POLITICS

Survey finds 2 per cent of respondents don't believe climate change is happening

08/15/2012 04:08 EDT | Updated 10/15/2012 05:12 EDT
REGINA - Only two per cent of Canadians who responded to a new opinion poll believed climate change is not occurring.

A further nine per cent believed climate change is occurring naturally and 54 per cent felt both humans and nature are playing a role.

The findings, which are generating mixed reaction, are in a survey by Insightrix Research for IPAC-CO2 Research Inc., a University-of-Regina-based centre that studies carbon capture and storage.

Centre chief executive Carmen Dybwad said the results released Wednesday show Canadians overwhelmingly believe climate change is real.

"When you say that 98 per cent of people believe this, I mean the kind of frivolous answer would be like two per cent still believe that there are little green spacemen around. I mean two per cent believing that climate change isn't occurring is pretty significant," said Dybwad.

"No, you're never going to have 100 per cent, ever."

The online poll of 1,550 respondents was done between May 29 and June 11.

There were five options given to the question: "Where do you stand on the issue of climate change?"

Respondents were asked to choose whether climate change is occurring partially due to human activity and partially due to natural climate variation; climate change is occurring due to human activity; climate change is occurring due to natural climate variation; climate change is not occurring at all; or not sure.

Nine per cent believed climate change is occurring due to natural climate variations. Almost 1/3 — 32 per cent — of respondents said they believed climate change is happening because of human activity. More than half of those who responded — 54 per cent — said they believed it's a combination of both.

Two per cent said they didn't believe climate change is occurring at all. Four per cent were not sure.

"It's reassuring that the number is so low," said Prof. John Smol, a global warming expert at Queen's University.

"Certainly the science has been in for a long time, so it's a little discouraging how slowly the science seems to have been translated into public policy and public opinion. But at least we're going in the right direction."

The survey also noted that opinions about the cause of climate change were divided by region.

It said Prairie respondents were least likely to think that climate change is occurring due to human activity. The survey found 21 per cent of those in Alberta and Saskatchewan believed climate change is occurring due to human activity, while the number jumped to 44 per cent in Quebec.

Dybwad suggested those beliefs might be dictated by a province's economic base.

"When you take a look at the provinces who are most fossil fuel-based, in terms of either they produce it or they use it to generate electricity, you find that the number is lower. When you go to regions that are more hydro-based, you find a different opinion," she said.

"It's interesting to discover or to suppose that's what drives it, but that seems to be the trend."

Smol, who has been studying climate change for more than 30 years, said the science is clear that human activity is a very significant factor.

"I work in the Arctic. It's changing far faster than even I had thought it would. I was saying that it's going to change fast, but it's changing faster," Smol said.

"There's enough data out there that shows it's a tremendous issue and it's one that nature is slow to pardon our mistake."

The Calgary-based organization Friends of Science said the climate has been changing continually since the dawn of time.

"For two per cent to say climate change is not occurring, I mean that's a stupid thing. I mean those people, they're not looking out the window are they? I mean how can you say that climate change is not occurring. It's occurring all the time," said Friends co-founder Eric Loughead.

But Loughead vehemently disputed the cause of climate change. To blame human activity is false, he said.

"We would say that there is probably a very small impact by human emissions of CO2," he said.

"The amount of CO2 that is liberated by human activity is nothing really compared to natural variations in CO2 level. The ocean is continually either drawing in or expelling CO2. Volcanoes when they go off, they put huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere and these are all natural phenomenon."

Unlike traditional telephone polling, in which respondents are randomly selected, the Insightrix survey was conducted online among the 1,550 respondents, all of whom were chosen from a larger pool of people who agreed to participate in ongoing research. They were compensated for participating.

The survey set quotas by age, gender, region and education to try to match the general population.

The polling industry's professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.

The survey also found 51 per cent of respondents across the country believed fossil fuels will still be used after the year 2050 for electricity production in Canada.That belief was highest in Alberta at 66 per cent and lowest in Quebec at 37 per cent.

The acceptance of climate change and the extent to which humans are responsible for it has been a politically sensitive issue, most recently in the Alberta election.

Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith's team started strongly in the campaign, but faltered near the end when she said the science of global warming was not settled. Smith found herself booed roundly at a late-stage leaders debate over the issue.