Awareness of climate change policy may not matter

Almost 3/4 of those surveyed could not name one BC policy.

According to a new SFU study, the majority of British Columbians are uninformed about provincial climate policies — and that’s all right.

Authored by Jonn Axsen and Mark Jaccard, SFU professors of resource and environmental management, along with PhD candidate Ekaterina Rhodes, the study suggests that widespread knowledge and well-informed citizen support are not necessarily required for implementation of effective climate policies.

In an online survey, 475 residents of British Columbia responded to questions aimed to identify four factors: their awareness and knowledge of climate policies; their support for different climate policies; the relationship between citizen knowledge and policy support; and the effect of information provision on policy support.

Most respondents — 73 per cent — could not name one BC policy. Of the quarter that could name one, the majority identified the carbon tax.

The study points to negative media coverage of the carbon tax and the fact that it was a major talking point in the provincial elections of 2008-2009 as reasons for vast knowledge of the policy. Almost all other policies are unknown to residents of BC.

In addition to the initial questions, there was a second, educational component to the research where respondents were made aware of the various policies and regulations currently implemented by the BC government.

With this new information, over 50 per cent of survey participants responded that they ‘somewhat support’ the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), Clean Electricity Standard (CES), and a carbon neutral government.

The research not only gathered information about participants’ knowledge of provincial climate policies, but also what this lack of knowledge means for policy-making. Jaccard said in a press release, “It appears that most people are not interested in becoming technology and policy experts, even if they are concerned about environmental threats and expect government and industry to address them.”

The study hinted that other strategies may be helpful in inspiring citizens’ interest in and support of climate policy-making. These include cultivating public trust in government, industry and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and creating arms-length regulatory agencies that have a sustainability policy mandate.

Nevertheless, Axsen said, “Maybe it is better for some policies to do their work in the background, shifting us towards a low-carbon economy, while citizens go about their normal lives.”