I came across a Quirks and Quarks interview that not only reveals how Canadians perceive climate change, but it provides a fresh outlook on how to change their attitudes. A Université de Montréal political scientist, Erick Lachapelle, whose focus since being a student has been climate change, randomly surveyed 1014 adult Canadians in telephone interviews. This is what he learned:
- Canadians want more action on climate change but are less willing to pay for it.
- They are aware of the rising temperatures (82% accept that temperatures are rising), but many still question how important a role humans have played in it.
- 50% feel it’s mainly caused by humans; unfortunately, 30 and 50% fail to see a human role or don’t see it as the main cause, respectively.
- When asked, “how much will it harm you personally?”, 14% feel it will harm them a great deal and 30 %, moderately. But the rest feel that they will experience little or no harm at all from climate change in their lifetimes.
- The majority agree that it’s only future generations that will be harmed.
- Canadians have little clue about cap and trade of emissions— 80% have heard next to nothing. This is surprising since Quebec’s cap and trade program has been in effect since 2012.
- Forty-four percent would be willing to pay somewhere between $1 and $100 per year for renewable energy production. Only a third would be prepared to pay more.(pale in comparison to what it would really cost and also relatively little to what they pay for internet, cell phones and cable). Worse, 25% want to pay $0. Two interpretations of this dismal result is that (1) they feel a collective problem should be fixed by big business who put out the emissions; and (2) given the enormity of the problem, any individual’s contribution seems meaningless to them.
LaChapelle’s interpretation of Canadians’ ambivalence is quite interesting. Here is what he attributes it to:
(1) Unless they are highly motivated, people will not do the necessary research to inform themselves. And climate change is a complex problem with technical aspects.
(2) They rely on heuristics as an alternative, hoping that media will fill them in on all the facts. But media coverage of environmental issues has been episodic. (and typically it throws everything into a pot of minestrone of less critical issues that still serve as attention-grabbers.)
(3) The public takes hints from elite cues, but the previous Canadian government was committed to fossil fuel exploitation, and for a decade avoided discussing any environmental issues associated with the combustion of carbon-based fuels.
(4) The worst effects of climate change have not surfaced yet. So people are not getting the experiential cues , and they overlook the uncertain impacts on the future.
(5) Ideological predispositions influence interpretations. Some people don’t want an increase in the role of government, which they fear would come about if we take more serious action against climate change.
He goes on to say that we have to appeal to a more universal concern for public health, security and economic consequences of climate change. Elites must act and then people will follow their masters. This reminds me of an article I wrote regarding social revolutions. Citing one of the conditions needed for a revolution to occur, historian Jack A. Goldstone points out that part of the elite must oppose the status quo and feel alienated enough to mobilize the population. The ambivalence that the public is currently experiencing comes from the fact that for a long time in Canada (and elsewhere), the wealthy class and governments that they successfully lobby heavily have not seriously pondered the consequences of minimal action.