Document Type


Publication Date

June 2008


Global warming has become one of the most important scientific, political, and social issues of our era. In designing an effective mitigation strategy, it is clear that public education must play an important role. This study looks at various components of climate change literacy within a cohort of university students and investigates the impact of action-oriented learning on student understanding. Results from questionnaires given to primarily nonscience students enrolled in weather and climate courses are used to examine student knowledge of climate change. In agreement with prior research, this study finds that signif icant student misconceptions exist regarding the causes of global warming and the relationship between global warming and ozone depletion. Most students seem to connect global warming only with visible pollution, such as exhaust from either a car or factory, while discounting more indirect emissions such as from electricity use and through product or food consumption. The authors then explore how a learning activity designed around the “ecological footprint” affects student ideas about their personal energy use and connections with global warming. The results show that a relatively simple learning activity that personally engages the student improves understanding of the connection between personal energy use and global warming. This work suggests that similar curricula, employing methods of personal engagement and social activism, be further developed to aid in the teaching of climate change.


© Copyright 2008 American Meteorological Society (AMS). Permission to use figures, tables, and brief excerpts from this work in scientific and educational works is hereby granted provided that the source is acknowledged. Any use of material in this work that is determined to be “fair use” under Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act September 2010 Page 2 or that satisfies the conditions specified in Section 108 of the U.S. Copyright Act (17 USC §108, as revised by P.L. 94-553) does not require the AMS’s permission. Republication, systematic reproduction, posting in electronic form, such as on a web site or in a searchable database, or other uses of this material, except as exempted by the above statement, requires written permission or a license from the AMS. Additional details are provided in the AMS Copyright Policy, available on the AMS Web site located at ( or from the AMS at 617-227-2425 or

SJSU users: use the following link to login and access the article via SJSU databases.