This is the third in a series of articles on recent research by Environics, on behalf of EcoAnalytics, exploring what Canadians know about three potentially transformative environmental policies now being developed by the federal government, and the best frames and messages for promoting them. Those policies are: a cap on emissions in the oil and gas sector; national clean electricity regulations; and measures to meet Canada’s commitment to protect 30% of lands and oceans by 2030.
In the months after the United Nations Biodiversity Conference, COP 15 in Montreal last December, Canada and many provinces committed to more ambitious measures to protect nature, aimed at protecting 30% of lands and oceans by 2030. Research by EcoAnalytics (EcoA), the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), and others shows that Canadians are pretty unanimous in their support of the protection of biodiversity—in theory, at least.
But once we drill down into the details of how areas are protected and what the process entails, people’s hesitancy and barriers surface. Many Canadians feel strongly that nature should be protected, but have a hard time seeing how it will happen at the scale required.
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Environics conducted focus groups last summer and a large national survey in April to better understand how people feel about land and water conservation. The qualitative round (Efficacy in Conversations about Climate Change and Biodiversity Loss Policies) recruited 54 Canadians from across the country who were concerned about environmental issues, but not highly engaged on these issues—the so-called Moveable Middle—to discuss the need, feasibility, and cost-efficacy of nature conservation. Folks in this cluster of different social groups are neither climate deniers nor climate activists and make up about 45 to 50% of Canadians over 18. The follow-up survey (Environmental Policy and Efficacy: Communications Strategies) examined the opinions of nearly 2,300 Canadians from a broader range of backgrounds.
The qualitative discussions shed light on the Moveable Middle’s perceptions, understanding, and hesitancy around nature conservation policies. Most expressed an emotional or personal attachment to conservation, often based on their own access to and personal benefits from experiencing nature nearby. Many of them were also concerned about specific high-profile species at risk. But few understood the severity of the biodiversity crisis or the link between nature conservation and climate change. Most supported a protected areas target of at least 30%, but had concerns about how the goal would be met and where the land would come from. Some expressed concern that land would be taken away from businesses, farms, or individual citizens and wondered what the cost to taxpayers would be.
Environics’ national quantitative survey tested frames and messages that would address some of the reservations expressed in the qualitative research and identified the ones that garnered more support in a general sample that extended beyond the Moveable Middle. The study asked participants what they would need to know before supporting a land conservation initiative in their area. People responded most favourably to frames that focused on environmental and personal benefits, including specifics on the threats to the land, the species that would be protected, what access they would have to protected areas, and what sort of personal benefits they might experience. The carbon capture and climate benefits of protected areas also ranked well. These preferences did not vary significantly among regions or demographics, but differed based on social values.
Social values data complements demographic data, often revealing the “why” behind people’s preferences. Environics has developed an extensive typology of Canadians based on their values, and the research drew on that rich source to identify three main segments:
• Rational Changemakers made up 31% of respondents, including most supporters of environmental NGOs within the wider group. They tend to be environmentally conscious and willing to challenge the status quo, base their support on facts and evidence, respond to clear calls to action and an appeal to responsibility, and prefer simple messages.
• High-Energy Hedonists accounted for 29% of respondents. They’re driven by emotion and a quest for stimulation and personal benefits, respond based on a fear of missing out, and respond to feelings, emotions, and the novelty and excitement of possible outcomes, rather than logic and information.
• Community-Driven Conformists comprised 40% of respondents. They’re inclined to accept the status quo, follow the rules, and crave security. They’ll respond to reassurances about the future and references to trusted authorities and challenge negative discourses. They are intimidated by change, so it helps to challenge their belief that this policy change will hurt the economy.
The environmental frames worked well with Segments 1 and 2. Personal benefits of protected areas like access, recreation, and health rated highest with Segment 2. Economic factors like the impact of biodiversity protection on local housing, property values, and businesses did not rate well with Segment 1, but placed among the top frames for Segment 3. Messages around public engagement and consultation also rated highly for Segment 1.
While we know Canadians overwhelmingly support nature conservation in principle and have a strong emotional investment in protected areas, that support is rooted in different world views. To continue building support for expanding conservation areas, communicators should use messages and frames that appeal to all three audience types and address the concerns and connections that resonate with each of them.
Knowing where audiences are uncertain or hesitant and understanding their motivations can help climate communicators craft strategies that meet different segments where they’re at, using information that appeals to their unique perspectives, identities, and experiences.