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Overcoming skepticism with education: interacting influences of worldview and climate change knowledge on perceived climate change risk among adolescents

Abstract

Though many climate literacy efforts attempt to communicate climate change as a risk, these strategies may be ineffective because among adults, worldview rather than scientific understanding largely drives climate change risk perceptions. Further, increased science literacy may polarize worldview-driven perceptions, making some climate literacy efforts ineffective among skeptics. Because worldviews are still forming in the teenage years, adolescents may represent a more receptive audience. This study examined how worldview and climate change knowledge related to acceptance of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and in turn, climate change risk perception among middle school students in North Carolina, USA (n = 387). We found respondents with individualistic worldviews were 16.1 percentage points less likely to accept AGW than communitarian respondents at median knowledge levels, mirroring findings in similar studies among adults. The interaction between knowledge and worldview, however, was opposite from previous studies among adults, because increased climate change knowledge was positively related to acceptance of AGW among both groups, and had a stronger positive relationship among individualists. Though individualists were 24.1 percentage points less likely to accept AGW than communitarians at low levels (bottom decile) of climate change knowledge, there was no statistical difference in acceptance levels between individualists and communitarians at high levels of knowledge (top decile). Non-White and females also demonstrated higher levels of AGW acceptance and climate change risk perception, respectively. Thus, education efforts specific to climate change may counteract divisions based on worldviews among adolescents.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank North Carolina Sea Grant for providing the funding for this study (Project # 2012-R/12-HCE-5). Additionally, we would like to thank Renee Strnad of North Carolina State University and Laurell Malone of North Carolina Central University for project feedback and guidance and Angela Mertig of Middle Tennessee State University for guidance in scale development and evaluation.

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Correspondence to Kathryn T. Stevenson.

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Stevenson, K.T., Peterson, M.N., Bondell, H.D. et al. Overcoming skepticism with education: interacting influences of worldview and climate change knowledge on perceived climate change risk among adolescents. Climatic Change 126, 293–304 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-014-1228-7

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Keywords

  • Climate Change
  • Risk Perception
  • Middle School Student
  • Standardize Root Mean Square Residual
  • Climate Change Concern