Public Resource

The role of climate change education on individual lifetime carbon emissions

Eugene C. Cordero, Diana Centeno, Anne Marie Todd, San Jose State University. PLOS One
02-04-2020

This study shows that receiving comprehensive climate education leads to long-term pro-climate behaviors for university students. Using surveys and focus group interviews of students who engaged in a one-year climate intensive at SJSU, the authors found that the course positively affected students' attitudes, decision-making, and behavior at least five years later. In particular, these students were much more likely to agree that there is a scientific consensus on climate change (83%) and that climate change will affect their lives "a great deal" or "moderately" (84%) than the general US public. They also reported making a greater emphasis on waste-reducing and energy-conserving decisions as a result of their climate education, including taking public transit and making energy-efficient purchasing decisions. The climate education course also changed social norms and efficacy perceptions for students, creating a "strong sense of personal obligation and the perceived individual agency to address climate change" where students felt more willing and comfortable discussing the issue with their communities. These changes led to estimated decreases in carbon emissions for students exposed to climate education.