Although the majority of Canadians believe that climate change is real, some think that it is partly or mostly caused by human activities, while some do not think so.

A new study conducted by researchers from four different universities found that public opinion about climate change is significantly divided.

The group of scientists from the University of Montreal, Yale University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Utah State University had surveyed a total of 5,000 Canadians over the last five years.

Researchers asked participants if they believed the Earth is indeed getting warmer; and if global warming is partly or mostly because of human activities. They also asked them if they support cap and trade system, which sets a limit on carbon emissions and creates a market for carbon allowances; and if they agree on increasing taxes on carbon-based fuels.

About 79 percent of participants believe that climate change is real, while about 61 percent of them believe the Earth is getting warmer partly or mostly due to human activities. About 66 percent support the trade cap system, while 49 percent agree on increasing carbon-based fuel taxes.

"Our research shows that across the country, a majority of Canadians are aware of the problem of rising global temperature on Earth, and many believe humans are directly contributing to this warming," said Erick Lachapelle, who is an assistant professor from University of Montreal and one of the co-authors of the study. "This is true across Canadian regions and across the urban-rural divide as well."

Lachapelle said the divided belief among Canadians is somehow usual.

"This is a complex issue. It's kind of normal that people would have more nuanced opinions," he said.

In particular, the opinions varied depending on where the participants were living. He directs to the differences in opinion among those living in Calgary and Edmonton to those from Alberta towns.

"Urban dwellers are more progressive in general," he said. "They are younger, better educated, and have better access to solutions like active transport or public transit, than people in small towns."

Unlike previous studies, the team's research did not ask what non-believers felt was causing the changes in climate. It also did not note whether the proportion of participants who thought climate change was caused by humans had changed over the course of five years.

Anyone who wants to see the statistics per region in Canada are free to view it on the university's new interactive tool online.

How Humans Cause Climate Change

A previous study featured in the journal Nature Scientific Reports revealed that record-high temperatures in the last 150 years were more likely caused by human activities.

Human-induced climate change is driven by factors such as greenhouse gas emissions and land use. When we burn fossil fuels such as petroleum or coal, greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, traps heat and cause temperatures to rise.

Today's carbon dioxide levels are at around 400 parts per million, and scientists at the Environmental Defense Fund said this is about 40 percent higher than natural levels over the past 800,000 years. The year 2015 was declared as the hottest year on record, and 2016 may even be hotter.

At the rate that human activities are spewing out carbon from fossil fuels into the atmosphere, Earth may suffer irreversible damage that could last until tens of thousands of years, scientists said.

Still, experts are optimistic. They said understanding climate change records will help us find ways to adapt to it and fight against it. Preparation is key.

Photo : Ken Okamoto | Flickr

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