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Are Canadians really connecting with environmental issues?

This week marks the release of the World Wildlife Fund’s 2014 Living Planet Report. It found that Canada has the 11th highest ecological footprint in the world, even though it ranks 37th in terms of population. Additionally, our Canadian lifestyle requires nearly 7 global hectares of resources per person, but the planet can only support 1.7 global hectares per person (a global hectare is about the size of a soccer field). As a nation we are consuming far more than our share. 

Contributing to the problem, in 2010, Canada ranked 15th of 17 countries for per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Without further action, Canada will not meet its 2020 emissions targets agreed to in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord.

So are Canadians really connecting with environmental issues?  

Figure 1 highlights some of the attitudes of Canadians toward the environment.

 Figure 1: Environmental attitudes of Canadians 

environmental attitudes of Canadians

Sources: 1OECD, 2014; 2 Pembina Institute, 2014; 3The Guardian, 2014

While Canadians seem to be concerned about environmental issues, there certainly are some naysayers in our midst. Encouragingly, data from CIW’s Community Wellbeing Surveys reveal that most people, in the five communities we surveyed, agree they have a responsibility to help protect the environment (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Percentage of Community Wellbeing Survey respondents who agree they have a personal responsibility to protect the natural environment4Percentage of Community Wellbeing Survey respondents who agree they have a personal responsibility to protect the natural environment

4Based on a 7-point scale and includes respondents who stated they agree, strongly agree, and very strongly agree with the statement, “I have a personal responsibility to help protect the natural environment."

It is great that Canadians want to help, but are we willing to take action? Let’s take a closer look at our Community Wellbeing Survey data to see how people include environmental conservation in their daily lives. 

Household Environmental Practices

Most people regularly reduce, reuse, and recycle (see Figure 3). It is interesting to note that we recycle at higher rates than either reducing household waste or reusing materials – likely because it is easier. Consuming fewer goods – the best method to reduce household waste – and reusing materials require larger lifestyle changes for most people.

We challenge Canadians to be as conscious of the first 2R’s as the last. 

Figure 3: Percentage of Community Wellbeing Survey respondents who regularly reduce, reuse, and recycle materials5

Percentage of Community Wellbeing Survey respondents who regularly reduce, reuse, and recycle materials

5Based on a 5-point scale and includes respondents who stated they regularly, quite often, and all of the time participate in the environmental practice.

Getting Around

Next we look at how many people regularly use a different form of transportation other than driving a car (see Figure 4). In the five communities surveyed, only about one-third of residents regularly use alternative transportation modes, with the exception of Victoria at 54%, which has a more temperate climate.

Although not everyone has access to public transportation or safe and convenient walking or cycling routes, 81% of Canadians live in urban areas suggesting that most of us have some choice in our method of transportation.

Public transportation can be inconvenient or inaccessible for some citizens. Governments need to address public transit issues before more Canadians will be able to reduce car dependency and resulting GHG emissions.

Figure 4: Percentage of Community Wellbeing Survey respondents who regularly walk, bike, or take public transit, rather than drive their car6

Percentage of Community Wellbeing Survey respondents who regularly walk, bike, or take public transit, rather than drive their car

6Based on a 5-point scale and includes respondents who stated they regularly, quite often, and all of the time use an alternative form of transportation such as walking, biking, or taking public transit.

Municipal government policies creating positive change

Throughout Canada, local governments are creating policies with the environment in mind. Figure 5 provides a few great examples of environmentally progressive municipal policies and practices.

Figure 5: How local governments are working toward environmental sustainability7

How local governments are working toward environmental sustainability

Sources: 1FCM Sustainable Communities Awards 2 City of Toronto 3City of Whitehorse4Canadian Partnership for Children's Health & Environment

Connecting the Environment with our Wellbeing

The environment is the foundation of all human societies and the source of our sustained wellbeing. That is why the CIW measures and track changes in this area of our lives. Since Canadians really are connecting with environmental issues, we need to follow this with action at both the individual and societal level. Individually, people can incorporate good environmental practices in their daily lives. If you aren’t sure where to start, calculate your ecological footprint and get some ideas on what you can do to reduce it.

Even with lifestyle changes though, Canadians can’t do it alone. We need government policies that have an impact on the areas that are beyond individual reach.

We need to put pressure on all levels of government to connect the environment with other policy areas like transportation, if we are to strengthen environmental policies and practices. Our wellbeing depends upon it.

How do you plan to reduce your ecological footprint? What progressive environmental projects are underway in your community? Tweet @ciwnetwork #wellbeing

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