Canadians take responsibility for environment: poll

by Eve Savory, CBCNews.ca

If Canadians had their way, Canada would be a global leader on fighting climate change, winning praise and respect for its policies.

The latest Environics poll found 67 percent of Canadians want their country to be the leader or at least among the leaders. True to their “green” image, Vancouverites believed that more strongly than people anywhere else.

Almost half of Canadians – 44 percent - say the most effective way to show that leadership is to be a model country, one that sets an example for the rest of the world. Twenty-eight percent think the best way is through developing and sharing technology.

Canadians have come a long way since Environics started polling them on the environment in 1987. Dr. Keith Neuman said back then, a third of Canadians thought climate change, a.k.a. "global warming", was a good thing.
Now, he said, "we don’t even ask that question any more". With only one in ten Canadians a sceptic, both the questions and the answers have moved on. Neuman says you could see the shift in sentiment start last winter.

"People just know there is a problem that has to be addressed, we should be getting on with it, and they want to see something that satisfies them that it’s being taken seriously."

He finds it encouraging that there wasn’t much finger pointing – not a lot of the "it’s someone else’s fault" kind of thinking. And a majority – 57 percent - said that if cutting greenhouse gases hurts Western Canada’s economy the rest of the country should compensate those provinces.

What’s more, there was a willingness to take personal responsibility – and a growing understanding of the sources of the problem. When asked "Who are the biggest contributors?" to greenhouse gas emissions, 55 percent named industry and 53 percent named consumers.

On the downside, says Neuman, one in five couldn’t name any.

Nor is there much comprehension of where the impact will be most felt in Canada. Canadians answered children, seniors, the sick and the poor, in that order.

Only 11 percent mentioned Canada’s Arctic, where the impacts are already advancing.

Neuman’s personal take-away message is that people are ready for someone to do something, and the federal government may have missed a political opportunity when it announced a one percent cut in the GST in its mini-budget.

He thinks the smart move would have been to tell the public the government will get the lost tax back by putting a one percent tax on fossil fuels, and then will use that for the environment.

"The point is people are looking for something serious", he says. "It may have actually meant more to people to know there is actually a big shift on government action on the environment. I think that might have sold."

The poll was commissioned by the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and Canada West Foundation for a conference on climate change that opens tomorrow in Calgary.

The survey was conducted by Environics with a representative sample of 2,006 Canadians (aged 18 years and older) between October 4 and 11, 2007. A sample of this size drawn from the population will provide results accurate to within plus or minus 2.2 percent, 19 times out of 20.