EDITOR'S NOTE: CBC has made changes to this story following clarification by the researchers. An earlier version said that a majority of Canadians surveyed didn't believe that climate change was caused by humans. In fact, the study found that 61 per cent of respondents believed the earth is getting warmer partly or mostly because of human activities. 

A study co-authored by University of Montreal researchers suggests that while 79 per cent of Canadians do not doubt the reality of climate change, 39 per cent don't believe it is caused by human activity.

The researchers, also from four other universities, including Yale, surveyed a total of more than 5,000 Canadians over the last five years. 

"We asked participants if they believed the Earth was getting warmer partly or mostly due to human activities as an indication of climate change," said lead researcher Matto Mildenberger.

"This is a complex issue," said Erick Lachapelle, the co-author of the study, which is being submitted to a scientific journal for publication and has not yet been peer reviewed.

"It's kind of normal that people would have more nuanced opinions." 

The study did not ask what people felt was causing climate change, if they did not believe it was caused by humans.

Researchers did not note whether the proportion of Canadians who thought climate change was caused by humans had changed over the five years of the study.

The results

  • 44% of Canadians surveyed believe Earth is getting warmer mostly because of human activities.
  • 61% believe Earth is getting warmer partly or mostly because of human activities.
  • 66% support a cap and trade system.
  • 49% believe taxes should be increased on carbon-based fuels. 

Deep divides in belief

Survey respondents seemed to be deeply divided on what is causing climate change, the study suggests.

For example, only 33 per cent of people living in the Fort-McMurray—Cold-Lake riding in Alberta believe climate change is partly or mostly caused by humans. 

That compares to 78 per cent in the Quebec riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie, where the rate is the highest in the country.

yale study

The results found opinions vary depending on whether the study subjects were living in a city or a small town.

Lachapelle points to the differences in Edmonton and Calgary, compared to smaller Alberta communities.

"Urban dwellers are more progressive in general," he said.

"They are younger, better educated, and have better access to solutions like active transport or public transit, than people in small towns."

The survey asked four questions:

  1. From what you've read and heard, is there solid evidence that the average temperature on Earth has been getting warmer over the past four decades?
  2. Is the Earth getting warmer mostly because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels or mostly because of natural patterns in the Earth's environment? 
  3. Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose [a cap and trade] type of system for your province? 
  4. Another way to lower greenhouse gas emissions is to increase taxes on carbon based fuels such as coal, oil, gasoline and natural gas. Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose this type of system?

Methodology behind study

For the study, four telephone surveys over five years were conducted by firms Léger Marketing (2011, 2013 and 2014) and Elemental Data Collection (2015).

For each survey, there were between 1,014 and 1,502 respondents.

The answers to four questions in the study were compiled and integrated into a statistical model that took into account the socio-demographic and geographical characteristics of the interview subjects. The answers were then divided geographically by federal riding.

The study has a margin of error of six percentage points for provincial findings and seven percentage points for local findings, 19 times out of 20.

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this article said that a majority of Canadians surveyed didn't believe that climate change was caused by humans. In fact, the study found that 44 per cent of respondents believed the earth is getting warmer because of human activities. The study found that 61 per cent felt it was partly or mostly caused by human activities.
    Feb 22, 2016 1:08 PM ET