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Warming to the idea: university students' knowledge and attitudes about climate change

Sandra Wachholz (University of Southern Maine, Portland, Maine, USA)
Nancy Artz (University of Southern Maine, Portland, Maine, USA)
Douglas Chene (University of Southern Maine, Portland, Maine, USA)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 1 April 2014

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Abstract

Purpose

The literature on climate change knowledge and attitudes has focused on primary and secondary school children. The limited research on college students is dated or narrowly focused. This study aims to contribute to a comprehensive understanding of views about climate change across a wide range of current college students.

Design/methodology/approach

The authors surveyed college students in a sample of lower- and upper-division courses in three content areas: knowledge and attitudes about climate change, intentions to reduce their personal greenhouse gas emissions, and student satisfaction with the amount of current teaching at the university about climate change and suggestions for improvement.

Findings

A strong majority of respondents believe that climate change is real and largely human-induced; a majority express concern about climate change. Yet, students in the sample hold misconceptions about the basic causes and consequences of climate change.

Research limitations/implications

Further research is warranted to understand the college population, so educators can improve and target their educational efforts to the students most in need.

Practical implications

Higher education needs to expand its educational efforts to ensure that all university graduates understand scientific consensus about climate change and are actively engaged as part of the solution in their public and private roles.

Originality/value

This paper contributes to the literature by providing a broad portrayal of college student knowledge and engagement with climate change issues, at least for students on one campus. The study is the first to observe noteworthy differences in climate change understanding and concern between college women and men and across academic majors. It is the only study that asks college students how they would like to learn about global warming.

Keywords

Citation

Wachholz, S., Artz, N. and Chene, D. (2014), "Warming to the idea: university students' knowledge and attitudes about climate change", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 15 No. 2, pp. 128-141. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-03-2012-0025

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited