Public opinion polls: on carbon tax, pipelines, and a growing fear of climate change around the world

On February 8, Clean Energy Canada released results from an online survey of 2,500 Canadian adults, conducted by Abacus Data. Across Canada, 35% support a federal carbon tax, 37% say they are open to considering it, and 28% oppose it  – with the highest opposition from Alberta (41%). When told that revenues would be rebated to households (the ford and carbon tax infographicCarbon Incentive Plan),  support climbed by 9 points – and even more in Alberta. Asked if they agreed with  Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s statement that a carbon tax will bring a recession, 64% of Canadians  and 63% of Ontarians disagreed – and when asked a follow-up question asserting that many economists disagree with Premier Ford, 74% of Canadians and 73% of Ontarians stated they would trust the economists over the Premier.

The Angus Reid Institute  has tracked opinion about a carbon tax in Canada since April 2015, and are due to release new survey results in winter 2019 . Their online survey conducted in October 2018 (just after the announcement of the federal Carbon Incentive plan), showed that support for a carbon tax had increased nationally  from 43% in July 2018 to 54% in October.  The leading cause of opposition to the carbon plan is the sense that it is a “tax grab”, followed by the opinion that it will not help reduce emissions. Also notably, “six-in-ten Canadians say they do not trust information about climate change from their provincial government – with  only 24% of Manitobans  trusting their government.  Who do Canadians trust on this issue?  78% trust university scientists; 56% trust “international organizations doing work in this field”.

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From Angus Reid Institute, “Duelling realities” poll

Other recent Angus Reid analysis of Canadians’ overall attitudes on climate change was released on November 30 in “Dueling realities? Age, political ideology divide Canadians over cause & threat of climate change”.   Only 9% of Canadians do NOT perceive climate change as a threat, with 55% of 18 to 34-year-olds  said they believe climate change to be a very serious threat.  Yet  a survey  released in January 2019, “Six-in-ten Canadians say lack of new pipeline capacity represents a crisis in this country” details the polarized opinions about oil pipelines, showing that 53% of Canadians surveyed support both the Energy East and TransMountain pipeline projects, and  six-in-ten say the lack of new pipeline capacity constitutes a “crisis”. Opinions are divided by region, ranging from 87% in Alberta and 74% in Saskatchewan seeing a crisis, versus 40% in Quebec.

Opinion in the United States:  Results from the December 2018 national survey, Climate Change in the American Mind ,  reveal that 46% of Americans polled have personally experienced the effects of global warming, and a majority are worried about harm from extreme events in their local area –  including extreme heat (61%), flooding (61%), droughts (58%), and/or water shortages (51%).  This longstanding survey (since 2013) is conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. It also updates the results in the series, “Global Warming’s Six Americas” , which categorizes attitudes from  “Alarmed”, to “Concerned”, all the way to “Doubtful” and “Dismissive” –  showing that in December 2018, the “Alarmed” segment is at an all-time high of 29% , while the “Dismissive” and “Doubtful” responses have declined to only 9%.  The full report   also includes responses concerning emotional responses to global warming, perceived risks, and personal and  social engagement – which includes such questions as “How much of an effort do your family and friends make to reduce global warming?”

Australian women are re-considering having children:  A survey released in February by the Australian Conservation Foundation and the  1 Million Women organization reports on climate change attitudes of Australian women, in the lead-up to the country’s federal election in 2019.  Of the 6514 Australian women who responded to the survey between September – October 2018, nearly 90% are extremely concerned about climate change.  Again, concern is highest in the under-30 bracket, where  one in three are so worried about what global warming that they are reconsidering having children.  A four page summary of survey results is here 

Finally, international attitudes are reflected in a survey published in February by Pew Research Center:  “Climate Change Still Seen as the Top Global Threat, but Cyberattacks a Rising Concern”.   This top-level survey of 26 countries shows that climate change was perceived as the most important threat in 13 countries:  including Canada,   Germany, Greece, Hungary, Spain, Sweden, U.K., Australia, South Korea, Kenya, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico.  In the U.S., the top threat was seen to be cyberattacks from other countries (74%), followed by attacks from ISIS (62%). Global climate change was the third-ranked threat at 59% .

