179 Exploring the Persistence of Climate Change and Global Warming Misconceptions of Environmental Science Majors after taking a Global Climate Change Class

Monday, 11 January 2016
Jay P. Muza, Broward College, Davie, FL
Manuscript (93.3 kB)

Handout (982.7 kB)

During May 2015, I participated in the American Meteorological Society's Climate Change Studies Diversity Workshop given for faculty who teach at MSI's (Minority Serving Institutions). One benefit of the workshop was an invitation to attend the annual AMS meeting in New Orleans. The AMS workshop conveners requested that participants present a poster session at this meeting, even though the implementing, teaching, or any research related to the workshop have not been started, and that the deadline for abstract submittals would occur before the beginning of Fall Semester classes, when presumably, any workshop related classroom research would need to be done. That is why my abstract speaks of “proposed” research and “data to be collected and evaluated” before the AMS convention in January 2016.

In 2010, the study “Americans' Knowledge of Climate Change” was conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and funded by the National Science Foundation, as part of the Communicating Climate Change Initiative. A nationally representative survey of 2030 American adults aged 18 and older was sampled weighted to correspond with US Census Bureau demographic and Gallup political party identification parameters for the United States.

The survey was comprised of questions aimed at assessing the knowledge of the respondents about how the climate system works, specific knowledge about the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to global warming; contextual knowledge placing human caused global warming in historical and geographic perspective; and practical knowledge that enables individual and collective action. This study included measures related to each of these key dimensions, along with other measures such as public desire for more information, trust in different information sources, and climate change risk perceptions, policy preferences, and behaviors.

Results of the study found that that only 1% of Americans have knowledge equivalent to an academic grade of A, and only 7% a grade of B. Over 50% of those assessed had a knowledge equivalent score of an F. One aspect of this study identified significant gaps in,and “misconceptions” about, the most basic of Earth system processes that govern climates, climate change and weather. These gaps and misconceptions found in those who scored low on the assessment significantly contribute to the individual's doubt about the reality of climate change and the facts that significantly link current climate change to anthropogenic activities. These data strongly suggest that in general, the U.S. public is poorly educated when it comes to issues related to climate. Public opinions or voting decisions on issues related to climate and climate change made by this group will generally lack credibility.

As part of the AMS Diversity in Climate Sciences program for Minority Serving Institutions, a study is proposed using the same “Americans' Knowledge of Climate Change” (AKCC) assessment developed by Yale project. In the proposed study, a cohort of students pursuing their B.S. degree in Environmental Science at Broward College will be given the AKCC assessment on the first day of their Climate Change (GLY4746) class. The same assessment will be given to the same students on the last day of the semester long Climate Change class.

Results of the assessments will be evaluated using the same criteria established by the Yale project and compared to the results of the AKCC assessment, with summary assessment results reported for the following categories: Climate Change Beliefs and Worry; Understanding of the Greenhouse Effect; Weather vs. Climate; The Flow of Heat Across the Planet; Past and Present Climate Change; /Global Temperature Estimates; Conceptual Models of Climate Change; Fossil Fuels; Carbon Dioxide; Causes of Global Warming; Solutions; Information Sources.

In addition, the results of the “before and after” semester AKCC assessment taken by Broward College Environmental Science students enrolled in GLY4746 will be evaluated to further elucidate the occurrence of common weather, climate, and climate change misconceptions that persist even after taking the Global Climate Change course, and to compare the effectiveness of student learning and course content delivery using paired t-tests and one way ANOVA statistical testing.

Leiserowitz, A., Smith, N. & Marlon, J.R. (2010) Americans ‘Knowledge of Climate Change. Yale University, New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. http://environment.yale.edu/climate/files/ClimateChangeKnowledge2010.pdf

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