Global Warming Responses at the Primary Secondary Interface 1. Students' Beliefs and Willingness to Act

Article excerpt

Introduction

Global warming is the major environmental issue of the 21st century; at this stage its effects cannot be removed, only contained (Orr, 2009). Australia, and NSW in particular, has a very high per capita level of greenhouse gas emission, with residential use and car travel being two major contributors (NSW Greenhouse Office, 2005). In order to change behaviours of individuals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is likely that a multidisciplinary approach will be needed, with education being an important component. Given the magnitude and imminence of the problem of global warming, it is reasonable to suggest that such education should now be directed, at least in part, to inducing behaviour change.

A recently completed survey of secondary school students in NSW (Skamp, Boyes, & Stanisstreet, 2009) found considerable differences between these students' beliefs about the effectiveness of different actions in alleviating global warming, and disparity in their willingness to take action. By comparing students' beliefs about the usefulness of actions with their willingness to undertake them, a series of novel indices were constructed. For example, it was possible to produce a measure of "environmental responsiveness" and, separately, an index of the potential efficacy of education about different actions in terms of students' willingness to change behaviours. In the present paper we report students' responses to the same survey at the end of primary school (Grade 6) and compare their views with students after one year in secondary school (Grade 7).

Global Warming in the Primary Curriculum

It is now acknowledged that moving towards sustainability literacy is an imperative in formal school education (Colucci-Gray, Camina, Barbiero, & Gray, 2005; NAAEE, 2004). Sterling (1998) suggests that sustainability learning outcomes for the upper primary years should address an understanding of how human systems work in terms of concepts such as inputs, outputs, sources, sinks and flows; a consideration of how resources may be managed more sustainably in, for example, the house, the school, and the farm; and an ability to develop indicators for students' own lifestyles and communities that they can use to monitor sustainability. These outcomes readily relate to global warming. For example, schools could address, in part, the energy and transport "doorways" in the Education for Sustainability Framework in England (Scott, 2007); and the notion of a "carbon-footprint" is suggested as a key middle school concept in a draft American sustainability education framework (US Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development, 2008). In middle school grades (5 to 8) in NSW, global warming is receiving increased emphasis through the Schools Climate Change Initiative. The aim of this Initiative is "to assist in the implementation of the NSW Greenhouse Plan by developing teacher and student awareness, understanding and environmental citizenship in regard to the local-to-global measures required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to future climate changes in NSW" (NSW DET, 2007).

Given these developments, global warming clearly has a place in the primary curriculum. Grade 6 students will be well aware of it from the intense media coverage and its inclusion in resources--texts and Internet sites--that they would access. Also, if they are similar to young people in NSW (15-24 year olds), they would rank it the most important social issue for the State government to address (DECC, 2007). Furthermore, although grade 6 and secondary students may hold varying conceptions about global warming that may influence consequent actions (Boyes & Stanisstreet, 1993; Lester, Ma, & Lambert, 2006; Rule, 2005), there is evidence that young children can be quite sophisticated in their environmental thinking and reasoning and are "highly active thinkers in the realm of environmental issues" (Palmer & Suggate, 1996; 2004, p. …