A team of students have stepped into the shoes of environmental researchers to find out how their peers truly feel about climate change.
A research team led by environmental management and protection senior Ben Christensen asked 728 students to take a survey with questions about climate change.
“We are trying to get a better sense of where Cal Poly students were in terms of their understandings and perceptions and interactions with climate change. How do we as a campus, as a student body, feel about it?” Christensen said. “The university is committed to a whole bunch of different sustainability goals and initiatives, and it is part of the [California State University] curriculum, so the question is ‘Are we being successful with that?’”
Creating the survey
The team, known as the Climate Change Action Research Group (CCARG), began this project by researching how to obtain the most accurate data from the student population. According to Christensen, there was a meta analysis of data on different climate
change perspectives from outside sources.
The team then consolidated this data into four general topics they wanted to explore further relating to student persepctives. These topics were students’ knowledge of environmental action strategies, students’ perception of their individual ability to create actionable change, students’ environmental attitudes and understanding and students’ individual sense of responsibility.
These topics were the inspiration for the team’s official survey. It consisted of 13 statements which students responded to with a rating on a scale of 1 to 5 in which 1 corresponded with “strongly disagree” and 5 corresponded with “strongly agree.”
Additionally, the survey asked if students felt that climate change is a serious problem, and if they felt their peers did as well. It also asked if they currently take action to reduce their carbon footprint, and if they believe their peers do as well.
After calculating percentages from the data they collected through their survey, CCARG drafted a 37-page report mapping the student population’s overall perception of climate change.
The following percentages account for “agree” and “strongly agree” responses to the questions.
Based on the CCARG survey:
71.8 percent of students feel they know what they can do to contribute to sustainability in the community;
87.4 percent of students are willing to make a difference on campus;
76.6 percent of students feel a sense of responsibility to help reduce human impact on the environemt;
94.2 percent of students believe climate change is real;
92.1 percent of students feel climate change is a serious problem;
74.2 percent of students believe their peers feel climate change is a serious problem;
82.1 percent of students currently take action to make changes;
42.7 percent of students believe their peers currently take action to
“A lot of people are actually supportive of the movement, but they just don’t perceive others to be as well,” Christensen said.
The takeaways and the goal
The results motivated the CCARG to push their research in a different direction.
Overall, the student researchers believe these statistics could point students in the right direction. Environmental management and protection sophomore Logan Babcock believes it could help students to have the right mindset about
“A big takeaway for students is just being aware of your impact, because it’s easy to say that Cal Poly is doing enough. But since we are Cal Poly, it really is a personal choice to make an impact and educate yourselves,” Babcock said.
Their overall goal is to use this research to spur more efforts from the Cal Poly community to focus on sustainability to make a positive environmental impact on campus.
“The goal of [the study] is to publish the research and gear it towards policy makers on campus, people in the sustainability community who are trying to make an initiative so that we can do it in a more informed way and a more targeted way, just getting it in the right people’s hands,” Christensen said.
The group is also looking into applying to be speakers at multiple conferences to showcase their work.
“If the conferences happen, that is where [our research] will probably be showcased the most,” Babcock said.
Though all the results of the survey have been calculated, the paper must be edited so the research can be fully understood by faculty and others.
The call to action
Along with this research, the students are writing a call-to-action paper focusing on the need for more data regarding Cal Poly’s impact on the environment.
“Last year we had a couple projects going and one of them kind of just went kaput, because there wasn’t any data on it. And so what we drew from that is that there needs to be data on it,” Babcock said.
CCARG member and mechanical engineering junior Jeff Wagner was a lead on this project when it started last year.
“There is no numerical data on how much these practices help. I believe it helps and I want to prove that these practices help, but there’s no data to show that,” Wagner said. “This was a wake-up call for us — if we want to be proactive and if we want to be truly looking towards how we best impact the environment we need to look at how we are doing right now.”
The call-to-action paper will be formatted similarly to the research paper to influence faculty and groups to keep track of their data. CCARG knows that if faculty follows through and collects this data it can be used to understand not only what Cal Poly is doing to sustain the earth, but what the students could be doing as well.
“Since the university is involved in mandatory practices for students to learn about and understand climate change, their overall question is if these practices are working,” Christensen said. “We are looking to get an understanding of whether or not the sustainability in higher education is working efficiently, and what we can do in the future to impact it.”
More statistical information will be available when the report is released by the CCARG.