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One Canadian out of four is climate skeptic (and Wagner’s Das Rheingold Redux)

Categories: Alain Giguère

Posted on 02-17-17 at 3:56 p.m.

When money trumps facts!

I will continue where I left off last week with more commentary on the Trump administration. This time, I am turning my attention to the men nominated to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and former Texas governor Rick Perry, respectively-two ardent Republicans whom I find intriguing.

When Mr. Trump announced their nominations, the American media decried their climate-change skepticism in light of their incipient responsibilities. Both men defended their positions, saying that they didn't totally deny the impact of human activity on climate change, but that it has been greatly exaggerated and that the science is far from conclusive on the subject. (More here).

During his campaign, even Mr. Trump publically stated on Twitter that "the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive."

Again, while we frequently hear these kinds of opinions emanating from the United States, I am very surprised that a significant proportion of Canadians share this point of view. Almost one in four Canadians (23%) believes that if the climate is changing, it is Nature's way and not dangerous for the Earth, and rejects the idea that climate change is caused by human activity. Nevertheless, about three out of four Canadians (77%) support the contrary view.

Also very interesting are the regional variations and demographics associated with climate skepticism. Alberta has the highest proportion of climate skeptics, at 35% of the population, with the lowest levels found in the Maritimes (15%) and Québec (17%). Men, people 45 to 54 years of age, low-income earners, technicians and people without a university education are the groups with the highest levels of climate skeptics.

There is obviously an economic factor underlying these finding. Feeling economically vulnerable has led these Canadians to filter the scientific information presented to them via abundant media coverage, and to take refuge in a less threatening point of view. Here too, as I suggested in my lead, money (financial considerations) trumps (the scientific) facts.


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As we know, much of Canada's GDP depends on fossil fuel, the main culprit of climate change. Those most convinced that human activity is responsible are the ones arguing for conversion to alternative energy sources, which would negatively impact jobs and economic activity in regions dependent on fossil-fuel industries. Mr. Trump understands this very well and has used it for political gain.

When we look at the personal values and mental postures of these climate skeptics, we find that they have a very conservative profile, dominated by a very Darwinian view of life today. They see the economy as a pitiless jungle where anyone can be thrown out at a drop of a hat, where you need to fight constantly to keep your place. Their conservatism is a self-protective reflex to make them invulnerable to information perceived as threatening.


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An economic-solidarity and education challenge

How do you expect the country comes to terms with Alberta's anti-climate-change policies if a third of its population refuses to believe in climate change and feels economically threatened? Ditto for the country as a whole if every time we want to move ahead with alternative energy policies, one in four Canadians feels threatened.

Too often, the public assume that energy policies addressing climate change will take a heavy economic toll. A strategy to retrain and relocate the workforce needs to be at the centre of any energy vision (to mitigate the impact of the carbon tax, pipeline regulations, the development of green energy, etc.). Education and dissemination of scientific knowledge should also be included in these strategies.

I believe it is imperative for companies to be socially engaged, to play a key role in supporting the communities affected by energy strategies: with training and relocation of labour; with the education need to support multiple socio-community initiatives.

I believe we should view these findings as an opportunity for social and community action, rather than an opening for the kind of populist politics on display by the new American administration!

The theft of the Rhinegold, in the opera of the same name, as the initial violation of the ecological and cosmic order

As I discussed in my first blog post, Wagner's opera, Das Rheingold, is a good illustration of this societal phenomenon, although in reverse, in that it represents the majority view (human activity as the cause of global warning).

Wagner's epic work, Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), can be interpreted many ways.

But we can certainly give it an ecological interpretation. The Rhinegold in this narrative is a unifying life force, one that regulates harmony with the cosmos. The theft of the gold by the dwarf, Alberich (the Nibelung), jeopardizes this balance of life and nature, just as humanity's carbon footprint upsets the planet's harmony. The video clip shows us the theft of the gold in a production by Robert Lepage at the Met in New York in 2010. I see it as a metaphor for Man's excessive consumption of the planet's resources. (According to Global Footprint Network, on Monday, August 8, 2016, humanity had exhausted all the resources that the planet can renew in a year, and was therefore operating an ecological deficit for the rest of the year!

Wagner: Das Rheingold, James Levine, The Metropolitain Opera, produced by Robert Lepage, New York, 2010, Deutsche Grammophon.