Support journalism that lights the way through the climate crisis by June 3

Goal: $100k

As I wrote in a recent column, polling from the U.S. shows a strong majority of Americans support the idea of a civilian climate corps. But no similar polling had been done in Canada.

Not anymore. Eager to see what Canadian public opinion makes of a climate corps, the Climate Emergency Unit (with which I work) commissioned a poll. The results are now in, and they are very good news for all who wish to see a ramp-up in Canada’s climate transition.

The headline finding? A majority of Canadians support the idea of creating a Youth Climate Corps (YCC). According to a national survey conducted by Abacus Data, after being given a short description of the program, 55 per cent of adult Canadians support it, while a further 23 per cent say they can accept it. Only 12 per cent oppose the idea.

The results are even stronger among those aged 18 to 35 (the cohort for whom the program is designed). Among this younger demographic, support rises to 65 per cent, with 33 per cent saying they “strongly support” the idea of a YCC (and only six per cent opposed).

Full poll results are available here and include results broken down by region, age, gender and political voting intention. The online poll surveyed 2,200 adults in Canada between Oct. 27 and Nov. 1.

"Support for a Youth Climate Corps crosses demographic, regional and political lines," said David Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data. "While there is more intense appeal among those who align centre-left on the political spectrum, a majority of Conservative Party voters also support or can accept the program." Specifically, the survey found 92 per cent of NDP, 91 per cent of Liberal, 85 per cent of Bloc, and, remarkably, 64 per cent of Conservative supporters indicate they support or can accept a Youth Climate Corps program. This is a political winner.

The Youth Climate Corps campaign is calling on federal and provincial governments to launch and fund an ambitious new youth training and employment program, inviting young people to spend two years confronting the climate emergency.

As envisioned, the program would be both a call to serve and an opportunity to get trained up in the skills needed to address the climate crisis over the coming years. It would offer hands-on paid experience to thousands of youth as they contribute to a just transition away from a fossil fuel-dependent economy. YCC jobs would include: emergency response during extreme weather events; building community and ecological resilience in the face of climate disruptions; and building the climate infrastructure needed to drive down greenhouse gas emissions (renewable energy, home retrofits, public transit, etc.)

A new poll shows strong support for a Youth Climate Corps. @SethDKlein writes for @NatObserver #ClimateEmergency #YouthClimateCorps #JustTransition

Those who indicated support for a YCC said the most compelling reasons for doing so were, firstly, that young people would “gain vital skills in areas of great need, skills that would set them on a positive career path,” closely followed by “It would be an opportunity for young people to serve their communities and the country as we respond to the climate crisis.”

Ready to serve

The most heartening element of the results came from a survey question that asked those 35 and under, “If a program like this existed, how likely are you to consider enrolling in a Youth Climate Corps for two years?”

The poll found a whopping 65 per cent of people aged 18 to 35 across Canada would consider enrolling in a Youth Climate Corps for two years. Even more remarkable: 15 per cent of these younger respondents indicated they would “definitely” consider enrolling.

There are roughly nine million people in Canada between the ages of 18 and 35. If 15 per cent of them would “definitely” consider enrolling in the YCC for two years, that’s about 1.3 million people. Now that, friends, is a genuine mobilization!

This is what has been missing from our climate policy response to date. We are losing so much of the public with endless debates and discussions about esoteric, technocratic, wonky climate policy — output-based pricing systems, climate contracts for difference, carbon offsets, low-carbon tax credits, carbon capture and storage… Enough! Hundreds of thousands of young people are telling us they are ready to serve. Please, for the love of God, could our governments just sign these folks up as quickly as possible, and put them to work meeting this emergency moment?

Notably, interest in enrolling was highest among young people on the Prairies and Atlantic Canada (those parts of the country where the bulk of our fossil fuel extraction occurs), followed by Quebec.

Specifically, 47 per cent of Albertans between the ages of 18 and 35 said they either “definitely” or “probably” would consider enrolling in a YCC, with an additional 20 per cent saying they would “consider” it. Only 20 per cent said they probably or definitely wouldn’t consider it. In Atlantic Canada, a combined 73 per cent said they would consider enrolling, while in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, 72 per cent said the same. It would seem that, notwithstanding all the push-back from their governments, a majority of young people in these regions see the writing on the wall when it comes to the future of fossil fuels.

The polling results send a powerful message that Canadians are ready to address the climate emergency with urgency, dedication and a strong sense of solidarity. All across the country, young people are ready to enlist in a Youth Climate Corps, contribute to our communities and meet the greatest civilizational threat of our lifetimes.