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New map shows which parts of Canada lag on believing in climate change

While most Canadians accept climate science, those in Alberta — and to some extent Saskatchewan — are less likely to believe that the planet is warming due to human activity.

That’s according to public opinion research published by a group of scholars that sheds new light on Canadians’ attitudes toward climate change — and the measures they support to tackle it.

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They estimate that within Alberta, 42 per cent think the earth is warming partly or mostly due to human activity, compared with the national average of 60 per cent. Saskatchewan was 13 points lower than the national average at 47 per cent.

But the provincial picture doesn’t tell the whole story, as co-lead researcher Matto Mildenberger points out.

“There’s very much an urban-rural divide in those two provinces,” said Mildenberger, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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Need to shape climate change policy in a way that addresses ‘legitimate economic concerns’ of Alberta, Saskatchewan: Wilkinson
Need to shape climate change policy in a way that addresses ‘legitimate economic concerns’ of Alberta, Saskatchewan: Wilkinson

In federal ridings that include cities such as Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge, Saskatoon and Regina, attitudes measured closer to the national average.

The results are based on various national opinion polls conducted between 2011 and 2018 to which the researchers applied a statistical model.

The overall sample size was more than 9,000 adults.

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(They did not include the Territories in the research because the data samples were too small to make accurate estimates).

An updated version of the interactive map, published Friday by the Université de Montreal and Yale University’s Program on Climate Communication, shows results for eight questions related to beliefs, experiences and policy preferences on climate change.

You can view results to those questions on the national,  provincial or federal riding level below:

On the question of believing in human-caused climate change, P.E.I. ranked first in Canada at 73 per cent. Quebec was in second place with 67 per cent.

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Alberta and climate change

A group of environmental organizations, including Alberta Ecotrust, participated in a research project on Albertans’ attitudes towards climate change last year. They spoke to nearly 500 people.

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The goal of the Alberta Narratives Project was to identify how to talk about climate change in a constructive way that emphasizes the values that Albertans share.

“I think there is this tension always in Alberta about, how do you talk about economic growth and climate change. And we haven’t figured that out,” said Pat Letizia, executive director of Alberta Ecotrust, a foundation that provides grants for environmental initiatives and builds capacity within non-profit groups.

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Where Alberta stands on climate change reflects fear and uncertainty around jobs in the energy sector, she said.

“In the research that we did, going out and talking to people, we heard things like, ‘I can’t believe in climate change because my son works in oil and gas’ or ‘our family depends on the energy industry, so we don’t talk about climate change,” she said.

Climate change education in Alberta lacks scientific facts, impacts and solutions: study
Climate change education in Alberta lacks scientific facts, impacts and solutions: study

What solutions do Canadians support?

The researchers who studied the opinion poll results found that a majority of Canadians (58 per cent) support cap and trade — a system of reducing emissions by setting limits and making companies that exceed their cap purchase additional capacity.

As well, 54 per cent supported a tax on carbon-based fuels.

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Such a tax has been bitterly contentious within Canadian politics and is the subject of several court challenges.

The federal government has imposed carbon taxes in Ontario, New Brunswick, Manitoba and Saskatchewan — provinces that have not implemented what Ottawa believes to be a sufficient carbon pricing plan of their own.

The tax will be imposed on Alberta too, as of Jan. 1.

Despite the row between governments, Mildenberger said the polling data show widespread support for such measures, even within many ridings represented by Conservatives, who oppose the tax.

“In fact, even in (Conservative Leader) Andrew Sheer’s personal riding in Regina—Qu’Appelle, there’s actually majority support for both cap and trade and carbon taxation,” he said.

“So his perspective on climate policy is actually a little out of step with his own constituents.”