How Do Students Perceive and Evaluate Responses to Climate Change?

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Abstract

Impacts of climate change are increasingly felt in our daily lives. Although scepticism is still found among certain social groups, most lay discourses show awareness of the current environmental challenges. In order to move forward and develop action plans to mitigate and adapt to climate change, young people are an important voice to be heard. This research article tackles questions pertaining to the relation between climate change communication, education, and social perception of science, exploring social and cultural representations of climate change through the discourses of young people. Fieldwork involved eight focus groups conducted in Brazil, Mexico, Portugal, and Spain with a total of fifty higher education students of experimental/natural sciences and engineering and of social sciences and humanities. Discussions were organized around sixteen images referring to the causes, consequences, and responses to climate change. Without significant differences between knowledge areas or countries, findings point to awareness of multiple types of responses to climate change, even though students’ analyses were more grounded on common culture than on solid scientific evidence and language. Adaptation strategies were more rarely mentioned than mitigation actions. A strong emphasis was put on barriers to response implementation. Moderate optimism regarding some possible responses was impaired by distrust regarding the political and economic systems leading to calls for transformation at multiple levels.