Climate Awareness in Canada

Canada is a country that is world renown and celebrated for its environmental beauty. Its photogenic natural landscapes include the lush green forests of Western and Central Canada, golden fields of the Prairie provinces, the scenic cliffs of Atlantic Canada, and the cold Arctic where the majestic polar bears dwell. Local and global climate issues are taken very seriously in Canada, and its population is largely aware and concerned about the climate.

Most Canadians do share a degree of concern about climate change. Mildenberger et al. (2016) looks at the public opinion on climate change among Canadians, by conducting telephone interviews of randomly selected Canadians. 79% Canadians believe that climate change is occurring, but this varies across the country. In Atlantic provinces like Nova Scotia, 87% believe that climate change is happening, while only 66% share this believe in Saskatchewan. Belief in climate change is lowest in the parts of Canada where industries heavily rely on fossil fuels, such as oil sands development, including Saskatchewan and Alberta (Mildenberger et al., 2016). It is possible that people in greenhouse gas intensive industries may not be as concerned about climate change because their livelihood depends on such industries. Mildenberger et al. (2016) finds a major concern about climate action, especially in provinces with oil sands development, is that it may come along with heavy and burdensome carbon taxes. However, it is evident that Canadians across all provinces and territories do cherish and want to protect nature, even if some do not believe that humans can overpower it. Widespread support for environmental protection policies is found across the country (Mildenberger et al., 2016).

Fig 1.0: Provincial electricity generation by source (Government of Canada, 2018)

Canada’s political leadership overwhelmingly recognizes that there is concern over the climate among majority of Canadians. In the last federal election, all Canada's major federal political parties: the Liberals, Conservatives, New Democrat Party (NDP), Greens, and Bloc Québécois recognized the need for immediate climate action and pledged to pass climate policies if elected (Global News, 2019). Only one of the smaller parties, The People's Party of Canada, voiced opposition to climate action. Almost every seat across Canada was won by an MP from a major party, but none for The People’s Party, which did not even win one riding (Bernier, 2019; Clarke and Cath, 2019). The only seat that did not go to a major party was an Independent, Jody Wilson Raybould, an Aboriginal, pro-climate action politician (Pawson, 2019). These election results demonstrate the seriousness surrounding climate talk and debates in Canada.

Canada’s public opinion and resulting political leadership’ priorities have resulted in the generation of a strong renewable energy sector in Canada. In 2018, Canada's energy sector generated 641.1 terawatt-hours (See Fig 1.1). 60% of energy generation sources were hydro, 15% nuclear, 7% coal, 7% non-hydro renewables (such as wind, biomass, solar, etc.), and 11% gas/oil/others (Government of Canada, 2018).

Fig 1.1: Electricity generation by source in Canada, 2018 (Government of Canada, 2018)

The climate issue in Canada is not only a subject of political debate and policy, but it has also been the inspiration for legal challenges and mass agitations in Canada. In 1991, the Indigenous Carrier-Sekana Tribal council and many environmentalist groups successfully went to court and forced a full environmental review of a hydroelectric dam being built in Kitimat, BC (Minorities at Risk Project, 2004). In 2018, the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion in British Columbia was shut down due to ‘relentless’ opposition by Indigenous leaders, environmental activists, and local governments including the provincial NDP government (Souza and Meyer, 2018). The anti-Kinder Morgan protests resulted in hundreds of arrests (Anderson, 2018). In 2019, hundreds of thousands of Canadians joined climate strikes inspired by international environmental activist Greta Thunberg's "Fridays for Future” (Murphy, 2019). It is evident that Canada has a large population of environmental champions who are ready to speak up and fight for the issue. Moreover, their main concern appears to be accountability for energy giants, a few of whom try to bypass the rules and regulations by using poor, cheap materials that result in environmental catastrophes. This results in harm for the entire energy sector's reputation.

