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A woman looks at a wind-energy display in Copenhagen on Friday, December 11, 2009.


In the run-up to Copenhagen, I designed a series of questions that my colleagues at Harris Decima added to a nationwide public opinion poll last week. The results are being made public here, for the first time, starting today and continuing for a couple more posts.

The idea was to shed a bit of light on what might seem like contradictions in public opinion, but that I see as different dimensions of how Canadians come at the environment (and many other issues for that matter).

Let's start with the question of how people feel the world is doing at addressing environmental concerns.

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In this new poll, half of the full sample of 1,000, randomly selected, was asked if they agreed with the statement that "the world is making too little progress on environmental issues." Fully 78 per cent said they agreed, which would leave you with the clear impression that there is a sense of urgency felt by most Canadians. An interpretation that would be accurate, but at the same time limited in the insight it offers.

There's a separate dimension that needs to be understood here. The other 500 people in the sample were read a different statement: "I think the world is making progress on many environmental issues," to which 69 per cent said they agreed. The fact that people think the world is not starting at square one in tackling environmental issues moderates their level of anxiety, and heightens their optimism about our collective ability to succeed in meeting the serious challenges facing the planet.

So what are the implications of these numbers for business, environmental NGOs and political leaders?

Certainly one headline is the environment remains a massively shared priority, and that almost everyone wants to see more effort and better results. More than anything else, corporate and political leaders must avoid appearing indifferent or intransigent on climate change and other environmental concerns.

Having said that, the findings also signal that this priority is nuanced, that the public is worried but also somewhat hopeful based on the progress they see going on already. This affords breathing room to find the best possible solutions, compared to situations when fear or outrage dominate opinion and inspire a rush to action, sometimes ill considered.

In Canada, not the most partisan place in the world by any stretch of the imagination, it's really not that hard to keep it between the lines. The majority of Green Party, NDP and Bloc supporters agree that the world is making progress, even if they fervently want more. The majority of Conservative supporters agree that the world isn't doing enough, even though they are more comfortable than others with the progress being made.

Some will see these numbers as evidence that Canadians are incoherent or inconsistent. I see exactly the opposite: the Canadian habit of blending progressive and pragmatic values.

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Tomorrow, what do people feel about the importance of Copenhagen?

(Photo: A woman looks at a wind-energy display in Copenhagen today. Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images)

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About the Author
Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson is the chairman of polling firm Abacus Data, a regular member of the At Issue panel on CBC’s The National and a founding partner of i2 Ideas and Issues Advertising. He has done polls for Liberal and Conservative politicians but no longer does any partisan work. More

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