Air quality not a top concern for Metro Vancouver residents, says survey

Findings come as Vancouver city council prepares to vote on 371-page climate fight plan

A smoky haze hung over Vancouver and the Lower Mainland for a record number of days in the summer of 2017. The Metro Vancouver agency issued five different air quality advisories spanning 19 days | File photo: Dan Toulgoet

Metro Vancouverites are more concerned about cost of living, the COVID-19 pandemic and housing affordability — in that order — than they are about the quality of the air they breathe, according to a survey conducted by Justason Market Intelligence Inc.

The survey polled 1,138 adults in the region between Oct. 1 and Oct. 7 and found that homelessness (31 per cent), the economy (27 per cent) and crime (21 per cent) also ranked higher than air quality (eight per cent).

The “environment” ranked seventh (19 per cent) in the list of concerns, with cost of living at 52 per cent, COVID-19 at 47 per cent and housing affordability at 46 per cent, according to answers provided in the survey.

“Even among residents living with people who have respiratory issues, the region’s air quality is a negligible issue,” the survey said. “Air quality is generally perceived as good, very good or excellent. The smaller group assigning lower ratings for air quality, cite the presence of wood smoke and traffic pollution.”

The survey goes before the Metro Vancouver agency’s climate action committee Friday at which time it will also consider several reports related to fighting climate change, including setting new fees for businesses that emit air contaminants.

The agency’s meeting comes just days before Vancouver city council reconvenes Nov. 17 to decide whether it should approve a staff-proposed 371-page “climate emergency action plan” for the city.

The plan calls for a wide range of policies and fees to reduce carbon pollution in buildings and in the manufacturing and transport of construction materials. The plan also discourages the use of automobiles via a transport pricing system, vehicle surcharges and parking fees while at the same time improve infrastructure for walking, cycling and transit and create more “green” jobs.

Vancouver city councillor Adriane Carr is chairperson of the agency’s committee and said she wasn’t surprised by the survey’s findings. Carr pointed out the data was collected during a time when the region was not under an air quality advisory related to forest fire smoke, which occurred most recently in September.

“If that poll had been done when we had the smoke from wildfires coming from Oregon and Washington and eastern B.C. — and even California — then air quality and the environment would have ranked number one, or at least up there [on the list],” Carr told Glacier Media.

Unless there is an immediate catastrophe related to the environment such as wildfires, heat waves or storms, she continued, other concerns tend to track higher in polls. The cost of living, the pandemic and housing affordability are issues currently top of mind for people, as are issues such as homelessness, the economy and crime, Carr said.

“I totally understand that element of the polling, and it confirms to me people’s day-to-day experience and the news coverage that goes on,” she said. “But it’s not influencing my abiding concern that we have to think long term, bigger picture and climate is the top issue in the long term, bigger picture.”

Carr said poll results can make politicians’ jobs more difficult to push new measures when climate change is not front of mind in people’s lives. More public education about the threat to the environment is needed, she said, noting scientists continue to provide dire predictions about the state of the world’s climate.

The focus of the Metro agency’s survey was to determine how people think its air quality regulatory program should be funded. The survey found residents were largely unaware of the agency’s program, and among those claiming knowledge, a small minority understood how it was funded.

Currently, the agency recovers the cost of regulating air pollution partly through public taxes and permit and regulation fees to businesses that are authorized to discharge contaminants.

The survey was conducted because the agency wants to update its bylaw that governs air pollution and increase fees for authorized air emissions from businesses, which are based on the potential health impact of the contaminants.

Fee rates have gone largely unchanged since they were established 2008, yet the cost of providing air quality regulatory services has increased and so has the understanding of the dangers associated to air emissions, according to an agency report that accompanies the survey.

“Since then, new studies have provided updated air quality related health information demonstrating that public health costs are greater than previously thought,” said the report, which lists proposed new fees for such air contaminants as ammonia and methane. 

The survey found that most residents believe businesses emitting pollutants should pay for the air quality program, with some residents saying property taxes should help pay for a portion of the cost.

“A very small minority of residents feels that the program should be funded entirely through property taxes,” the survey said.

mhowell@glaciermedia.ca

@Howellings