Or, when social consensus challenges our institutions
In collaboration with the Institut du Nouveau Monde
The scientific community agrees that the current climate crisis is the greatest threat facing humanity, but where do Quebecers stand on this issue? Who has the most influence and who should be responsible for fighting climate change? What solutions show the most promise and what measures are Quebecers willing to accept? That is what we wanted to find out...
What’s at stake
Scientists from all disciplines, journalists and specialists from all walks of life agree that the current climate crisis is undoubtedly the greatest challenge facing humanity. Apocalyptic and irreversible scenarios are emerging that require immediate action if we hope to curb and limit global warming. Life as we know it is threatened over the long term.
However, despite the seriousness of the situation, mobilizing stakeholder engagement remains elusive. Because the burden of economic, social and personal challenges affect people in their immediate present, environmental concerns end up relegated to second place and the consequences of climate change too often viewed as something that will unfold in the future.
Citizens, who are dealing with multiple problems in their daily lives, rank the climate emergency behind more pressing concerns. Eating well and getting proper medical care when needed trump the planet’s future.
The following chart indicates where Quebecers stand.
However, despite the seriousness of the environmental situation, Quebecers are increasingly expressing their socio-political opposition to measures that limit pollution. One in three Quebecers (31%) say they are willing to accept more pollution to preserve jobs. Note that our survey was conducted largely before the media revealed the “arsenic crisis”  at the Horne smelter Rouyn-Noranda.
For government, there is a constant trade-off between their desire to take environmental action and the economic imperatives they face. What’s more, a rising proportion of the population are losing patience with this game of compromise and want to put environmental concerns aside to save jobs.
The following chart illustrates this attitude.
 This controversy began on June 20, 2022, when Radio-Canada revealed that the data linking lung cancer in the region’s population to the level of arsenic in the air around the Horne smelter had been removed from a report on the situation at the request of Dr. Horacio Arruda, the former director of public health.
One might argue that seven out of ten Quebecers (69%) still oppose the proposition in this question, but this indicator’s long-term trend is as surprising as it is concerning.
We can also see this trend at work in the attacks against government initiatives to reduce the carbon footprint of companies by certain neo-conservative groups and conspiracy theorists, who accuse government of wanting to control the lives of its citizens.
The consensus in Quebec
However, despite this latter trend, the social divisions are less pronounced in Quebec than elsewhere in the world. A clear consensus is emerging on several environmental issues.
Firstly, Quebecers believe that global warming is indeed caused by human activity, a position that the Conservative Party of Canada refused to endorse at its March 2021 convention.
Given this, Quebecers also want the various levels of government to invest more in the fight against climate change.
This is confirmed by the relatively low level of satisfaction with the current performance of these same levels of government in their fight against climate change.
The responsibility of all government departments
As for Quebecers’ desire to see governments invest more in the environmental cause, our survey revealed something very interesting. When asked which department should be responsible for fighting climate change, a clear majority (58%) told us that it should be the responsibility of all departments to incorporate environmental criteria into their decision-making processes.
The role of citizens
These findings offer an interesting perspective on the potential for mobilizing Quebecers on the climate issue. Apart from giving up flying and driving a car, which is clearly considered a step too far, a significant proportion of the population have either already adopted the other actions or are prepared to do so if they could. These findings suggest major mobilization opportunities. People may feel powerless but, if given the opportunity, they could contribute; they could engage.
An emerging consensus
From these various findings, we can therefore conclude that there is a clear desire among Quebecers to see our society (individuals, businesses and institutions) take charge of the climate-change issue in a more sustained way. Since this conclusion has been confirmed by our other surveys, we decided to synthesize what we’ve learned so that we can see all our observations in a more holistic fashion. The result: a segmentation of the Quebec population based on all the points of view on climate change in this study.
