British Columbia

'Individual action matters': climate communicators need to give useful advice, researcher says

People can help by having fewer children, driving and flying less

Posted: April 07, 2019

Canada’s Changing Climate Report said Canada is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, on average. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Canadians are fixated on political news out of Ottawa and rising gas prices, but their time would be better spent taking action against climate change, says an expert from the University of British Columbia.

Jiaying  Zhao is the Canada Research Chair in Behavioural Sustainability and an assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of British Columbia.

Zhao says a report  released last week by Environment and Climate Change Canada is disturbing and people should be very concerned. But the way climate change is communicated could be the reason people are not as engaged with the issue.


The report concluded, on average, that Canada is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. In Northern Canada, it's even faster.

"Scenarios with limited warming will only occur if Canada and the rest of the world reduce carbon emissions to near zero early in the second half of the century," read the report.

"I think the messaging has to be more positive than painting the grim future with the negative consequences. Instead of just saying, [we're] warming fast, in addition I think we can say, 'Here are a bunch of actions we can do collectively to mitigate this problem,' " Zhao told The Early Edition host Stephen Quinn. 

The projected relative sea-level change along Canadian coastlines at the end of the century. (Canada’s Changing Climate Report)

Less doom and gloom, more action

Zhao says many people do not draw the link between climate change or temperatures rising with driving, flying and other carbon-emitting behaviours.

"When they see wildfires in the summer, they attribute it to campers and lightning, and not necessarily to the rising temperature caused by a carbon emission in the atmosphere," Zhao said. 


Zhao thinks there is a knowledge gap among Canadians and climate change communicators need to do a better job of explaining their options. 

Zhao says a recent UBC study found having fewer children would have the biggest impact on carbon reduction. The second is to live car-free, drive hybrid vehicles or take public transit.  Zhao also suggests flying less — avoiding just one transatlantic flight every year would be significant, says Zhao. Switching to renewable energy at home also makes a major difference. 

"Your individual action matters," said Zhao. 

Zhao says it's evident that alarming numbers aren't enough to get people to change the way they behave.

"I think you have to paint a long-term future picture ... If you care about the future, we should then start acting now."

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Canada's Research Chair in Behavioural Sustainability Jiaying Zhao thinks we are not spending enough time focusing on the world's most urgent crisis, climate change.  8:58

With files by The Early Edition.