Climate change survey reveals Canadians' fears for future generations

A new Environics poll suggests a majority of Canadians worry about how climate change will affect their children and grandchildren, although two-thirds of respondents feel Canada is doing at least as well as other countries in controlling emissions.

Poll suggests acceptance of climate change science rising - and most don't see Canada as a laggard

Smokestack coming out of a chimney.
Emissions are released from a smokestack at the Teck Mining Company's zinc and lead smelting and refining complex in Trail, B.C., in 2012. A new survey suggests a majority of Canadians are worried about the legacy climate change will leave for future generations. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

A new Environics poll suggests a majority of Canadians worry about climate change and how it will affect their children and grandchildren.

The survey of 2,020 people revealed 50 per cent of respondents are "extremely" or "definitely" concerned about a changing climate, and 78 per cent of those fear the kind of legacy it will leave for future generations.

"It hit a nerve," said Keith Neuman, who is executive director of the Environics Institute for Survey Research.

He said it's the first time the institute has asked the legacy question in annual surveys on climate change.

"The one about future generations was the one that elicited the strongest reaction, that the greatest number of people who said they were concerned about climate change were really worried about this," he said in an interview with CBC News.

The institute, a non-profit arm of the polling company, partnered with the David Suzuki Foundation, which helped to pay for the cost of this year's research.

Acceptance of science grows

Among the findings, the poll suggests the percentage of Canadians who believe in the scientific fact of climate change continues to edge up — to 63 per cent in 2014 compared to 60 per cent last year. One in 10 remain skeptical about the science.

The survey also suggests Canadians are increasingly willing to shoulder the cost of helping to fight the effects of a changing climate. Support for a B.C.-style carbon tax continues to "inch up," with 56 per cent now strongly or somewhat supporting a tax on carbon emissions.

That support is strongest in Ontario and Atlantic Canada, both at 61 per cent, followed by Quebec at 52 per cent.
Last week, the premiers of Ontario and Quebec agreed to jointly co-operate on climate change, with both supporting an eventual price on carbon.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has consistently refused to impose a federal price on carbon, calling it a job killer. 
But Neuman says the most recent poll shows Canadians are willing to consider it.

"What we are seeing is a basic openness to this kind of policy among citizens... saying, here's something that probably won't cost me that much and I do feel like I should do something."

The poll is being released just before the start of the UN climate change conference next week in Lima, Peru. Representatives from 195 countries are meeting to draft a new climate treaty that could be signed in Paris next year.

Split feelings about Canada's performance

Despite the fact Canada has been roundly criticized at these meetings for its lack of action to reduce emissions from the petroleum industry, the federal government gets a surprisingly positive assessment for its own actions in the Environics poll.

It shows the public's view of Canada's performance on climate change compared to other countries has remained the same over the past seven years:

  • A third (34 per cent) think Canada's performance is better than others.
  • One third (32 per cent) say it's about the same.
  • The remaining third think it's worse.

"It's clear that Canadians want their government to do more," said Neuman. "But they may not be judging it that harshly because they don't know or appreciate what has been done elsewhere."

The bottom line, said Neuman, is the new poll shows the Conservative government's handling of climate change is not going to turn into a ballot box issue.

"There are lot of things that happen in Ottawa and seem to be significant events but have surprisingly little impact on public opinion."

The survey was based on random telephone interviews conducted with 2,020 Canadians between Oct. 6 and 19, 2014. Based on the probability sample size, results are expected to be accurate to within plus or minus 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.