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Poll suggests most Canadians pessimistic about fighting climate change

But that attitude has to change before it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, said Megan Leslie of the World Wildlife Fund Canada, which commissioned the online Environics poll
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A women paddle boards along Lake Ontario in the extreme heat in Toronto on Friday, July 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Most Canadians aren't optimistic about humanity's chances of fighting climate change, a new survey suggests.

But that attitude has to change before it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, said Megan Leslie of the World Wildlife Fund Canada, which commissioned the online Environics poll.

"That's what keeps me up at night," said Leslie.  

"People in Canada have environmental anxiety but a lot of them think we've gone too far, that we can't reverse those impacts. People don't understand what solutions look like."

The poll, which queried 1,000 Canadians in late August, found that they worried about their environmental future. 

It found 67 per cent of respondents were at least somewhat pessimistic about the planet. Almost as many — 65 per cent — believe the Earth's climate is at a tipping point and that time to act is short. 

Fourteen per cent believe it's already too late.  

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

Sarah Roberton of Environics said respondents in its survey reflected the overall Canadian population as closely as possible.

She also said that while the survey echoed other work the company has done in the past, the pessimism of the responses stood out. 

"That really struck me," Roberton said. "In general, what we see is that Canadians tend toward optimism."

Roberton suggested that while environmental challenges such as climate change and species loss are front and centre with the public, talk about solutions isn't. She said the survey also showed that 80 per cent of Canadians couldn't say what a nature-based solution — planting trees to absorb carbon, for example — consists of. 

"Canadians see the challenges of climate and biodiversity in high relief," Roberton said. "They don't see the solutions with that same degree of focus."

It's a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem, Leslie admitted — pessimists don't act, but action reduces pessimism.

"It's incredibly important that we take action. It's equally important to show Canadians the possibilities, to show the solutions that are possible."

Leslie said she hopes to use the survey to steer the conversation to what can be done. Measures such as planting trees, restoring and protecting wetlands and bringing depleted landscapes back to life can help, she said. 

"Nature is a solution. One-third of our global greenhouse gas emissions come from the destruction of nature — when we drain those wetlands or dig up that coastline."

Her group plans to restore at least one million hectares of damaged landscape to its former state, bringing back habitat for wild animals and sequestering carbon in the soils and plants. It plans to help "steward" another hundred million hectares, doing what it can to keep that landscape healthy.

The World Wildlife Fund said it can reduce Canadian carbon emissions by 30 million tonnes just by supporting and implementing nature-based climate solutions. 

It can be hard to imagine that individual actions add up to much, said Leslie. But that's the only thing that ever does. 

"There are a lot of things chipping away at that sense of 'we' and weakening those bonds," she said. "It was important to us to send that message that you can be a part of something bigger."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2021.

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960.

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press