Most Sask. residents believe climate change human-caused but fewer willing to act: survey

·6 min read
A dump truck works near the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near Fort McMurray, Alta., in June 2014. A new survey in Saskatchewan found about 73 per cent of respondents agree the provincial government should take action to address climate change, but when asked how soon fossil fuels should be phased out, the most common answer was 'never.' (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press - image credit)
A dump truck works near the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near Fort McMurray, Alta., in June 2014. A new survey in Saskatchewan found about 73 per cent of respondents agree the provincial government should take action to address climate change, but when asked how soon fossil fuels should be phased out, the most common answer was 'never.' (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press - image credit)

A new survey has found a strong majority of respondents in Saskatchewan acknowledge climate change as a reality, but fewer are willing to partake in efforts to combat climate change.

The survey, conducted by the Canadian Hub for Applied and Social Research (CHASR) at the University of Saskatchewan as part of a partnership with CBC, took responses by phone from 402 Saskatchewan residents between Sept. 3 and Sept. 20 on questions around climate change.

The survey found that 73 per cent of respondents believe that people are responsible for accelerating climate change.

Almost two-thirds of respondents (64 per cent) said they believe the extreme weather Saskatchewan experienced this past summer was a result of climate change. Just under a quarter disagreed while close to 13 per cent said they did not know.

About 73 per cent also agreed that the provincial government should take action to address climate change.

The data also shows "a number of core differences by age and by region of the province," said CHASR director Jason Disano.

Younger respondents were more likely than older respondents to agree that individuals are responsible for climate change, he said. In the 18-34 age group, 80 per cent agreed.

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Submitted by Jason Disano
Submitted by Jason Disano

Disano said the survey suggests differences in terms of region.

"We do see a general trend in terms of younger urban individuals being more likely to accept climate change and the science behind it, and more willing to accept different measures to combat climate change, versus older rural respondents."

The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.89 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Lack of personal responsibility

The survey found there is a "portion of the population who actually do believe climate change is real and that humans are accelerating climate change" who "aren't necessarily willing or interested in taking it upon themselves to do individual actions to address climate change," Disano said.

Asked about what behaviours they would be willing to engage in to reduce climate change, 46 per cent said they were unwilling to pay a carbon tax.

Disano said it's likely many are not aware that they are already paying the carbon tax.

He also said Saskatchewan's resource-dependent economy likely factors into some of the regional geographic differences the data revealed.

For example, about 44 per cent of respondents overall said they were unwilling to reduce their meat consumption. But that unwillingness was stronger in rural respondents (50 per cent) than urban (38 per cent).

Saskatoon's Micheal Heimlick — a program evaluator at Two Bridges Consulting who drives an electric car and has turned vegetarian — said he thinks the survey results show Saskatchewan heading into right direction, but at too slow a pace.

"If you believe in something, you have to take action on it, but that's not necessarily what we're seeing in the differences in some of the daily things like reducing meat consumption, car and air travel," he said.

Submitted by Micheal Heimlick
Submitted by Micheal Heimlick

The survey found that 37 per cent of respondents were unwilling to reduce car travel and 25 per cent unwilling to reduce air travel. In both cases, rural populations were more unwilling.

"It's more difficult, I would argue, for reduced car travel in rural areas as technology — electric cars, for example — is more likely to come to urban centres first," Heimlick said.

For example, Heimlick said he couldn't visit his wife's hometown in rural Saskatchewan in their electric vehicle due to a lack of charging infrastructure.

The cost of technology also becomes a barrier in rural Saskatchewan, he said, especially when there are no provincial subsidies for electric vehicles available.

The survey also revealed resistance to composting and energy-efficiency home retrofits, which Heimlick said could be easily addressed by policy interventions and education.

"The onus falls on the provincial government to step up and acknowledge climate change as a problem, which they have been starting to do, but [also to] offer people ways to adjust the problem and model that behaviour at the provincial level," Heimlick said.

Fossil fuel phaseout 'has to happen'

When asked when the government should phase out fossil fuels, the most commonly selected response in the survey was "never" — the answer given by around 28 per cent of respondents overall. Just under 16 per cent said within five years, and about 15 per cent said within 20.

However, there was a wide divide on the "never" response between rural respondents (42 per cent) and urban (15 per cent).

Rene Stock, an economist in Saskatoon, says change in the energy sector is needed.

"There is no future if we keep adding fuel to the fire. Coal is way dirtier than any nuclear plant in the country," said Stock.

The 68-year-old said many older people think they have outlived the catastrophes and neglect problems that climate change has started to pose, such as heat domes.

"I have eight grandchildren. When my oldest one, who was born in 2010, will make it 19 years, there will be a good chance that [the] South and North Saskatchewan rivers won't have glaciers feeding them," Stock said.

Stock has had conversations with older groups around carbon taxation and says many are misinformed due to the poor messaging from the provincial government.

"We have to keep talking about the frequency and intensity of climate events. I'd say the younger folks are more aware and they are the answer," Stock said.

Sehjal Bhargava, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Saskatchewan, concurs with the sentiment.

Bhargava said while humans are in the anthropocene — the name for an unofficial unit of geologic time marked by the significant impact of human activity on the planet — it is encouraging to see young people like Swedish activist Greta Thunberg take the lead.

"Fossil fuel phaseout isn't an option, it's something that has to happen," Bhargava said.

"I believe action has less to do with individuals, but rather creating public opinion and public pressure to change policies that are going to be directed towards combating climate change."

Tayyaba Bhatti
Tayyaba Bhatti

There is an urgent need to stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industry and start supporting a just transition for oil and gas workers into provincially and federally funded renewable energy projects, Bhargava said.

Youth should also educate themselves and exercise their voting power, she said.

"I've been told by politicians that they don't understand the urgency and that there's nothing they can do about it because government action is slow. Young people want action," she said.

"The more young people that get involved to use their voice, the better."

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