We Americans could use “a population shift in knowledge and positive engagement in the issue of climate change,” as environmental scientist and media guru Anthony Leiserowitz and colleagues have characterized it. While people and governments of other nations, believing their survival is at stake, have rushed to codify mitigation and adaptation measures—only 15% of the US population is very concerned about global warming, according to a Yale University study earlier this year.
But is this risky, backward thinking really as irreversible as the polls make it appear? A couple of studies published Wednesday in the academic journal Climatic Change say “not necessarily.
In a peer-reviewed evaluation, Yale, George Mason University, and Stanford researchers show that an entertaining one-hour live and multimedia assembly presentation from the Alliance for Climate Education*—what Grist calls a “climate rap”—was enough to turn the heads of its young audience. One and a half million high school students have seen it so far.
Researchers surveyed almost three thousand (2,847) students in 49 high schools across the country. They polled attendees before and after the ACE climate program with questions from the Global Warming’s Six Americas instrument and found skepticism and denial replaced by positive engagement on climate change in just an hour. The students grew in confidence of their climate knowledge and began to act on it in positive ways.
Basically, almost half (49%) of the students who started out dismissive about global warming and human attempts to reverse it changed their communication and conservation attitudes after the assembly presentation. Those in the “doubtful” and “disengaged” ranks moved forward even more, by 68% and 72% respectively.
ACE summarizes other results of the wide analysis:
- Students demonstrated a 27 percent increase in climate science knowledge.
- More than one-third of students (38 percent) became more engaged on the issue of climate change.
- The number of students who talked to parents or peers about climate change more than doubled.
A specific on-the-ground study by Kathryn Stevenson of North Carolina State University and her associates in the same journal looked at a sample of 378 middle school students in the state. It backs up the national conclusions. Says Stevenson:
“Kids [of this age] are just developing their worldviews, their political ideologies. The worldviews and political ideologies are just starting to form, and so our data seem to suggest that they’re exerting some influence, but it’s just not strong enough to have the type of lens that we have as adults–which just sort of takes over everything else.”
In other words, says Washington Post reporter Chris Mooney, “Climate science education may well work to counteract [negative, twisted] political ideology after all.”
The point of the broad and well-documented national survey is not to prove that climate change is real or that we can take measures to avoid it and alter the consequences. As the authors conclude,
“[T]he net impact of [ACE’s work] could be a population shift in knowledge and positive engagement in the issue of climate change.… [and] can inspire youth for deeper engagement in school programs, personal action, and political and consumer advocacy.”
Don’t just take my word for it. Read the study itself here. It’s open-access (free). The reference also contains the original presentation script, survey questions, and related assessment data.
Check out reputable news outlets for commentary from various experts and from your openminded, climate-literate peers. Hundreds of thousands of students across the nation, armed with the facts and inspired by group interaction, have testified before lawmakers, advocated for a New York City climate education mandate, pushed for school districts to cut carbon, and partnered with policy experts for lasting climate solutions.
As a nation, we cannot afford to waste even a minute dallying in pretend “debates” about climate change. We need to understand the basics and act on our understanding. This important work has shown that the knowledge is easily attainable. It hints at the power to move away from denial and ridicule to the place other nations of the world are living in.
Most importantly, it seems to have found that power—in the hands of the population cohort most likely to suffer oncoming environmental changes, and also most invested in living with them.
*Sponsor support kindly provided by the Alliance for Climate Education.