Franklyn Griffiths is a professor emeritus of international politics at the University of Toronto and a member of Toronto350
A great many of us in Canada are troubled by our use of fossil fuels. We are troubled because we know that global warming and the risk of catastrophic climate change come mainly from the burning of fossil carbon, yet we act contrary to our beliefs in filling up the tank and steadily doing so many other things on the ought-not-to-be-done list. Overarching knowledge of what we ought to do is subverted by immediate desires and pressing needs that urge the use of carbon in a user-friendly way of life.
Of course we vary, but overall we live our personal lives with one foot on the brake and the other on the accelerator. We are conflicted. We have come some distance against global warming, only to get stuck as conflicted users of carbon. We don't like being like this, untrue to our values and our idea of ourselves, lacking in self-control and self-respect.
A considerable and possibly vast amount of political energy is caught up in the conflicted user's dilemma. For the good of the Earth and for my own good I want to liberate this energy. I want to come unstuck.
To put this outlook to a test, I placed five questions in a national poll of Canadian opinion taken over two days earlier this month, just as the Bonn meeting of signatories to the Paris accord on climate change was getting underway. I did this as an independent scholar and with the support of the polling firm Forum Research and its analysts.
Respondents were asked to say whether they agreed or disagreed, and how much, with five propositions. I list the propositions together with percentages of those who answered in agreement:
1. Global warming is caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels (75 per cent)
2. Global warming is capable of producing catastrophic climate change (81 per cent)
3. Personally I want to reduce my reliance on fossil fuels (82 per cent)
4. I feel I am doing enough to combat global warming (65 per cent)
5. Personally I feel the tension between meeting my immediate needs and taking action against global warming (69 per cent)
Detailed results by age, gender, income, education, region and political affiliation are available here. They report Canadian opinion as of November, 2017 with a three-per-cent margin of error up or down.
Beliefs and feelings in response to propositions 1-3 are strongly held and widespread, though less so in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Nationally, the numbers in agreement are high. They are in line with a Pew Research Center survey of spring 2015, which had 84 per cent of Canadians in favour of limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
The response to proposition 4 tells us that the beliefs and feelings that are at work in answers to 1-3 have not been fully internalized or taken to heart when it comes to doing something about the warming. We Canadians are simultaneously 82 per cent in favour of using less fossil fuel and 65 per cent satisfied with our actions as they stand. There is a disconnect here.
The disconnect is confirmed in the response to proposition 5, which has 69 per cent of us agreeing that our immediate needs and our need to act against the warming are difficult to reconcile. In my experience, troubled users of carbon tend to believe they are alone in the world. When more than two-thirds of us in a country of 35.2 million indicate that we are conflicted, it's safe to say we each have plenty of company.
In the conflicted-user feeling we have an immense reservoir of political energy. We must find ways to release and channel it into Canadian action for timely decarbonization of the Earth's atmosphere and the world economy.
For starters, we need to talk about the emotional side of global warming as a human-made and human-experienced phenomenon. We should get to know ourselves and test our unvoiced feelings in the light of the scientific consensus on the facts of warming as a process.
The facts say that the warming is a collective-action problem. It is truly global and does not respond well to the activity of individuals as consumers of carbon. But it may yield to the combined efforts of citizens to make fossil carbon useless, which is the aim of the Paris accord.
In the desire to be true to the self, we conflicted users have an incentive to end the disconnect between belief and action in our approach to global warming. The incentive is to be true simultaneously to the self and the Earth in connected activity as citizens for decarbonization now. Let us connect.