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Alain Giguère

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Do you believe in the ecological apocalypse? - And The Twilight of the Gods by Richard Wagner

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 09-26-19 at 3:39 p.m.

Three out of four people in Canada (77 %) believe that we are in the process of destroying the planet!

And not only is this unfortunate view beginning to gain consensus among the Canadian population, but the proportion of people who believe it has been increasing steadily and consistently for the last six years (from 61% in 2013)!

In this week of global mobilization on climate issues, an analysis of Canadian public opinion on this matter seemed particularly relevant to me.

Even though the opinions of climate sceptics occasionally pop up in the media and certain politicians try to diminish the importance of climate issues (when faced with short-term economic priorities, for instance), Canadians, for their part, are more and more convinced that human activity is playing a very detrimental, even hostile, role vis-à-vis the planet. The graph below illustrates the rise of this viewpoint in public opinion.

From 2013 to 2019, the proportion of people in the country who agree with the statement "I really believe that the way we consume and live is leading to the complete destruction of the planet" has risen from 61% to 77% (a proportion that now stands at 81% in Quebec and 76% in English Canada, the latter being consistent in every province outside Quebec). A very strong statement that could have elicited more restraint by respondents, which indicates how serious and troubling Canadians consider the situation.

Moreover, during the same period (from 2013 to 2019), the proportion of the population who believe that "the world is heading for disaster: we will not make it through the next 10 or 20 years without major upheavals" has risen from 54% to 60%! This is not about a few "collapsologists" harping on their vision of a disintegrating civilization: we're talking about three out of five people in the country!

Nevertheless,  I want to point out that there is a sizable difference between those who "totally agree" with these statements and those who "somewhat agree."

Of those 77% of Canadians who agree with the statement that "we are in the process of  destroying everything," the majority (50%) "somewhat agree," while only half of this proportion ( 27%) "totally agree" (31% in Quebec). Which is really not surprising, given the  strength of the statement.

A call to action?

Such results might lead one to believe that-similar to the current mobilization of young people to force institutions to commit to saving the planet-the people concerned about the planet's degradation would try to take some "lifesaving" action.

However, another of our indicators shows that the population has not yet massively adopted new, more ecological habits. In fact, as the following chart shows, only 32% of Canadians say they are doing something concrete to reduce their impact on the environment (I am only accounting for those who "totally agree" because to "somewhat agree" to do something in a survey is not very convincing!)

Perhaps not everyone is fully aware of or informed about everything they can take to reduce their carbon footprint. What's more, many people believe that large corporations are the main culprits, that our entire fossil-fuel-based economy is to blame for our ecological woes, and that individuals on their own can't do much.

On this issue, the generational differences are striking and eloquent. While 27% of Canadians believe that we are destroying everything on the surface of the planet, this proportion rises to 35% among 18-34 year-olds and falls to 21% among those 55 and older. Young people are therefore more firmly convinced that our way of life is profoundly detrimental to the planet.

On the other hand, although 32% of Canadians say they are doing something concrete to reduce their impact on the environment, this proportion drops to 28% among 18- to 34-year-olds, while rising to 38% among those 55 and older (a 10-point difference between these two large generational groups!)

Young people are therefore more likely to believe that the planet is doomed, but much less likely to do something about it!

But we can't put all young people in the same basket. This week, huge numbers of them will denounce institutional inaction to our environmental problems. But in the general population, young people are less eager to take personal action, which is not necessarily a contradiction, since they believe that the fault lies with the big economic players who are not sufficiently regulated.

Very similar visions of life and personal values

Those most inclined to believe that the planet is doomed and those who say they are doing things to limit their impact on the environment, as well as the youngest and the oldest respondents on these issues, have very similar values ​​and mental postures.

Basically, all of these individuals are deeply motivated by a keen need for personal development. They share the feeling that they have undeniable but underutilized personal potential and need to push themselves to their limits, but they feel blocked by societal constraints. They see the climatic sword of Damocles as an obstacle that is slowing down their momentum in life.

On the other hand, what distinguishes young people from the older people, from those who are doing something to reduce their carbon footprint from those who are less active, is their critical attitude to large corporations, which leads them to express infinitely more virulent attitudes toward companies, who they hold responsible for all of the planet's environmental problems (not to mention the social problems for which they are also responsible).

Trends that will certainly change society and our priorities!

These apparent contradictions and divergences should dissipate in the coming years. The steady rise in our survey indicators goes hand in hand with the increasing prominence the media is giving to the planet's ecological problems and the scientific information on the subject. And we don't expect the importance the media gives to these issues will diminish in the coming years. Everything leads us to suppose that people's awareness of these issues will continue to evolve. New generations are bound to be even more concerned as environmental problems worsen each year (Greta Thunberg is only 16 years old).

Not all Canadians troubled by with these issues will be out on the streets on September 27, on the day of a UN General Assembly, but awareness is marching forward and it would be very surprising if it fizzled out.

People will increasingly demand that institutions and companies make significant commitments to these solving these problems. They will demand concrete actions. They will also want them to help people make choices and embrace more ecological lifestyles. Ultimately to decarbonise our economies (with realistic deadlines, of course).

Brands, companies and institutions: the threats and the opportunities

Companies and brands will have to act. They have no choice. Products brought to market, as well as their manufacture and supply chains, must be carbon neutral. And leadership will pay off. The first to embrace the movement will be rewarded. Just as those who ignore it will be penalized.

The decarbonisation of the economy will create enormous commercial and economic opportunities, just as it will for the individuals who join this movement.

Governments will also have to act. They will have to regulate more, notably by putting in place truly effective carbon taxes that will have a real impact and help companies transform themselves.

The current crisis and the ones to come have one positive aspect: they will be engines of change.

Götterdämmerung by Richard Wagner (The Twilight of the Gods, the last opera in The Ring of the Nibelung)

For my operatic clip of the week, I find myself turning again to Götterdämmerung by Wagner. When it comes to apocalypse, this opera is the quintessential piece, the ultimate metaphor for the destruction of the world caused by greed and heedlessness.

Here, the apocalypse comes at the end of The Ring cycle, in the last production of the Metropolitan Opera of New York, directed by Robert Lepage. It is also the scene in which the famous sinister ring is returned to its guardians at the bottom of the Rhine.

Richard Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen, Debora Voigt, Jay Hunter Morris, Hans-Peter Koning, Waltraude Meier, Irin Paterson, Wendy Bryn Harmer, The Metropolitain Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Fabio Luisi (Cond.), Robert Lepage (Prod.), Deutsche Grammophon, New York, 2012.