An Interesting Perspective on How To Change Canadians’ Attitudes Toward Climate Change

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:

  1. Canadians want more action on climate change but are less willing to pay for it.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. The majority agree that it’s only future generations that will be harmed.
  6. 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. CapTrade
  7. 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 and heavily lobby have not seriously pondered the consequences of minimal action.

Postscript:  Canada’s not doing its part in ababting climate change. From 2018
Warming assessment of the bottom-up Paris Agreement emissions pledges
www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-07223-9

CO2Canada

Here’ a summary of the above paper’s results as reported in CBC’c The National

The National Today

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2018 ● BY JONATHON GATEHOUSE
Workers use heavy machinery in the tailings pond at the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near Fort McMurray, Alta. Two new studies say that Canada is one of the world’s worst contributors to climate change. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)
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Canada: climate change villain

The world is falling dangerously short of its global warming reduction targets and Canada is among the worst offenders, say scientists.

new study published today in the journal Nature Communications, finds that current emission reduction efforts in Canada, Russia, China and Saudi Arabia would result in a 5.1 C warming of the planet by the end of this century, if all other nations set similarly unambitious targets.

The paper, by two Australian climate researchers, tries to reconcile the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5-to-2 C by 2100, with what it terms the “self-interested bottom-up” approach being taken by individual nations.

Looking at emission targets through the lens of equity or fairness, the authors find that all industrialized nations, and particularly major oil exporters, are radically downplaying their role and responsibility in climate change, with India the only such country close to being on track to meet the 2 C target.

Australia, the United States and Brazil are all pursuing policies that will push the planet towards a 4 C temperature rise, while most European nations are producing emissions that would warm the planet by 3 C. 

The gap between government pledges and their actual measures is now so wide, that the authors say warming targets should be set to “aspirational levels” of 1.1-to-1.3 C to compensate for all the fudging.

The findings echo another report, released yesterday, by the group Climate Transparency, which says that no G20 nation is on track to come anywhere near their 2030 Paris Agreement targets. These large economies, which are responsible for 80 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions, are instead steering the world towards at least a 3.2 C temperature rise.

Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Russia were judged the worst performers — on track for emissions that would contribute to more than 4 C warming.

But the group’s report card for Canada is hardly better, citing the absence of “ambitious renewable energy targets and policies.” It says Canada’s emissions level would contribute to global warming of between 3 C and 4 C if the rest of the world behaved similarly.

The emission intensity of Canada’s buildings, transportation and agriculture are all well above the G20 average, and overall the country produces almost three times more greenhouse gas per capita than the average bloc member.

All of this comes a little over a month after a dire warning from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that the planet is warming even faster than projected, with the 1.5 C threshold likely to be surpassed as early as 2030, greatly increasing the risk of devastating droughts, wildfires, floods and food shortages.

For those who wonder what global warming’s concrete consequences might be, the European Union’s Joint Research Centre has released its own study on the human and economic consequences of a 2 C shift.

The report predicts an additional 132,000 heat-related deaths across Europe every year, as well as widespread water shortages in southern regions and a potential doubling of the continent’s arid climate zone. On the flip side, northern nations are expected to experience much more rain, with flood damage anticipated to rise from 5.3 billion Euro a year to 17.5 billion.

If there is any bright spot, it comes in the form of an embarrassing math error.

Late last month, a group of oceanographers published a paper in the journal Nature that applied a novel new method to measure oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It came to the conclusion that the world’s seas were absorbing 60 per cent more heat than had been estimated, suggesting it might already be too late to halt global warming.

But another researcher pointed out a fundamental error in their calculations, and they are now working up a correction. The new calculations are expected to show that the oceans are warming at a rate closer to what the IPCC had already determined.

The fact that it was a climate science critic who discovered the mistake won’t make it any easier to persuade deniers that the Earth is indeed in imminent danger.

However, it does mean that the emission reduction targets won’t have to be radically revised upwards, placing an as-yet-unattained goal even further out of reach.

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3 thoughts on “An Interesting Perspective on How To Change Canadians’ Attitudes Toward Climate Change

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  1. From CBC The National
    FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2018 ● BY JONATHON GATEHOUSE (also see map of countries’ destinations based on current emission policies in this blog entry’s postscript))

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