Misinformation is ubiquitous these days, and no area is more affected than climate change. A lack of knowledge about climate solutions and how to implement them, combined with intentional greenwashing by government and the oil and gas industry, has misinformed millions of Canadians.

No wonder so many of us are confused: about the impact of climate change, the urgency of addressing the threat, and the effectiveness of solutions.

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Last fall, EcoA asked several questions in its national climate change survey to understand how well Canadians understand industry and government greenwashing, how much they know about climate impacts and solutions, and how much they are influenced by misinformation. Respondents were asked to rate true and false statements, which helped us assess the level of knowledge, uncertainty, and prevalence of misinformation in a sample of 1,750 people across six regions. The results were mixed, but shed some light on where and how misinformation can be tackled.

The good news is that most respondents understand that climate change is real and man-made. A large majority (80%) were also aware that rising oil and gas prices were one of the main reasons for the rise in the cost of living over the past year. In Quebec and British Columbia in particular, as many as 61% know that oil and gas companies have knowingly misled government and the public for years about the link between burning fossil fuels and climate change.

The bad news is that respondents appeared uncertain or misinformed on many other issues. Many were unsure about the effectiveness of renewable energy and other climate solutions. For example, 34% were unsure whether an industrial economy could run on renewable energy alone, and 33% believed it could not. (*Spoilers: It can.)

Many survey participants were also unsure about the environmental benefits attributed to potential solutions. When presented with the false claim that manufacturing solar panels emits more carbon than the panels actually save over their lifetime, 49% were unsure and 23% believed the lie. Others were puzzled about the personal impact of climate solutions: 29% were unsure if protecting soil would drive up housing prices, and 28% believed it would. More than a third said they were unsure of the true claims that doctors believe climate change is a public health emergency (36%) or that renewable energy prices are more stable than oil and gas (33%) .

Much of this misinformation comes from industry and developers casting doubt, but a lack of good information is also to blame. This is not supported by irresponsible government claims, such as the notion that Canada can continue to expand oil and gas production and still meet its emission reduction targets. Only 37% of respondents correctly labeled this as a false statement, while 30% were unsure.

Responses did not differ significantly across the country, although people in Quebec and BC were more likely to see through the misinformation than their Alberta counterparts. But in general, uncertainty is high across the country. This confirms other surveys by Learning for a Sustainable Future (LSF), a charity working to integrate sustainability education into Canada’s school systems. LSF found that 45% of respondents don’t know what causes climate change and 80% want more information to form a better opinion.

However, despite the confusion caused by misinformation and greenwashing, there may be a positive side to these findings. In all cases, the majority of respondents identified the truth in each statement, while only a minority answered incorrectly. And uncertainty offers the opportunity to fill knowledge gaps with solid evidence, information and concrete solutions. Research from EcoAnalytics and others shows that most Canadians are concerned about climate change, want to know more about it, and prefer more government action, not less. They also support solutions to this existential crisis. Their uncertainty and doubts relate to the details, implementation and personal impact of climate solutions.

So now it’s time to fill those knowledge gaps: we know what they are, how to design the counter-narratives, and where the solutions lie. The legions of Canadians who say they are unsure could be future supporters of serious climate action if climate communicators can reach them with clear evidence, tangible solutions, and concrete actions—all delivered in compelling narrative frameworks.

Stay tuned for more: Findings from EcoA’s April research round looked at frameworks and messages to build support for three potentially transformative federal policies — an oil and gas emissions cap, a clean power standard, and Regulations in Support of Canada’s 2030 Biodiversity Goals. This major national survey will also discuss the power of the various embassies vaccinate Canadians, on the other hand, or help them see through misinformation: prebunker and debunking, as communications specialists like to say.

The EcoAnalytics climate change survey was developed by Dr. Erick Lachapelle, Professor of Political Science at the University of Montréal.

Kate McMahon is a project manager at EcoAnalytics.


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