Types of Quebecers based on their attitude to climate change
1. The Engaged (23%)
The Engaged are the ones for whom the fight against climate change is by far the most important issue (of our proposed choices; see chart 1), and they are strongly convinced that our way of life is destroying the planet. Even though they feel overwhelmed by the issue, they still believe in the effectiveness of individual and community action, while insisting that governments and corporations do much more. They are already putting into practice several measures to significantly reduce their carbon footprint, including flying and driving less. This profile comprises a greater number of childless women and individuals with below-average incomes but higher levels of education.
2. The Conciliatory (17%)
Their attitude toward the climate-change issue is quite similar to The Engaged. They too consider the fight against climate change to be the most important issue of our time (chart 1). However, on one point they differ significantly from The Engaged: most of them agree to tolerate higher levels of pollution to preserve jobs (hence the Conciliatory handle). Most of them are also satisfied with government action on this issue and believe that government is doing what it can. As for measures to reduce their carbon footprint, a majority of them say they are willing to put them into practice but are not necessarily already doing so. This profile comprises a greater number of men and youth under the age of 35 at higher-than-average socioeconomic levels.
3. The Frugal (26%)
Their point of view is less passionate than the first two segments, while still being sensitive to the cause. They are taking action. Most of them try to consume less and buy second-hand goods. They recycle and compost. But above all, they are dissatisfied with the climate-change action taken by government and hope that government will invest more. This profile comprises a greater number of childless individuals over the age of 35.
4. The Procrastinator (35%)
They are very similar to The Frugal. Concerned about environmental protection, they want government to do more but are against tolerating pollution as a trade-off for jobs. However, they are distinguished by their “wait-and-see” attitude. They are waiting. In response to all the proposed actions to reduce their carbon footprint, they say that they “might do it.” If you asked them what is stopping them, they would probably respond that they would certainly get onboard if they were pushed by several mobilization movements to take action to protect the planet. Note that no demographic characteristics are particularly over-represented in this profile.
5. The Insensitive (12%)
They are the polar opposite of The Engaged. They are absolutely untouched by ecological issues. They certainly do not intend to take any action and believe that government should not invest more in this area. In fact, they are totally indifferent to the issues surrounding global warming. This profile comprises a greater number of people at low socio-economic levels (income and education).
A call to action
If we exclude The Insensitive, nine out of 10 Quebecers (89%) belong to population segments for whom global warming is an important issue and who hope to see government and business invest more in it.
Their numbers are impressive and the demand is clear: Quebecers are calling for action and commitment. The future of their children and future generations is at stake. Humanity’s life on Earth should not be allowed to rush headlong towards its doom.
When it comes to companies, Quebecers’ expectations are obvious. Companies must redesign their products and services and their production chains to become carbon neutral. A very large majority of Quebecers reject sacrificing environmental protection on the altar of economic activity.
Consequently, companies and their brands have an opportunity to mobilize their customers and encourage them to get involved in environmental and climate initiatives. Due to their strong appeal to many audiences, brands have the necessary power to engage many different stakeholders – a force for good if put to use.
For government, the situation is more complicated. Reconciling the economy with the environment will never be simple. There are many examples of green initiatives but most industrial facilities in Quebec are far from carbon neutral. The government cannot impose carbon neutrality on everyone without causing enormous economic turmoil and potentially paying a heavy political price.
Nevertheless, in most cases, institutions follow the citizenry in adapting to changing societal values. This is especially true in politics. Elected officials represent the people, immerse themselves in their concerns, and end up offering them policy options that attempt to meet their needs. Let’s hope that this voice of the citizen will be heard!
The data for this CROP survey was collected between June 15 and 21, 2022, through a web panel. A total of 1,000 questionnaires were completed by Quebecers who were at least 18 years of age. The questionnaire consisted of about 15 questions. The results were weighted to reflect the distribution of the study population by gender, age, mother tongue and education. Note that, given the non-probabilistic nature of the sample, the calculation of a margin of error does not apply.