February 3, 2023
Learning for a Sustainable Future (LSF), a charity located at York University, has released the results of a new survey titled Canadians’ Perspectives on Climate Change & Education: 2022.
The survey, administered by Leger Research Intelligence, assesses Canadians’ knowledge, understanding and perceptions of climate change and its risks; explores views on climate change education; and provides a snapshot of education practices regarding climate change in K-12 classes across Canada.
The report includes 4,035 survey responses from four participant groups: educators K-12; parents K-12; students 7-12; and the general public. Results show that 73 per cent of Canadians feel that we are experiencing a climate emergency and 50 per cent of all Canadians believe that climate change is causing mental health issues or making them worse. Almost one-quarter of educators, parents and students surveyed indicate that their worries about climate change are affecting their daily life. Students are more likely than any other respondent group to report feeling anxious (41 per cent) and frightened (32 per cent).
Canadians are still hopeful though, and 69 per cent think the work and voices of young people can inspire important climate action with 76 per cent of educators feeling the most strongly about the inspiration provided by youth.
“It is not surprising to see a rise in support for the environment, sustainability and climate change being driven by younger generations and by their teachers,” said LSF President and CEO Pamela Schwartzberg. “We find that engaging kids in real issues empowers them. It lets them know that they can make a difference in their communities, which can also reduce some of the anxiety they may be feeling.”
The findings indicate that Canadians are more knowledgeable about climate change when compared to survey results from 2019. More Canadians passed the 10-question knowledge and understanding quiz (67 per cent in 2022 versus 57 per cent in 2019), and every participant group – educators, parents, students and the general public – answered more questions correctly. However, there is still work to be done in the area of climate science literacy, as just over half of Canadians (55 per cent) knew that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are the primary cause of climate change. According to 80 per cent of respondents, Canadians still feel they need more information about climate change. Students continue to be the group wanting information the most (85 per cent).
The survey results indicate that Canadians increasingly think schools need to give climate change education a high priority (67 per cent in 2022 versus 59 per cent in 2019). Some 64 per cent of Canadians also think the education system should be doing “a lot more” to educate young people about climate change. When Canadians were asked “How do you think education systems should further contribute to climate change education?” the top answer was climate change should be included in the curriculum.
Despite global advocacy for incorporating environmental education in all grades and subjects, 35 per cent of Canadian educators indicated they do not cover climate change topics in any subject that they teach. Of those that do, just 13 per cent taught more than 10 hours of climate change content in the school year. Only one-third (34 per cent) of educators feel that they have the knowledge and skills needed to teach climate change. And, while they would like to include climate change education in their classroom, a growing majority agree that they need professional development to learn about how to effectively teach this complex topic (64 per cent in 2022 versus 50 per cent in 2019).
“The need for better climate change education is clear. In order to prepare our young people for a climate-altered future, our school system needs to do more. Our teachers need to be better equipped with climate knowledge and resources, and our students need more opportunities to learn about and take action on climate change,” said Schwartzberg.
The survey follows up on a baseline study undertaken in 2019 by LSF and Leger Research Intelligence, in collaboration with Lakehead University. The 2022 survey was updated and included questions from the original survey for comparison purposes, in addition to including new questions to gather information about some of the salient issues related to climate change, including the mental health impacts of climate change, the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge, the impacts of COVID-19, and the importance of youth engagement.
LSF has been located at York University since 1999. Its mission is to promote, through education, the knowledge, skills, values, perspectives and practices essential to a sustainable future.
For more information contact Schwartzberg at pam@LSF-LST.ca.