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Canada Among Top 7 Countries Least Likely to Agree with Climate Science. But Why?

Canada ranks among the world’s countries least likely to agree that climate change is a result of human activity, according to recently released Ipsos MORI research. The study, “Global Trends 2014,” posed a number of survey questions to individuals in 20 countries and discovered agreement with climate science is lowest in the U.S., Great Britain, Australia, Russia, Poland, Japan and Canada, respectively.

Agreement with climate science was highest in China, of all the countries surveyed, a fact that Ben Page, chief executive of Ipsos MORI, attributes to high environmental concerns in China as a result of alarming environmental pollution in the country. “In many surveys in China, environment is top concern,” he said. “In contrast, in the west, it’s a long way down the list behind the economy and crime.”

Science and political journalist Chris Mooney, points out the survey results show an interesting correlation between climate denial or skepticism and speaking English.

He writes: “Not only is the United States clearly the worst in its climate denial, but Great Britain and Australia are second and third worst, respectively. Canada, meanwhile is the seventh worst. What do these four nations have in common? They all speak the language of Shakespeare.”

Mooney outlines two possible explanations for the pattern: political ideology and media ownership.

Ipsos MORI, Global Trends 2014.

Sowing seeds of climate denial

A recent study published in Climatic Change showed the U.S. hosts a surprisingly high number of organizations that actively deny or dispute climate science.

This “climate change counter-movement” is comprised of 91 different groups including oil and gas-funded think tanks like the Heartland Institute (which hosts the world’s most established climate denial conference each year), astro-turf groups, and trade associations like the Chamber of Commerce.

In total, these groups bring in more than $900 million each year, some of which is used to cast doubt on the science of climate change.

Naomi Oreskes, history professor at Harvard and author of Merchants of Doubt, a book outlining the history, strategies and organizations behind climate denial, says denier groups are winning in the U.S. and beyond.

In her book, Oreskes made a strong connection between the individuals, groups and ideologies behind the attack on not only climate science, but also the research linking tobacco to cancer, pollution and acid rain and the role CFCs played in creating the ozone hole.

Even after ‘outing’ these groups and their tactics, Oreskes recently told The Guardian things haven’t really changed.

“There are some new faces on the horizon, but recruiting ‘fresh voices’ has been a tactic for a long time. So even the things that may look new are in fact old,” she said.

“The Heartland Institute has become more visible, and the George Marshall Institute a bit less, but the overall picture continues: these groups continue to dismiss or disparage the science, attack scientists, and sow doubt.”

“They continue to try to block action by confusing us about the facts. And the arguments, the tactics, and the overall strategy has remained the same. And, they’ve been extremely successful. CO2 has reached 400 ppm, meaningful action is still not in sight, and people who really understand the science – understand what is at stake – are getting worried.”

Recently in Canada, long-time skeptic group Friends of Science bought billboard space in Calgary to display posters claiming global warming is due to the sun, rather than human activity like deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels (as the majority of the world’s scientists agree).

As Oreskes points out, politicians have done the public a disservice by parroting climate skeptic lines, or linking back to anti-science organizations like the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute or the Heritage Foundation.

Last month the Prime Ministers of both Canada and Australia publicly announced their countries wouldn’t take steps to prevent climate change at any cost to the economy. Both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Prime Minister Tony Abbott disparaged the carbon tax.

Weeks later, Abbott announced Australia would repeal the carbon tax.

Media does matter 

The media, as DeSmog Canada pointed out after Harper and Abbott’s meeting, is no help in the matter. Harper’s suggested conflict between the environment and economy, for example, was met with zero pushback in traditional Canadian media coverage.

And the English-speaking world, as Mooney points out, is at a particular disadvantage with major media outlets linked together by Rupert Murdoch, a media magnate with an apparent tendency towards climate skepticism.

Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Australia are all home to Murdoch-owned news outlets NewsCorp and 21st Century Fox.

Mooney writes:

In the US, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal lead the way; research shows that Fox watching increases distrust of climate scientists. (You can also catch Fox News in Canada.) In Australia, a recent study found that slightly under a third of climate-related articles in 10 top Australian newspapers "did not accept" the scientific consensus on climate change, and that News Corp papers—the Australian, the Herald Sun, and the Daily Telegraph—were particular hotbeds of skepticism. "The Australian represents climate science as matter of opinion or debate rather than as a field for inquiry and investigation like all scientific fields," noted the study.

And then there's the UK. A 2010 academic study found that while News Corp outlets in this country from 1997 to 2007 did not produce as much strident climate skepticism as did their counterparts in the US and Australia, "the Sun newspaper offered a place for scornful skeptics on its opinion pages as did The Times and Sunday Times to a lesser extent." (There are also other outlets in the UK, such as the Daily Mail, that feature plenty of skepticism but aren't owned by News Corp.)

Mistrust runs deeper than climate

Although Canada is among the surveyed nations least likely to agree climate change is the result of human activity, Canadians still expressed some concern over the environment.

Canadians largely agreed (79 per cent) that companies do not pay enough attention to the environment and agreed (66.9 per cent) that society at large needs to change its bad habits if we are to avoid evironmental disaster.

Ipsos MORI, Global Trends 2014.

Ipsos MORI, Global Trends 2014.

Yet Canadians along with many other nationalities expressed concern that governments are using environmental issues to raise taxes. Canadians were also basically split over the issue of whether scientists really even know what they’re talking about when it comes to the environment.

Ipsos MORI, Global Trends 2014.

Ipsos MORI, Global Trends 2014.

And interestingly the majority of Canadians report being okay with the "fuss" being made about the environment. The only countries that did express this majority green-fatigue were Brazil, India and Poland.*

Ipsos MORI, Global Trends 2014.

The general problem of fatigue and mistrust is something scientists, policy-makers, environmental advocates and climate change communicators are growing more aware of.

Recent research from the Environics Institute shows the majority of Canadians, although convinced of man-made climate change, are not convinced governments will do anything about it. In this situation Canadians believe governments bear the responsibility for taking climate action but – for political or ideological reasons – will not. If Canada’s absence of climate legislation is any indicator, Canadians have every reason to retain their skepticism about the current federal government’s climate capabilities.

Without a government prepared to make meaningful progress when it comes to emissions and fossil fuel consumption, society really finds itself between a rock and a…hot place.

*An earlier version of this post stated the majority of Canadians were 'tired of the fuss' but has since been corrected.

Image Credit: Prime Minister Stephen Harper attends the Calgary Stampede from the Prime Minister of Canada press gallery.

Carol Linnitt is a journalist, editor, illustrator and co-founder of The Narwhal. Carol has been reporting on energy and environmental…

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