Canadian press coverage of pipelines lacks workers’ voices

ccpa-bc_jobsvsenvironment whose voices are missingJobs vs the Environment? Mainstream and alternative media coverage of pipeline controversies  examines how the press—classified into corporate and alternative outlets —treats the relationship between jobs and the environment, and how frequent and influential are the voices of workers and labour unions. The report uses two sophisticated methods of communications analysis – content analysis and critical discourse analysis – to examine two samples:  The first sample comprises 129 articles about Canadian pipeline projects from the Vancouver Sun, the Edmonton Journal  and the Toronto  Globe and Mail  representing corporate media; articles from Ricochet, The Tyee, and the National Observer  represent alternative media.  The second examination was slightly different, made up of 170 articles about the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion which appeared in the Vancouver Sun and two commuter tabloids in Vancouver, and including Rabble.ca  to the previously examined alternative sources of  Ricochet, The Tyee, and National Observer.

The analysis is detailed and makes many interesting observations. Briefly, the authors conclude from these samples that both  mainstream and alternative media frequently reinforce the assumption that there is a trade-off between environmental protection and job creation. Though alternative media are more critical  of pipeline projects and provide more of the  perspectives of Indigenous people and environmentalists, the authors conclude that  “neither corporate nor alternative media gave much voice to the perspectives of workers and their unions.” And  “while job creation is often touted as a rationale for pipeline projects, the actual workers and their unions—the presumed beneficiaries of fossil fuel expansion—appear to be largely missing from news reportage.”

To sum up, they write that : “… alternative media provide analyses and sources that help counterbalance the apparent extractivist orientation of the corporate press. They make a valuable contribution to well-rounded public discussion and offer perspectives on energy, climate and economic policies that are evidently under-represented in the corporate press.

The authors briefly discuss the labour press – mentioning Rank and File.ca  specifically, and see a role for the labour media in the climate and energy debate. They state: “….. labour’s voice in the media system is muted. There are many reasons why a movement for a just transition has not gained greater traction. Governments have not sufficiently committed to retraining and other supportive measures, and thus there are few working examples for just transition advocates to highlight. But part of the problem lies in the lack of public arenas for exploring the common ground between workers and environmentalists regarding a low-carbon economy. Engaging the public imagination about such a necessary transition would be a valuable goal for corporate and alternative media, as well as media produced by the labour movement itself.”

The authors are Robert A. Hackett, a professor emeritus, and  Philippa R. Adams, a PhD student, both from the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.  The publisher is the Corporate Mapping Project, a research and public engagement initiative investigating the power of the fossil fuel industry,  jointly led by the University of Victoria, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ BC and Saskatchewan Offices and the Parkland Institute.

Saskatchewan’s new Climate Strategy maintains old positions: No to carbon tax, yes to Carbon Capture and Storage

Prairie Resilience: A Made-in-Saskatchewan Climate Change Strategy was released by the government of Saskatchewan on December 4,  maintaining the province’s  position outside the Pan-Canadian Framework  agreement  with this introductory statement:    “A federal carbon tax is ineffective and will impair Saskatchewan’s ability to respond to climate change.”  A summary of all the strategy commitments appears as  a “Backgrounder” from this link.  An Opinion column in the Regina Leader Post newspaper summarizes it as  a “repackaging” of past policies, and “oil over the environment”.

