Research Question: How do students think about and understand climate change?
Introduction to Project:
I chose to make this survey to explore how my peers view climate change, as it is a very currently relevant issue. I am lucky to go to a school with lots of resources and education surrounding the environment, and I was curious about how fellow students consider and take into account that information. As a member of the Green Team, I want to work with my community to make us as environmentally conscious as I can. I looked at students’ understanding of climate change, their level of urgency surrounding it, and how they approach it in their own lives.
I recently asked other high school students at my school to fill out this survey. I would greatly appreciate it if anyone visiting this page could answer it as well!
Climate change is defined as “a change in global or regional climate patterns, in particular a change apparent from the mid to late 20th century onwards and attributed largely to the increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels.” Since the industrial revolution, coal and oil have been main sources of energy. Because they are fossil fuels, or, fossilized and compressed remnants of plants and animals from millions of years ago, they contain high concentrations of carbon. When burned, this carbon acts as a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. It traps the sun’s heat, gradually raising the earth’s average temperature. This causes shifts all the way from global weather patterns to individual ecosystems. For example, glacial ice melts, sea level rises, and natural disasters such as droughts, hurricanes, and fires increase in severity.
In the responses I collected, only roughly 35% mentioned human activity as a cause of climate change. Nearly half included temperature change in their definitions. Overall, most students’ ideas were largely accurate. For the second question, only 7% believe that climate change has not affected them, or will not affect them in the future. When asked how they engage with the environment in their daily lives, the overwhelming answers were recycling, composting, turning off lights, etc. I was interested in this theme of small lifestyle changes. Finally, when answering “how big of an issue is climate change?”, roughly 53% answered 5, critically urgent. 38% said 4, 7% said 4, and 2% said least concern.
The results suggest that while students are aware of climate change, and its causes, the majority don’t actively pursue large scale action. When answering how they are involved in environmentalism, most students replied that they engage in recycling/composting, reduce energy use, and use greener transportation. While all of these are absolutely necessary, there was little mention of larger issues. This indicates to me that efforts to raise awareness about environmental issues should provide more ways to get involved with overarching and systemic issues, such as the fossil fuel industry.
My goal is to raise awareness of other ways to participate in environmentalism, that are broader than lifestyle changes. Although these changes are necessary and helpful, they are not enough to truly combat climate change. Here are some facts regarding the other sides of climate change:
- The earth’s average temperature has risen 1.1 degrees Celsius since the late 1800’s.
- Ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland are melting by hundreds of cubic kilometers per year.
- Sea levels have risen nearly 8 inches in the past century, roughly double the rate of the previous century.
Despite this, fossil fuel companies and elected officials continue to burn coal and oil, and allow harmful energy to thrive. My goal is to raise awareness of the issue, and offer ways to get involved. If you are interested in learning more, here are some organizations to check out!
- Children’s Trust Lawsuit
- Union of Concerned Scientists
- Climate Justice Alliance
- Sierra Club
Other ways to take action include calling, emailing, or visiting your local representatives, attending rallies, and starting your own local movement.
Climate change is a globally occurring emergency, with sweeping global effects. I hope to raise awareness of its true causes and effects, and ways to get involved with stopping it.
Thanks for reading!