Monday, February 05, 2007

Green Answers - 1

Last week, I asked for thoughts on a few questions related to the environment as an issue in the next campaign. Since posting some of your answers with my own two cents tossed in guarantees me six post ideas, I think I'll take a page from the Globe and start my own little environmental series.


Question 1. Why did the environment suddenly become such a major issue? Something pushed it over the tipping point, but what?

Some Answers:

-An Inconvenient Truth

-Warm weather in Central Canada, strange weather in B.C.

-Dion winning the Liberal leadership after campaigning as the 'Green' candidate.

-The Cons fumbles on the issue, and subsequent public attempts to change their image on the topic.

-Media references

-The tipping point was Katrina.

-While we've been hearing about it for a long time I don't think that people really started believing in it until they saw the warm weather this winter, and the freak storms in BC. The fact that they're finally seeing proof of global warming makes them that much more concerned about the government doing nothing.

-Big issue because it is the media's new darling. Now, whenever there is a storm anywhere in our quadrant of the globe it's a news story. Global Warming is a godsend to slow news days.

-People love hysterical the-end-is-near stories for some reason. The environment was big some time ago-rain forest depletion,hole in the ozone,Earth Day. We've had national unity crisis/distinct society, Y2K. imminent nuclear holocaust, peak oil etc.The real story is how opinion polls reflect whatever "crisis" bored jounalists focus on.

-The question is not "Why did the environment suddenly become a major issue?" but rather "Why did the media suddenly make the environment such a major issue?" Everyone here knows that if the media decided Quebec separation was the issue to follow nobody would be talking about the environment.

-I think it's all media buzz. Not to say that the issue is unimportant, but a comparable amount of information concerning environmental issues has been in the public domain for decades.

-The tipping point was a Conservative government. Hurricane Katrina, An Inconvenient Truth, and an unseasonably mild winter all happened last year - before and during the 2005/6 election.
[...]
The existence of a relatively competent (and not scary) Conservative government meant that for the Liberals, there was more to be gained by galvanizing the left. In the leadership race, they effectively endorsed such a strategy by choosing Dion over Ignatieff.

-Oh and the other effect (a more long-term one) is demographic. There are 3 million new eligible voters under the age of 25 (so born in 1982-1989). They grew up with Captain Planet, and a lot of other consciousness-raising stuff. The youth voting percentage is up too, so that adds to the effect.

-The ball was rolling, but I really believe based on my family and friends that this winter has accelerated the roll.

-If I had to pick one "tipping" factor, it would be strange weather.


My Take:

There are lots of plausible theories above and it's obviously a collection of all of them. I think it would be extremely naive to disregard the impact the media has played in all of this. The reason Canadians are telling pollsters the environment is important for them is because they're reading about the environment in newspapers so it's fresh in their minds when they get asked to name an issue during a phone survey. I suspect that if you gave people a list of issues and had them think it over for an hour before voting, the environment wouldn't score quite as high (but, on the flip side, it would have garnered more than the 4% it used to get in these polls).

However, I don't think it's fair to say the issue has been created by the media. It's not like the media never talked about the environment before - just check out these numbers posted by a commentator (trying to show the issue was media driven):

From a search of the ProQuest database for Canadian media references to "global warming":
2003: 3,437
2004: 4,213
2005: 6,267
2006: 10,857

So even if the environment has become the new darling of the media, they've been talking about it for years. Columnists wouldn't write about it if people didn't care and newspapers wouldn't report on it if there wasn't some news. So the real question is what caused the dramatic rise in media mentions?

I'm not sure it's necessarily the weather, like a lot of people suggest. We've had balmy winters before, and between El Nino, La Nina, Santa Maria, and whatever other bizarre weather trends we've seen over the years, fluky weather isn't anything new. And I can't for the life of me imagine Canadians saying "gosh, I haven't had to shovel as much snow this winter - something MUST be done!!!". Plus, the real jump in public opinion seems to have occurred over the summer; this July poll was when we first saw it as a major issue for Canadians, long before the wacky winter weather.

I do put a lot of stock in the political theories some have suggested. The Tories raised expectations and bungled the file, giving the other parties a chance to make it a wedge issue. The Greens got a real environmentalist as a leader and the Green Sign Guy won the Liberal convention. It's been clear for a while that opposition parties were never going to scare people away from the Tories on social issues, so they needed something new to attack Harper on - why not the environment?

As for the increased public attention? While there are hundreds of factors, if I had to pick one, I think I might have to put my money on An Inconvenient Truth. People listen to Hollywood and I really do think that Gore's powerpoint presentation created a lot of "word of mouth" hype on the issue. It obviously wasn't the only factor, but if I had to pick one, that's where I'd put my vote.

19 Comments:

  • I would actually play down the media aspect of this story. I am 43, and for the past 15-20 years I have been seeing enviro impacts close to home that might be "consistant" with global warming. The winters get milder in Toronto, you didn't used to have to tip over bird feeders because the mosquitos could give you West Nile, you used to have crows and blue-jays and now they're all gone, because of West Nile...etc. etc.

    Media doesn't invent stories when they are science based. For the same reason, I don't think this issue will go away. Media will have to report, whether they want to or not.

