Since the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting (#AAASmtg) is in full swing right now and one hot topic is, of course, global warming, I felt it appropriate to share some dissertation data related to this subject. (Forgive me if I do not respond to comments, as I’m racing toward my dissertation deadline.)
I surveyed undergraduates, age 18-22 (inclusive), at a large public university. The survey was anonymous.
572 and 574 of them responded to the following questions respectively:
Q1 “Indicate the degree to which you think global warming is a problem.”
-A very serious problem
-A somewhat serious problem
-Not too serious of a problem
-Not a problem
-I don’t know
Q2 “Which comes closer to your personal view?”
-The Earth is getting warmer mostly because of natural changes in the atmosphere
-The Earth is getting warmer mostly because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels
-The Earth is not getting warmer
-I don’t know
Before I report the results, I will confess I’m not so crazy about the wording of the latter question, but I was intentionally basing it on a Pew Research Center Poll (see full citation below) so that I might compare/contrast undergraduate students’ opinions with those of the general public.
n=218 or 38.1% A very serious problem
n=217 or 37.94% A somewhat serious problem
n=76 or 13.29% Not too serious of a problem
n=33 or 5.77% Not a problem
n=28 or 4.9% I don’t know
n=160 or 27.87% The Earth is getting warmer mostly because of natural changes in the atmosphere
n=315 or 45.88% The Earth is getting warmer mostly because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels
n=33 or 5.75% The Earth is not getting warmer
n=66 or 11.5% I don’t know
How do these results “measure up” to those for other samples?
Here are the Pew Center Results (Methodology: Conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, November 9 – November 14, 2011 and based on 2,001 telephone interviews. Sample: National adult. 1200 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 801 were interviewed on a cell phone, including 397 who had no landline telephone. [USPSRA.120111R.R66]; Full citation below):
In your view, is global warming a very serious problem, somewhat serious, not too serious, or not a problem?
Do you believe that the earth is getting warmer mostly because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels or mostly because of natural patterns in the earth’s environment?
How do scientists feel about this topic, you ask?
Yesterday, at the #AAASmtg, attendees were surveyed and (from what I’m told) n~840.
According to public Tweets on February 18, 2012, with hashtag #AAASmtg:
86% of respondents expressed that “climate change is caused by human activity”
77% of respondents expressed that “climate change is a serious problem”
I’d love to see the raw data for the #AAASmtg so I can see what the other response choices were and how serious “serious” is for the scientists.
So why do the views of undergraduates (and the general public) more closely reflect those of scientists when it comes to the “seriousness” of the problem of global warming, but undergraduates, even more so than the general public, diverge from the view of (the majority of) scientists when it comes to the causes of global warming?
I can tell you – anecdotally – that when I interviewed 44 undergraduates (who may or may not have participated in the anonymous survey) for an hour or more, many expressed a desire to learn about scientific evidence, whether for global warming or for the theory of evolution. More than a few related to me that their high school science teachers (and for a couple, even their university science professors) did not effectively communicate to them the “whys” behind (the majority of) scientists’ views on these topics and suggested that they were very interested in learning about scientific evidence and would have appreciated such a lesson more than being presented solely with conclusions.
So, my message? Teach students how and why scientists draw their conclusions. Don’t just tell them global warming is a serious problem, relate to them why global warming may be happening and how we know what we know. Most students I interviewed, regardless of their religious/spiritual backgrounds, found science logical and analytical and that may appeal to the mind of many a developing adolescent and young mature adult. The value of epistemology cannot be underestimated.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I also asked them if they were registered to vote…
Of 606 students who responded to this question,94.23% were potential U.S. voters.
n=424 or 69.97% responded “yes”
n=147 or 24.26% responded “I can register, but I haven’t”
(others did not know or were not US citizens)
Food for thought.
Pew Research Center for the People , Nov, 2011. Retrieved Feb-19-2012 from the iPOLL Databank, The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, University of Connecticut. http://www.ropercenter.uconn.edu.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/data_access/ipoll/ipoll.html
Please cite my original data:
Schrein, C.M. Unpublished Data (Doctoral Dissertation, Arizona State University)