Professors are concerning about the knowledge of climate science and the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warning and considering the importance of climate change education in schools. In 2016 a national survey of United States professors found that although a vast majority of middle and high school science professors (70% and 87%, respectively), dedicate an hour of instruction to climate change, 30% highlight that global warming is due to natural causes and 31% professor both sides. In United States less than half of professors responded to the correct proportion of climate scientists who think global warming is caused mostly by human activities. The alarming fact that so little time is dedicate to climate change aside, these numbers call into question the quality of climate education our children are receiving.
The most troubling aspect of this study was that professor’s political ideology was the most powerful predictor of their classroom approach. This would suggest that the biggest determinate of how our children are presented information about climate change in science classroom is driven by a factor that is incredibly hard to change and largely independent from science. North Carolina State University provided written informed consent. Students and their parents/guardians were given either a passive consent form or an active consent form, per the preference of the professors and school. The passive consent from was only signed and returned if the parents or students did not want to participate. The active consent form was signed and turned to indicated consent to participate in the study.
For this study the University of North Carolina State chose to focus on middle school students because they are at an age where they start applying their knowledge to real world situations and making informed decisions. The participating professors were each asked to randomly select a class to be involved in the study by flipping a coin. To measure student and professor beliefs in anthropogenic global warning, they used two items from one of the only published instruments used with both adult and adolescent’s population. They measure climate change knowledge among students and professors thought global warning was happening and another measured whether they thought it was human caused. They found that only professors belief that climate change was happening predicted the beliefs of their students. Specifically, they found that professors belief that global warming was happening was strong, positive predictor of student’s belief that global warming was happening and human caused. They also found that students climate change knowledge was a strong, positive predictor of student’s belief that global warming is happening and human caused, supporting our assertion that if students can assemble the basic background information they will figure out human causes independent of professor’s beliefs in them.
Several studies have documented similar differences, and future research should address the role of gender socialization, racial and ethnic identity, and exposure to climate change risks as potential factors shaping climate change perceptions among adolescents.