In addition to renewable energy potential, Canada is also known for being the base for multiple non-profits that are highly revered around the world for their impact on reducing and reversing climate change. Ocean Wise is one such non-profit, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, dedicated to creating awareness about ocean pollution and the exploitation of fish populations. Recently, Ocean Wise partnered with World Wildlife Fund Canada to organize the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (Oceanwise & WWF, 2021). Thousands of people have participated in clean ups across Canada even during the pandemic. In my home City of Surrey, BC, local initiatives include the Coho Crew, a group of volunteers dedicated to protecting salmon habitats, Adopt-A-Street, a program that encourages community members to keep their surroundings clean of litter, Nature Work Parties, that remove invasive species around the city, and many more programs (General Manager, Parks, Rec. and Culture, 2013). Voluntary associations, be it NGOs or government-funded initiatives, are plentiful around Canada and Canadians are passionate about participating in climate action.

With a political leadership that sees the climate as a voting issue, and Canadian organizations and individuals willing to take action for the climate, the Canadian government has also stepped up with job creation to foster awareness about sustainability. EmpowerMe is a public education program, currently based in the Western provinces of BC and Alberta, that teaches Canadians about energy conservation. It is funded by the Provincial governments, municipalities, and local energy providers. EmpowerMe hires ‘Energy Mentors’ to educate the community, and businesses on energy efficiency, safety, and waste reduction, in numerous languages including English, French, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Mandarin, Cantonese, Farsi, etc (Kambo Group, 2018). EmpowerMe mentors engage in conversations with community members about the importance of recycling, energy efficient appliances, vehicles, related rebates, and other sustainability information. People of all ages and backgrounds are said to be aware and concerned about the importance of climate issues. Canadian seniors often appear to be the age group that is most passionate about energy conservation through little and big steps, be it planting a vegetable garden, changing all their incandescent light bulbs into LED bulbs, or installing solar panels on their roofs. Parents and children also enjoy taking part in EmpowerMe workshops as a means of bonding, spending time together, and enjoying learning tips and tricks to save on their energy bills and helping save the environment. Environmental conservation has become a moral value in Canada that is celebrated among the young and old.

While there may be differing opinions among Canadians about climate policies, such as whether or not to increase taxes as a means of paying for climate action, or through other innovative policies such as enforced limits on emissions, the general consensus in Canada is pro-environment. Climate change was and still is a major concern among the Canadian public and the country’s political leadership. This is very much in part due to Indigenous figures, and supportive local and international environmental activists, that have inspired legal challenges and mass agitations against exploitative development of Canadian land and resources. Canadians are concerned about the climate and they are enthusiastic to act for it, especially through democratic participation, volunteering in environmental initiatives, and taking steps to reduce their own carbon footprint. Government and utility-funded programs continue to be an effective means of educating the population to adopt sustainable practices. Increased future public consultations and environmental reviews could help improve public support for development projects. __________________________________________________________________________________

Citations Anderson, D. (2018, Apr. 4). Arrests to Continue as Kinder Morgan Protests Heat Up. The yee. Bernier, M. (2019, Oct. 16). Commentary by Maxime Bernier: Reject global warming alarmism. Times Colonist. Clarke, S., Levett, C. (2019, Oct. 23). Canada election 2019: full results. The Guardian. Kambo Group. (2018). Energy Efficiency Education. EmpowerMe BC. General Manager, Parks, Rec. and Culture. (2013). Corporate Report. Global News. (2019, Oct. 10). Canada election: What federal leaders have pledged on climate change. Global News. Government of Canada. (2018). Electricity Facts. Natural Resources Canada. Minorities at Risk Project. (2004). Chronology for Indigenous Peoples in Canada. UNHCR. Oceanwise & WWF. (2021). About Us. Pawson, C. (2019, Sep. 29). Jody Wilson-Raybould calls for non-partisan approach to climate change. CBC News. Souza, M. D., Meyer, C. (2018, Apr. 8). After relentless protests, Kinder Morgan slams brakes on spending for Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. National Observer.