The Hamilton College Climate Change and Environment Issues Youth Poll

HamiltonA poll conducted by Zogby International with help from the Hamilton Economics Department shows that while high school students don’t know a lot about climate change, they still support the U.S. reducing its emissions sooner rather than later.

Posted Feb. 6, 2008

By Hamilton

Executive Summary

American high-school students do not understand climate change issues
well. The average high-school student fails a quiz on the causes and
consequences of climate change. Students who learn the most about
climate change from TV news and shows know as much as students who have
learned the most about climate change in school. However, students who
learn the most using the Internet do better than the average. Teaching
students about climate change outside typical science courses, for
example, in a special class dedicated to the natural environment,
increases students’ knowledge.

In addition to this limited understanding, most high-school students do
not see themselves at risk from climate change. Only 28 percent of the
students say it is very likely that climate change will affect them
personally in the future. Despite these findings, 70 percent of the
respondents think the U.S. should start reducing emissions of
pollutants contributing to climate change rather than wait until there
is more evidence about the benefits of reducing greenhouse gasses.
However, only 20 percent of the students say it is very likely that a
candidate’s position about climate change will strongly influence their
vote.

Hamilton Economics Associate Professor Julio Videras and his students
collaborated with the polling firm Zogby International to conduct the
poll. Nine hundred high-school sophomores, juniors, and seniors from
across the U.S. were contacted by phone in November 2006. Hamilton’s
Levitt Public Affair Center funded the poll. The poll has a margin of
error of plus/minus 3.4 percent.

Other interesting findings from the poll include:

  • African-American students are 12 percent more likely to
    believe that climate change is very likely to affect them personally in
    the future than students from any other ethnic and racial background.
    However, African-American students answer correctly fewer questions
    about climate change than students of other races or ethnicities. This
    difference holds after controlling for additional characteristics such
    as gender, political preference, and parents’ education, among others.
  • High-school
    students who do not affiliate to any religious denomination know more
    about the causes and consequences of climate change than their
    counterparts and are 13 percent more likely to claim that the U.S.
    should start reducing greenhouse gasses now than their counterparts do.
  • High-school
    students who think it is very likely that they will experience the
    effects of climate change in their lives are 17 percent more likely to
    state the U.S. should start reducing greenhouse gasses now than their
    counterparts. However, how students perceive climate change risks is
    not correlated with their efforts to engage in pro-environment
    behaviors.
  • Although 66 percent of the high-school
    students in the sample agree that humans have the right to modify the
    natural environment, more than two-thirds of the respondents think that
    the earth’s resources are limited and mankind is severely abusing the
    environment.
  • Making efforts to conserve water is
    the most frequent pro-environment behavior for the individuals in this
    sample (65 percent of the responses). The least common activity is
    trying to reduce the amount of waste the person generates (35 percent
    of the responses).
  • Discussing environmental
    issues in school does not influence pro-environment attitudes and
    behaviors in any significant way. On the other hand, high-school
    students who discuss issues about the environment at least occasionally
    with their friends engage in more pro-environment behaviors, know more
    about the causes and consequences of climate change, and are 16 percent
    more likely to claim that the U.S. should start reducing greenhouse
    gasses now than their counterparts do.
  • Almost 83
    percent of the respondents strongly agree with the statement that we
    must consider the impact that our actions will have for the welfare of
    future generations versus 70 percent who strongly agree with the
    statement that we must consider how our actions influence the
    well-being of people living in other countries. Although there is no
    systematic difference in pro-environment efforts based on how much
    concern for future generations students state, those who claim to care
    about people in other countries engage in more pro-environment
    behaviors then their counterparts.

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