ideas about science, Boyes added, including a new series of studies conducted at Yale University on public support for climate and energy change policies.1 The research has shown that students have many misconceptions, Boyes observed (Shepardson et al., 2011). For example, many students confuse global warming with ozone depletion and believe that all pollutants contribute to all environmental problems. Many students also do not understand how global warming translates into climate fluctuations or why it does not simply make every place a bit warmer.
Boyes and his colleagues are currently conducting a study in 11 countries of people’s beliefs and attitudes regarding climate change and possible actions that could be taken to mitigate it.2 The researchers have sampled 12,627 students in grades 6 through 10 using a 32-item questionnaire that covers 16 issues, such as transport use, transport type, power generation, and selection of consumer durables. The questions focus on individuals’ willingness to take particular actions and perceptions about how useful these actions would be.
Looking first at people’s beliefs about the usefulness of various actions, Boyes described the overall approach and highlighted several questions as examples. Participants were asked questions, for example, such as “if people had smaller cars that used less gasoline, global warming would be reduced by ___” and given five options describing different levels of their perception of the effectiveness of the action: (1) by quite a lot, (2) by a fair amount, (3) by a small but useful amount, (4) by a very small amount (hardly noticeable), and (5) by nothing at all, really.
On many of the questions, responses varied across the countries. For example, responses to the above question on smaller cars resulted in the following: in South Korea, more than 70 percent of students chose the two most favorable answers: that smaller cars would help by “a fair amount” or “quite a lot”; in Brunei and the United Kingdom, approximately 50 percent of students chose these answers; in the United States, 64 percent of students chose these responses. Additional examples included questions that focused on such topics as how much people used their cars, alternative energy sources, and meat consumption (Boyes et al., 2011).
Questions assessing students’ willingness to take these actions mirrored the questions about perceptions of effectiveness. For example, students were asked to choose a response to the question, “even if it was not as fast or luxurious, I would try to get a car that uses less gasoline.” For this question, the five options were (1) I would definitely do it, (2) I would
2The countries are Australia, Brunei, Greece, India, Korea, Oman, Singapore, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.