    By Blogger bigcitylib, at 8:24 PM  

  • Its the erratic weather.
    It impacts every demographic equally.
    Gores film is good but not everyone has the ability to see it.

    By Blogger WestmountLiberal, at 9:25 PM  

  • I think the larger question is: will the environment be a ballot box issue.

    I think if there's an election this year, yes. If next year, not so much. As I've commented on this blog and on my own blog, people's eyes tend to glaze over when it's "all environment news all the time" and frankly, I can't see this issue having staying power for a further twelve months. Moreover, Stephane Dion is emerging as a one issue leader and that doesn't bode well for Liberal fortunes twelve months down the road.

    By Blogger Sean Cummings, at 9:35 PM  

  • Last week, the financial press reported that "green" cars have bombed with the public. Polls show that Canadians are against higher taxes on gas and against toll roads.
    If the Conservatives can make Canadians understand how much Kyoto would cost them in economic hardship while selling another plan, they will come out ahead.Dion is a one trick pony.

    By Blogger nuna d. above, at 9:44 PM  

  • Hmmmmm. You know, I do think there might be something to the idea of the Tories bungling the issue, thereby heaping attention on it. Wouldn't have thought of it as a tipping point myself (though I certainly said at the time they were out to lunch), but perhaps it was.

    Very interesting.

    The media has always written about the environment, from Grade school onwards. It's certainly getting a great deal more play now, though.

    By Blogger Jason Bo Green, at 9:53 PM  

  • Gore's film is good, yes - but do not omit to rent Who Killed The Electric Car?, all. It makes a fine double bill - or watch it on its own.

    By Blogger Jason Bo Green, at 9:54 PM  

  • I'd opt away from the weather, personally. Maybe having lived in Calgary for quite a few years, but I think people are used to changes in weather. Yes, the warm weather (and other stuff like Katrina) makes you think about it, but not too much overall.

    Really, whoever mentioned the "hysterical the-end-is-near" stories is probably about right. The media picks up on something, and between the weather, the conervative government/Bush admin, the hubub about us doing nothing with Kyoto, and Gore's film, it latched on.

    Media loves to run stories against the government. "Government cuts taxes" doesn't sell as well as "Government cuts programs". And with the Conservatives (and Liberals before them) doing basically nothing on the file, the media just decided to run with it.

    By Blogger UWHabs, at 10:14 PM  

  • Big City Lib should go back to science class and learn the difference between climate and weather. The two are not synonomous.

    It is impossible in the lifetime of a human being to detect climate change. It is probably impossible in the whole timeframe of modern humans to detect climate change.

    There is no empirical evidence to tell what the weather was like 5000 years ago. It could have been warmer than now or it could have been colder. We dont know.

    Warming and cooling periods last tens of thousands of years. Currently the glaciers are receeding as is normal in the warming period between ice ages. It is entirely possible that this cycle has occurred hundreds of times before but we cant ever know that. We CANNOT know how fast the changes normally occur. They happened too long ago.

    In the 70s August was the hot month in Canada, in the 80s it was july but august was cooler than before. In the early 90s June and early july were hot but august was cool. Now mid to late july is hot and so is the first half of august. These are normal fluctuations.

    But none of that is climate. It is weather. In the 30s it was ugly hot and very dry all across North America. Were humans responsible for that????

    This hysteria has to calm down and rational people have to be heard from and not silenced. This fraud has picked up way too much steam.

    By Blogger renegadejet, at 10:25 PM  

  • Unfortunately for Dion, he has about 3 more weeks of having the environment as an important issue...then it will fall back to 7th or 8th on Canadian's list of priorities where it naturally resides.

    --

    By Blogger le politico, at 11:06 PM  

  • I think it is a combination of factors. I also think Canadians are generally cynical of governments so whatever is the weakest point for the current government tends to be a major issue. Remember how ethics was right behind health care back in 2005, but now barely registers. Wherever the governing party is weakest will be high on the priority. In addition I think the fact the science is saying the threat is more imminent and more severe is causing people to become more alarmed than before when it was seen as something future generations would have to deal with.

    Ironically right now we are experiencing really unusually cold weather in the Eastern half of the country. I wonder if thats why all the reports denying the science are coming out this week. Perhaps whenever we get a cold spell, the skeptics use that to argue global warming doesn't exist when in fact even if temperatures do increase, that doesn't mean we won't still get cold snaps. If anything I've found we've been having more extreme weather on all sides, not just warmer than normal, but rather rapid changes from week to week, which is definitely not good.

    By Blogger Miles Lunn, at 12:20 AM  

  • "Perhaps whenever we get a cold spell, the skeptics use that to argue global warming doesn't exist when in fact even if temperatures do increase, that doesn't mean we won't still get cold snaps. If anything I've found we've been having more extreme weather on all sides, not just warmer than normal, but rather rapid changes from week to week, which is definitely not good. "

    Once again someone confuses weather with climate.

    Miles, go take some science courses and learn some math and statistics. Your reasoning is faulty.

    By Blogger renegadejet, at 12:26 AM  

  • Actually, renegadejet, I do statistics in real life.

