Most Canadians agree warming planet is a defining crisis that demands action: survey

November 30, 2009

OTTAWA – Most Canadians think climate change is the planet’s defining crisis, a new poll suggests.

But the survey also indicates that nearly two-thirds of those surveyed think humans will be able to adapt to it, and about half believe the money Canada spends on climate change would be better spent on health care and national debt.

The Harris-Decima poll conducted on behalf of the Munk Debates reflects the dichotomy among Canadians who have long put environmental issues at or near the top of their concerns while balking at the economic adjustment that would be required to attain environmental goals.

The survey results also provide a vivid example of the regional differences of opinion on the environment. The belief that climate change is the earth’s defining crisis is held most strongly in Quebec and less so in the Prairies.

The poll asked Canadians if they agreed or disagreed with a resolution to be debated Tuesday during the fourth Munk Debate in Toronto, that: “Climate change is mankind’s defining crisis, and demands a commensurate response.”

Nearly two thirds of Canadians agreed while 31 per cent disagreed. A tiny fraction had no opinion.

“I think it shows the extent to which not just the environment, but the actual issue of climate change, has ascended up the public agenda to point where it is reminiscent of those other big causes that have shaped a lot of Canadian history,” said Rudyard Griffiths, co-organizer of the Munk Debates.

Women were slightly more inclined to agree with the statement than men. Sixty-seven per cent of women agreed, compared with 63 per cent of men.

Across the provinces, more Quebecers and Atlantic Canadians agreed that climate change is the defining crisis, while people in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan were less likely to agree.

The pollsters then asked people for their thoughts on a range of arguments for and against climate change.

“We came up with a battery of the most conventional arguments for and against ambitious action on climate change,” Griffiths said.

People were given five statements often made by those who support the fight against climate change and five statements made by those who argue against it.

The survey found a strong belief on both sides of the climate-change debate that there is a moral responsibility to deal with global warming now to save the planet future generations.

There was also general agreement on both sides that a warming planet threatens species and ecologies around the world with extinction, and that scientists are on the same page that something needs to be done about climate change.

The online poll of 1,009 Canadians was conducted Nov. 12 to 15. No margin of error was provided.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be heading to Copenhagen later this month to attend talks aimed at negotiating a successor treaty to the Kyoto agreement that was supposed to result in significant cuts to Canada’s output of emissions that cause greenhouse gases. The Liberal government that negotiated those cuts essentially ignored them and harmful emissions rose under their stewardship.

The Conservatives initially ignored the issue when they came to power in 2006 and then stopped and started their own program to deal with climate change. Barrack Obama’s arrival in the White House saw Canada endeavour to harness its environmental policies with those in the United States, our largest trading partner.

“We’ve been through the exercise in the past decade or so of setting targets that were idealistic or blue-sky and no one went out and actually achieved them, or set targets that look great on paper and didn’t actually require any effort,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said over the weekend.

“I think modest, achievable targets – particularly in the short term – will get the planet on the right track, which will allow us to make a longer term transition,” Harper said at the end of the Commonwealth summit. “The key to all this is not the setting of targets. It is actually the development and implementation of the technology that over time will make significant targets possible.”

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was also at the Commonwealth meeting in Trinidad, called on Harper to set more ambitious targets for emission cuts. But that appeal appeared to have limited impact on its intended target.

“We’ve said we’re looking at roughly a 20 per cent reduction going forward in the commitment period to 2020,” the prime minister said. “We’ve also said we’re going to harmonize our reduction commitments with those of the United States.”

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