Global Warming Responses at the Primary Secondary Interface 2. Potential Effectiveness of Education

Article excerpt

Introduction

Global warming is the major environmental crisis facing the world in the 21st Century. Authoritative sources now agree that it is an increasing threat to the world's environmental integrity, its social well-being (IPCC, 1997; 2001, 2007), its long-term economic stability (Stern, 2006) and its political security (Solana, 2008). Furthermore, it is believed that at this stage the effects of global warming cannot be eliminated, only contained (Orr, 2009). In view of these predictions, it is increasingly important to design and apply effective measures for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In part, this will depend on central government policies; in part, it will require changes in the actions and behaviour of individual citizens, and it is likely that education will play some role in the latter.

Early "information deficit models" of individuals' behaviour change in an environmental context were based on the assumption that if people understood more about the environment and the actions that would cause, or avoid, environmental degradation, they would behave in a rational manner and adopt environmentally sympathetic behaviour patterns (Burgess, Harrison, & Filius, 1998). In other words, it was thought that there was a comparatively direct, positive relationship between a person's cognitive base about environmental problems and their willingness to act to reduce these problems. Some studies have shown that knowledge and behaviour are indeed linked (Mogensen & Nielsen, 2001; Yencken, Fien, & Sykes, 2000). In many other cases, however, it seems that the relationship between knowledge and action is not strong (Hungerford & Volk, 1990; Kollmus & Agyeman, 2002; Posch, 1993; Rajecki, 1982); there is what has come to be known as a "gap" between knowledge and action (Kollmus & Agyeman, 2002). This "gap" is partly due to the fact that behaviour is influenced by a plethora of other factors, not just knowledge (e.g., see Barr, 2006). For example, social norms can influence whether or not a person acts in an environmentally sympathetic fashion (Cialdini, Reno, & Kallgren, 1990). Alongside this, other beliefs, social pressures, educational background, and physical facilitators and inhibitors can synergistically influence whether a particular action is likely to be pursued (Barr, 2006; Corraliza & Berenguer, 2000; DECC, 2007). In addition, an individual's belief in their self-efficacy partly determines the extent to which they act in pro-environmental ways (Devine-Wright, Devine-Wright, & Fleming, 2004; Laskova, 2007).

Based mainly on studies of adults, Stern's (2000) value-belief-norm theory, in part, encompasses this multiplicity of variables. This theory argues that people need to value the environment for its own sake or for its benefits for society, understand environmental issues enough to appreciate the consequences for themselves and others, be convinced that they can effect change and believe that their society expects them to take action. Taking action consistent with values, beliefs and concerns can be strongly influenced by barriers such as governmental regulation, societal infrastructure, inconvenience and cost (Gardner & Stern, 2002). Chawla & Flanders Cushing's (2007) review of influences affecting young people's environmental actions can be superimposed on to the valuebelief-norm theory and assist in interpreting the findings reported in this study. Childhood experiences of nature, influential family and significant other role models seem important, but three factors seem to give the best prediction of action: gender, socio-economic status and environmental attitudes and/or knowledge. As Chawla & Flanders Cushing comment: educators cannot change gender or socio-economic status but "can influence ... students' opportunities to gain knowledge, form positive attitudes about the environment, and practice action skills" (p. 441). In this paper we identify those actions that can reduce global warming where we believe educators may have the most influence with middle-school age (11-14 years) students. …