    And actually, there IS evidence telling us what climate conditions were like 5,000 years ago, even 500,000,000 years ago (it was really, really cold). You have written a couple hundred words of total tripe, and are presumably hoping that readers of this blog don't have any scientific background or training and are too lazy to even use google.

    By Blogger bigcitylib, at 7:20 AM  

  • I think it's a mistake to put the awareness of Global Warming down to a single factor. There's the broader underlying reason that this is a real problem and we've got overwhelming evidence to support it and are getting more all the time. After a while it get's harder and harder to ignore it and simply hope it will go away.

    What I'd find more interesting is an analysis as to why people reject the notion. For instance why do most creationists reject Global Warming. Are they somehow more scientificly grounded in their outlook than the rest of us or is there some kind of connection?

    By Blogger Jose, at 8:17 AM  

  • Actually, there is empirical evidence to tell us what climate was like 5000 years ago. Not only do we have ice core samples with representative air bubbles going back 600000 years -- these we can correlate with tree rings for the past thousand years to calibrate -- but we also have the sedimentation record. The layers of sediment are closely correlated with past vegetation.

    By Blogger LeoPetr, at 8:18 AM  

  • I think one factor was Jim Harris's very smart decision to run a GP candidate in each & every riding (or at least, come very close to doing so) in '04 and '06.

    First of all, it elevated the GP above the level of all the other so-called fringe parties out there, who are usually thrilled to get anywhere close to 50 candidates. All of a sudden, the GP was a level above your Libertarians, Communists, Christian Heritage's, etc.

    Second, thanks to the new party funding legislation, running candidates everywhere made it much more likely that the GP would make it across the threshold of votes needed to get public money. (I think that threshold was recently struck down in Ontario, subject to appeal, but the GP made it before that happened.)

    Both of those things got the GP more attention from the media, and more resources. It didn't get Harris invited to the leaders' debates in '06, but it did get him one of those special sit-downs with Peter Mansbridge, and at least some day-by-day media during the campaign. And of course, it also meant more money.

    And that made the GP much more attractive to someone with pre-existing media cred. like Elizabeth May, once Harris quit.

    (Question for any GP insiders - did Harris "jump", or was he "pushed"?)

    Anyway, sorry to go on for so long, but the point is that because of Harris being smart enough to see the benefits of running even a paper candidate in every riding, the GP became much more of a prominent fixture on the landscape. That alone didn't put enviro issues on the map, but it sure helped.

    By Blogger Jason Hickman, at 8:25 AM  

  • Why did the environment suddenly become such a major issue? Something pushed it over the tipping point, but what?

    The answer to both questions is that the Liberals were booted out of power. When they were in power, neither they nor the Conservatives cared to raise the issue. But now that they're out of power, the Liberals are using the issue to hammer away at Harper. And by doing so they've forced Harper to respond. So now we have the two main parties both yipping about global warming which in turn causes the media to kick into overdrive about it too.

    You can see this is true by looking at what the major media issue was two years ago. Aside from Adscam, healthcare was the topic du jour. And the reason was because the Conservatives were using it to hammer away at the Liberals which forced them to respond giving the media a healthcare stiffy. Now, not so much because neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives have raised the issue over the past year. Had the Liberals remained in power, it would still be the number one issue.

    And I'd bet that if you looked at the major issues du jour in the past, the reason they were the issues du jour had to do with the opposition party using them as a cudgel.

    By Blogger Robert McClelland, at 8:27 AM  

  • Rant mode ON:

    Somebody better tell Mark Holland to shut up and get a clue before he destroys the country.

    Ontario know-nothing yahoo MP goes West and declares Albertans are evil, and that the Liberals will punish them for their evilness.

    Really smooth Mark....really smooth.

    Albertans have a choice Mark. They can leave.

    Fact is Mark. Most Albertans are so far ahead of you on the environment and the challenges of the oilsands, since they have to face the problems of an uncontrolled boom with a premier who has been asleep on the job for the last ten years.

    His own party gave him the boot. And that same party gave Calgary and Big Oil a big swift kick in the shins in rejecting their candidate Dinning.

    Before dictating to Alberta, Mark, it might help if you actually knew something about Alberta. And knew something about the file to which you have been assigned.

    Anymore of this Mark, if you insist in making this Canada against Alberta, Albertans will circle the wagons, which is just what Calgary and Big Oil want.
    And the Liberals will have lost Alberta for another generation, and this time probably the country.

    Mark Holland...a%*888%^ #1.

    Dion should lose this guy....set him afloat on some melting iceberg.

    By Blogger godot10, at 9:13 AM  

  • Maybe he can replace him with Garth Turner.

    Looks like the Greens will be weepy today.

    By Blogger Sean Cummings, at 11:38 AM  

  • With Garth joining the Liberals, I am reminded of something that the late Tommy Douglas said after Ross Thatcher (the eventual Liberal Premier of Saskatchewan) completed his political defection (CCF to Independent to Liberals):

    "We had him yesterday. You have him today. Heaven help who has him tomorrow."

    By Blogger Brian in Calgary, at 1:08 PM  

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