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Alberta lags on climate awareness

Albertans trail the nation when it comes to belief in climate change, a recent survey suggests, but they still show strong support for action on it.

Albertans trail the nation when it comes to belief in climate change, a recent survey suggests, but they still show strong support for action on it.

Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission released results this week of a survey on perceptions on carbon pricing in Canada. The commission is an independent think-tank that promotes the use of economic instruments to address environmental challenges.

The survey found that Albertans were the least likely in Canada to believe that the Earth was warming, with just 52 per cent believing there was solid or conclusive evidence of that fact compared to the national average of 61 per cent.

Likewise, just 54 per cent of Albertans believed this warming was due to human activity such as the burning of fossil fuels, compared to the national average of 70 per cent.

Multiple independent scientific studies have confirmed that the world’s climate is warming and that human activity is the primary driver of that warming.

Former Gazette reporter and current Energy Efficiency Alberta chair David Dodge said these results likely reflect Alberta’s roots in the fossil fuel industry, which would cause people to be defensive of it. On the plus side, he noted that the survey also found that most Albertans and Canadians did in fact believe in anthropogenic climate change and wanted to see action on it.

“There’s a lot of support for the idea of taking action on climate change.”

Alberta supports climate action

The survey found that 60 per cent of Canadians and a plurality of Albertans (46 per cent) wanted governments to put more emphasis on policies that reduced greenhouse gases. It also found that most residents preferred subsidies and regulations to carbon taxes, but that few Canadians (just 42 per cent) were familiar with carbon taxes.

Carbon taxes are unpopular because they make the costs of action visible, said Trevor Tombe, an economist at the University of Calgary familiar with this survey. You still pay for action through subsidies and regulation, but those prices are hidden.

Subsidies and regulations are popular, but inefficient, as they assume that governments know the best ways to reduce emissions, and they don’t, Tombe said.

“Individuals and individual businesses, however, know what’s better for their own unique circumstances.”

By providing an incentive to reduce emissions and letting individuals act on it, you get the most reduction for the least cost, Tombe said.

The commission used electric car rebates as an example. A rebate might encourage some people to buy electric, but won’t help those who still can’t afford one and wastes money on those who already planned to do so. A carbon price encourages everyone to save gas period, whether that be through buying electric or a more efficient car.

Multiple studies of B.C.’s carbon tax have found that it reduced that province’s emissions by 5 to 15 per cent by encouraging natural gas and gasoline conservation, the commission found.

While the vast majority of Canadians support action on climate change, it tends to be way down on people’s priority list compared to issues such as health care and job creation, the survey found. Tombe said this means governments should link climate action to those other priorities, e.g. by emphasizing the good quality jobs created by investing in renewables or by diverting carbon tax cash to health care.

The survey found that about 84 per cent of Canadians (78 per cent of Albertans) supported a transition to a low-carbon economy.

Dodge said Alberta was already headed down this road, and that he was seeing a lot of excitement in Alberta for climate solutions and energy efficiency.

“We’re over the hump in terms of the really big debate about climate change,” he said, in that people have generally accepted its existence and cause.

“Now we can focus on action.”

This online survey involved some 2,250 Canadians polled by Abacus Data last February and was considered accurate to within 2.1 per cent 19 times out of 20.

The survey and an accompanying paper on carbon taxes can be found at

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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