The provincial government defends their plan as “broader and bolder than a single policy such as a carbon tax and will achieve better and more meaningful outcomes over the long term” by encouraging innovation and investment – and yes, that Prairie spirit of independent resilience.  The strategy includes provisions re protecting communities through physical infrastructure investment,  water system management, energy efficiency for buildings and freight, and disaster management.   It commits to “maintain and enhance partnerships with First Nations and Métis communities to address and adapt to a changing climate through actions that are guided by traditional ecological knowledge.”   In the electricity sector, which at 19% is the third largest source of emissions, it proposes  to introduce regulations governing emissions from electricity generation by SaskPower and Independent Power Producers; meet a previous commitment of up to 50 per cent electricity capacity from renewables; and “determine the viability of extending carbon capture use and storage technology to remaining coal power plants while continuing to work with partners on the potential application for  CCUS technology globally.”    The Strategy is still open to consultation on the regulatory standards and implementation details, with a goal of implementation on January 1, 2019.  Consultation is likely to reflect the state of public opinion on climate change issues as revealed by the Corporate Mapping Project  in Climate Politics in the Patch: Engaging Saskatchewan’s Oil-Producing Communities on Climate Change Issues. The participants in that  study “were largely dismissive over concerns about climate change, were antagonistic towards people they understood as urban environmentalists and Eastern politicians, and believed that the oil industry was already a leader in terms of adopting environmentally sound practices.”      The oil and gas industry is Saskatchewan’s largest emitter, at 32% of emissions in 2015.  For an informed reaction, see Brett Dolter’s article in Policy Options, “How Saskatchewan’s Climate Change Strategy falls short”  (December 11).

sask-power-boundary-damOn the issue of carbon capture and storage:  The Climate Strategy document released on December 4 states a commitment to:  “determine the viability of extending carbon capture use and storage technology to remaining coal power plants while continuing to work with partners on the potential application for  CCUS technology globally.” On December 1, CBC reported that Saskatchewan had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming  to “share knowledge, policy and regulatory expertise in carbon dioxide capture, transportation, storage and applications such as enhanced oil recovery.”  By late 2017 or early 2018, SaskPower is required to make its recommendation on whether  two units at the Boundary Dam will be retired, or retrofitted to capture carbon and storage (CCS) by 2020.  As reported by the CBC , the research of economist Brett Dolter at the University of Regina has found  that conversion to natural gas power generation would cost about 16% of the cost of continuing with CCS ($2.7 billion to replace all remaining coal-fired plants with natural gas plants, compared to  $17 billion to retrofit all coal-fired plants with carbon capture and storage.)  The final decision will need to  consider the economic implications for approximately 1,100 Saskatchewan coal workers, and isn’t expected until a replacement for Premier Brad Wall  has been chosen after his retirement in late January 2018.

For more details:  “Saskatchewan, 3 U.S. states sign agreement on carbon capture, storage” at CBC News (Dec. 1) ; “SaskPower’s carbon capture future hangs in the balance” at CBC News (Nov 23)  , and  “Saskatchewan Faces Tough Decision on Costly Boundary Dam CCS Plant” in The Energy Mix (Nov. 28).

Environmental Psychology: Motivating behaviour change and coping with the fear of climate change

A new environmental psychology study released in December concludes that the most effective programs to encourage climate-friendly behaviour such as reducing energy consumption are those in which financial incentives (rebates, or cheaper prices) are paired with appeals to personal identity and values.  The authors of  Social Mobilization: How to Encourage Action on Climate Change  review  four decades of  psychological research and find  strong empirical support for employing a number of strategies : providing tailored information, soliciting commitment (e.g. pledges), recruiting leaders from within social networks, giving feedback,  and using a variety of other social influence strategies .  This report highlights several successful large-scale programs as models – mostly by utility companies in the United States .  The study was financed and published by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS), University of Victoria.  A related, longer report by one of the authors, Reuven Sussman, was  published in October 2016 by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.  Behavior change programs: Status and impact  is here  (registration required, free).

