Why We Need Humane Education: American Teens Know Less About Climate Change Than Their Parents (But Want to Know More)

There's good news and bad news from a recent study by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. Overall, American teens know even less about climate change issues than their parents do. The good news is, they acknowledge the importance of human-caused climate change and want to know more.

Using a grading scale to assess teens' responses to several questions about climate change, only 25% of teens received a passing grade (A, B, or C). (30% of adults surveyed received a passion grade.) Here are a few highlights:
  • 54% of teens say that global warming is happening, compared to 63% of adults;
  • 35% of teens understand that most scientists think global warming is happening, compared
    to 39% of adults;
  • 7% of teens know how much carbon dioxide there is in the atmosphere today
    (approximately 390 parts per million);
  • 34% of teens don’t know enough to say whether scientists think global warming is
    happening, compared to 17% of adults;
  • 26% of teens don’t know that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere affect the average global
    temperature of the Earth, compared to 16% of adults;
However, as the study notes:
"American teens also recognize their limited understanding of the issue. Fewer than 1 in 5 say they are 'very well informed' about how the climate system works or the different causes, consequences, or potential solutions to global warming, and only 27 percent say they have learned 'a lot' about global warming from in school. Importantly, 70 percent of teens say they would like to know more about global warming." (emphasis mine)

Read the complete report.

The most important take away for humane educators and citizen activists from this study isn't that teens lack a lot of knowledge about these issues. After all, as the study mentions, some questions were harder, if different questions had been used the results might have been different, the way questions were worded might have confused some, and so on. The important take away is what I highlighted above: 70% of teens want to know more about these issues. This is an important gap that needs filled in our youths' knowledge base, and it's a great opportunity for classroom teachers, humane educators, and concerned citizens. Already there are groups like the Alliance for Climate Education that offer free high school assemblies about climate change in several states across the country.

Do you know of schools or organizations that are helping teach young people about climate change issues? Let us know!

~ Marsha

(h/t to Treehugger)

Image courtesy of Oxfam International via Creative Commons.


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