UN survey uses Angry Birds to reveal Canadian, global opinions on climate policies

A man wearing shorts uses trekking poles as he walks through the snow at Burnaby Mountain Park in Burnaby, B.C., on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. Canadians are "Angry Birds" when it comes to climate action, indicates a survey the United Nations calls the largest ever taken on the issue. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Canadians are "Angry Birds" when it comes toclimate change, shows a survey the United Nations calls the largest ever taken on the issue.

The mammoth survey, which drew respondents through the use of popular online games,ranked Canada seventh out of 50 countries in its perception of how important the problem is — and tops in the gap between men and women on the issue.

"Canada was at the top end of the group of countries we surveyed in terms of the recognition of the climate emergency," said Steve Fisher, an Oxford University sociologist who helped run the survey on behalf of the United Nations Development Program.

The novel survey found respondents through games such as Angry Birds and Dragon City. As people played the games, a questionnaire would pop up instead of an ad.

Project director Cassie Flynn, who is with the UN program, said the idea came to her while riding the subway in New York.

"Every single person was on their phone," she said. "I started looking over people's shoulders and the huge majority was playing games. I thought, 'How do we tap into that?'"

Two years, 1.2 million responses (in 17 languages) and a great deal of innovative statistical thinking later came the People's Climate Vote. It is an attempt, said Flynn, to gauge the public's sense of urgency on climate change and how people feel about different policies.

"The decisions (on climate) are going to affect every single person on the planet. What we wanted to do is to bring public opinion into that policy-making."

As the federal Liberal government advances on its ambitious climate program, it seems Canadians are more concerned about the issue than most.

Three-quarters of those surveyed agreed that climate change is an emergency compared with the global average of 64 per cent.

That belief topped out at 83 per cent for respondents under 18. But, at 72 per cent, it wasn't much weaker among those over 60.

The survey also found that Canadians who believed climate change is an emergency believed it strongly. Three-quarters said action should be urgent and on many fronts.

They really liked solutions based in conservation. Support for nature-based climate policies was higher in Canada at 79 per cent than in any other countries with high carbon emissions from land use.

They also wanted polluters to pay. Some 69 per cent favoured policies that regulate company behaviour. Only the United Kingdom, at 72 per cent, registered stronger among high-income countries.

And, at 81 and 80 per cent respectively, respondents in the U.K. and Canada were virtually tied at the top in support of ocean and waterway protection.

Canada also had the largest gap between men and women in their assessment of the importance of climate change. Canadian women and girls surveyed were 12 per cent more likely to rate it an emergency than men and boys. Globally, there wasn't much difference.

Fisher, who researches political attitudes and behaviour, said climate change is a more partisan issue in Canada, the United States and Australia than elsewhere on the globe.

"It is related to partisanship in those countries," he said. "Women are much more likely to vote for the more climate-conscious left parties."

Fisher said the use of cellphone games gave researchers access to groups that are hard for pollsters to reach, such as young people.

"It was kind of new to do the fieldwork in this way," he said. "It reached an awful lot of people."

Each respondent was asked to complete the survey only once. The team used 4,000 different games, some popular with children, some with older people.

Still, the sample skewed young. The statisticians had to adjust the sample to ensure all groups were given appropriate weight.

The survey is considered accurate to within two percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2021.

— Follow @row1960 on Twitter

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.