Another recent study of found that the moral values of compassion and fairness influenced an individual’s willingness to take personal action to mitigate the effects of climate change.  The authors, from Cornell University, showed that participants who were younger, more liberal, and reported greater belief in climate change, also showed increased willingness to act on climate change.  Ingroup loyalty and authority were not supported as important predictor variables. However, the authors state  :   “Our finding that willingness to take action on climate change was related to moral values embraced by both liberals and conservatives suggests that it is too simplistic to use political ideology alone to predict support for climate change action. ”  The full article, “Which Moral Foundations Predict Willingness to Make Lifestyle Changes to Avert Climate Change in the USA?”  appeared in  PLOSOne in October 2016, and was summarized by the Huffington Post in “ Why some people take action on climate change – and others don’t” (November).

Environmental psychology is also turning attention to the growing mental health issues caused by climate change.  The  first-ever International Conference on Building Personal and Psychosocial Resilience for Climate Change was held on November 3-4, 2016 in Washington D.C.  .  Climate Progress reports on the conference  in  “How to stay sane in the face of climate change” ,   and quotes psychiatrist Lise van Susteren: “before people let their fear turn to hopelessness …  it’s critical to tell them that there are actionable things they can do, in their everyday life …. — measuring your own carbon footprint, putting solar panels on your own home, or paying for carbon offsets to counteract your own travel — can help a person take their fear and transfer that energy into positive action.  And that in turn can help mitigate the mental trauma of the reality of climate change.”   Climate Progress also quotes consultant Bob Doppelt, who told the conference  “Psychological traumas of more frequent storms, floods, and fires associated with climate change, as well as toxic stresses — long term heat waves and droughts, food shortages, involuntary migration, loss of community and breakdown of culture — are eroding personal protective systems, amplifying preexisting mental health problems and creating new mental health issues.” Doppelt has recently published Transformational Resilience: How Building Human Resilience to Climate Disruption Can Safeguard Society and Increase Wellbeing .

Workers Acting in Climate-Friendly Ways: A Study of Union members, Synthesis of Academic Literature, and a Case Study of Pilots

A post in  Portside on May 23  summarizes the research of Jeremy Brecher (of Labor Network for Sustainability) and Todd Vachon, which uses data from 2  national surveys in the U.S. to conclude that: “Union members, far from being only concerned with their immediate self-interest at the expense of a broader common interest in environmental protection, are often more concerned about the environment and more willing to act on that concern than either the public at large or non-union workers”.   A fuller report,   “Are Union Members More or Less Likely to Be Environmentalists? Some Evidence from Two National Surveys” was published as an article in Labor Studies Journal  in April (access restricted).  The article also provides examples from the historical record of labour and environmental issues, with the goal of contributing to the development of labour-community and blue-green coalitions to work for social change.

Another study  appeared in Nature Climate Change in June, regarding the determinants of translating climate change beliefs into actions .  “Meta-analyses of the determinants and outcomes of belief in climate change”  analyzed  27 variables,  drawn from  25 polls and 171 academic studies from 56 nations  (including 7 from Canada).  The authors, from the University of Queensland in Australia, concluded that  variables such as education, sex, subjective knowledge, and experience of extreme weather events were not as important in predicting behaviours as the variables of  values, ideologies, worldviews and political orientation. Surprisingly, the study also concludes “ belief in climate change has a solid relationship with the extent to which people aspire to behave in climate-friendly ways, but a small-to-moderate relationship with the extent to which people `walk the talk’.”

Finally, a practical example:  As reported in the Washington Post  on June 22, and by the Company in a detailed case study , Virgin Atlantic Airways conducted a large-scale experiment  to try to influence its pilots to use less fuel and reduce GhG emissions.  This was a controlled study, overseen by economists from the University of Chicago and London School of Economics, in which  different  behavioural interventions were used, including providing monthly feedback, setting targets, and setting targets plus making corporate charitable donations when targets were met. All pilots reduced their fuel consumption, and  those that received targeted goals, or that received these goals plus charitable donations made, performed the best of all.  The academic report of the study appears in A New Approach to an Age-Old Problem: Solving Externalities by Incenting Workers Directly , a working paper of the National Bureau of Economics (NBER), published in June.