposed outright. The merits of the Green New Deal – supporting workers impacted by the transition and investing heavily in achieving the goals – likely help to quell concerns about climate action, even in regions of the country dependent on the oil and gas sector and especially among those currently employed in it.

METHODOLOGY

Our survey was conducted online with 2,000 Canadians aged 18 and over from July 16 to 19, 2019. A random sample of panellists was invited to complete the survey from a set of partner panels based on the Lucid exchange platform. These partners are double opt-in survey panels, blended to manage out potential skews in the data from a single source.

The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 2.1%, 19 times out of 20.  The data were weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, educational attainment, and region. Totals may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

This poll was commissioned by Seth Klein, an adjunct professor with Simon Fraser University’s Urban Studies program (as part of the research for a book he is writing on the climate emergency), with support from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives –BC Office, and the Corporate Mapping Project.

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