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