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The environment as an issue no longer reaches double digits across the country: poll

Nearly a third of British Columbians is warming on its own
A climate change protest in Vancouver several years ago | Dan Toulgoet/BIV files

The first cabinet announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2015 included a change in the name of one of the portfolios.

The federal minister of the environment is now known as the minister of the environment and climate change. Three different Liberal Party politicians have held this position, which was supposed to make it clear to Canadians that the federal government was serious about tackling global warming.

The Conservative Party has continued to complain about the federal government’s “carbon tax,” a task that becomes easier every summer. There are plenty of photographs of politicians at gas stations, filling up their tank before another increase takes effect.

Research Co. and Glacier Media ask Canadians about climate change every year. In 2023, the backdrop is complex. Forest fires, floods and tornadoes are fighting for headline space as Canadians go about their summer with growing concerns over housing, health care and the economy. The environment, as an issue, no longer reaches double digits across the country.

There are some noticeable fluctuations since 2022 on all of the questions we ask.

For starters, fewer than one in 10 Canadians (eight per cent) regard climate change as a theory that has not been proven – a proportion that rises to 11 per cent in Alberta, 14 per cent in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and 16 per cent among Canadians who voted for the Conservative Party in the 2021 federal election.

More than a quarter of Canadians (27 per cent) think global warming is a fact and is mostly caused by natural changes. For three in five of the country’s residents (60 per cent), climate change is a fact and is mostly caused by emissions from vehicles and industrial facilities.

Canadians concerned about the environment may be happy with these findings. After all, most of the country’s residents continue to look at climate change as “human made.” Still, the proportion of Canadians who feel this way has dropped by nine points since our previous survey in 2022. Complete denial of climate change is up three points, and perceptions of global warming as being natural is up seven points.

The growth of the “middle ground” group over the past year is especially interesting. Roughly the same proportions of Canadians of every generation feel that the planet is warming up, but not because of anything we are doing. In two provinces, more than three in 10 residents feel this way: Alberta (32 per cent) and British Columbia (31 per cent).

Across the country, 63 per cent of Canadians say global warming is a major crisis, down five points since 2022. On this question, skepticism is more prevalent among Canadians aged 35 to 54 (59 per cent).

We once again asked Canadians about how three groups can deal with issues related to global warming. Just over two-thirds of Canadians (68 per cent, down one point) think governments should be doing more to curb the impact of climate change now. The same proportion (68 per cent, down seven points) also call for more action from companies and corporations, while 58 per cent (down nine points) believe individuals and consumers also have a larger role to play.

These numbers are significantly different from what we reported on last year. There is almost a double-digit decrease in the proportion of Canadians who think individuals and consumers should be acting now to deal with the consequences of global warming. There is also an evident gender gap: almost two thirds of women (64 per cent) want to act, but only 51 per cent of men are willing to join them.

A question on how to best manage the effects of climate change in the future also yielded lower numbers than in 2022: 67 per cent (down five points) want governments to do more, 68 per cent (down eight points) want a higher level of commitment from companies and corporations, and 60 per cent (down eight points) believe the onus is also on individuals and consumers.

On our final question, there are sizable drops in the proportion of Canadian parents who say their children have motivated them to assume more environmentally friendly behaviours. In our survey, 61 per cent of parents (down 24 points) say they recycle more because of a conversation they had with their child, and more than a third are taking shorter showers (36 per cent, down 11 points) or driving less than usual (35 per cent, down 20 points). Eco-activism inside our homes appears to have died down markedly.

The survey does not show a majority of Canadians questioning the existence of climate change. The shifts are subtle, as is usually the case with attitudinal research. Yes, most Canadians believe a concerted effort from all of society is required to deal with challenges now and in the future, but almost one in ten of the country’s residents have become disenchanted with the notion that we are all in this together, and now believe we are doing “enough” or “too much.”

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from July 22 to July 24, 2023, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.