As a Canadian living near Montreal, I was of course curious about this survey:
The distribution of climate change public opinion in Canada
Mildenberger et al. 2015 (here)
CBC created some controversy by switching headlines on its report of the findings.
First the title was:
Climate change: Majority of Canadians don’t believe it’s caused by humans
Then it changed to:
Canadians divided over human role in climate change, study suggests
I’m wondering what really was learned from this survey.
What Was Asked and Answered
With any survey, it is important to look at the actual questions asked and answered. While we do not have access to specific responses, the script for the telephone interviews is available. The first two questions asked about global warming (not climate change).
1. “From what you’ve read and heard, is there solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past four decades?”
Don’t Know (volunteered)
2. [If yes, solid evidence] “Is the earth getting warmer mostly because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels or mostly because of natural patterns in the earth’s environment?”
Not sure / Refused (volunteered)
The finding reported in the Study:
Our results reveal, for the first time, the enormous diversity of Canadian climate and energy opinions at the local level.
At the national level, 79% of Canadians believe climate change is happening but only 44% think climate change is caused mostly by human activities.
So the 79% who said there’s solid evidence of warming the last 40 years got a followup question: mostly caused by human activity or mostly natural? Slightly more than half said mostly human, thus a result of 44% believing both that it is warming and that humans are mostly to blame.
Now some people were unwilling to decide between mostly human and mostly natural, and volunteered that it was a combination. This fraction of respondents was recorded as partially human caused, and they added 17% to bring the number up to 61%. The remaining 39% combines people who don’t accept evidence on warming and those who think warming is mostly natural or are uncertain about both issues.
From having done opinion surveys in the past, I suspect that many who were uncertain between human or natural causes didn’t want to say “don’t know”, and instead said it was a “combination”. Thus the group counted as “partially human-caused” is a soft number.
My suspicions are reinforced by a question that was asked and not included in this report: “How much do you feel you know about global warming?” Typically about 25% say they know a lot, 60% say they know a little, and the rest less than a little. As we know from other researchers more climate knowledge increases skepticism for many, so it is likely the soft number includes many who feel they really don’t know.
This process does determine a survey result about the size of the population who believes warming is happening and mostly caused by humans. Everything else is subject to interpretation, including how much is due to land use, urbanization or fossil fuel emissions. The solid finding is displayed in the diagram below:
Yes, the map shows I am living in a hotbed of global warming believers around Montreal; well, it is 55%, as high as it gets in Canada.
Responses on Carbon Pricing
Now consider the script for the last two questions on policy options
3. “There is a proposed system called cap and trade where the government issues permits limiting the amount of greenhouse gases companies can put out. If a company exceeds their limit, they will have to buy more permits. If they don’t use all of their permits, they will be able to sell or trade them to others who exceed their cap. The idea is that companies will find ways to put out less greenhouse gases because that would be cheaper than buying permits.
Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose this type of system for your province?”
Not sure / Refused (volunteered)
4. “Another way to lower greenhouse gas emissions is to increase taxes on carbon based fuels such as coal, oil, gasoline and natural gas. Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose this type of system?”
Not sure / Refused (volunteered)
And the finding is (from the report):
Despite this variation in core beliefs about climate change, we find widespread public support for climate policies. Support is greatest and most consistent for emissions trading. . . The overall pattern is clear: there is majority support for emissions trading in every Canadian district.
We find larger variation in support for a carbon tax across the country. At the national level, support for carbon taxation at 49% is just below a majority, with opposition at 44%.
Now here is the underlying motivation for the survey: to determine the level of support in the Canadian population for government action to increase the price of carbon-based energy. Not surprisingly, people who mostly know only a little about this like the sound of companies footing the bill for policies, more than the government raising my taxes. With a little more knowledge they will understand that cap and trade increases the cost of energy within all of the products and services they use, and therefore raises the price of pretty much everything. It is a hidden tax completely without accountability.
I described in some detail how this is already at work in Quebec by virtue of the province joining California’s carbon market: https://rclutz.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/quebec-joins-california-carbon-market/
No one should be surprised that those conducting this survey think they know the correct answers and want the population to agree with them. The sponsors include numerous organizations advocating for carbon pricing:
Thanks to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Fonds de Recherche du Québec – Société et Culture, the Skoll Global Threats Fund, the Energy Foundation, and the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment for financial support. Funding for individual survey waves was provided by the Ministère des Relations internationales et de la Francophonie, the Public Policy Forum, Sustainable Prosperity, Canada 2020, l’Institut de l’énergie Trottier and la Chaire d’études politiques et économiques américaines.
And as we have seen with virtually all marketing-type surveys, opinion-makers know that conducting surveys is itself an intervention to raise awareness and concern about the issue
Reblogged this on TheFlippinTruth.
If the sponsors are looking at support for policy, they miss out some questions.
There were no question about belief that human-caused warming has been demonstrated to be a major problem. Or whether, Canada, with about 1.6% of global emissions, will make a difference when most of the rest of the world have no plans to cut their emissions. Or about whether climate policy should override other policy priorities where conflict occurs.