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Campus survey brings to light views on climate change

April 9, 2010

UW-River Falls political science department lecturer Erick Highum led a group of three students in the fall in conducting a survey to discover what students’ views on global climate change were.

“Climate change is an issue that is argued to affect many large segments of our economy and society, has very divergent and strongly held political views associated with it, and is the subject of ongoing international research and negotiations at the United Nations, such that students ought to be aware of the issue and surrounding debate,” Highum said.

The students involved are Cory Heaton, Jonathan Lyksett and Jennifer Haug—each of whom helped create the survey and gathered responses from more than 350 students. The purpose was to determine if students thought that global climate change and human industrial activities are important issues and to compare various countries global climate policies in the wake of the Kyoto Protocol.

Highum helped write most of the questions and Cory Heaton, Jennifer Haug and Jonathan Lyksett distributed the surveys across campus in different classes. It was a 50-question survey that was based on various stances that world governments and the UN have on global warming, and the solutions to it. They used these questions first to see whether or not River Falls students believe that global warming exists, then wanted to see if their ideas about global warming align with countries like the United States, China, Brazil, Russia, as well as organizations like the United Nations and the European Union, according to Lyksett.

The results of the survey found that most students agree that global warming is real, the result of human industrial activities and that individuals can make a difference in preventing future global climate change, but are unsure of the reliability of climate change models and whether global climate change is less important than having a strong economy.

“I thought that it was really refreshing to see that University students are concerned about global warming. Not only that, but they feel that the United States should be involved in measures to promote clean energy and conservation,” Lyksett said.

The survey also found that most students are in strong agreement that industrialized countries should try to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions, and that there is a heavier burden on industrialized developed nations to find a solution for climate change than developing nations. This finding supports the policies of leading developing states such as India, Brazil and China, and is surprising given the strength or level of support for this policy position, according to Highum.

Most students had mixed support for the principal provisions of the United Nations’ Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change. Specifically, UWRF students surveyed do not support an emissions trading scheme that allows countries with little or no emissions to sell emissions to countries that are over their targets, according to the survey results.

This finding runs counter to many current legislative initiatives in Congress on the climate change issue, according to Highum.

“I was quite surprised by some of the findings, especially the fact that many students agreed with China’s policy and thoughts from the Kyoto Protocol,” Haug said. “There were some students who did not believe in global warming, but most agreed that if global warming is occurring, humans can make the difference by the way we consume and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, for example.” The team will be traveling to the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research at the University of Montana, April 15-17 to present their research.

“I look forward to meeting and speaking with students and professors about climate change and hearing their arguments and ideas,” Haug said. “I learn the most from those who play devil’s advocate; I also look forward to seeing the research done by those across the United States.”

The three students split up their research they submitted into overall results, gender and political leaning. They will construct a large poster and display graphs and all of their results for all to see, and talk to those interested about their process and results, according to Haug.

“I am excited to be around other students who have created a project about something they are passionate about. People from all fields will be there, and I am really looking forward to seeing their work,” Lyksett said.

“It is important for students to be aware of global climate change because it’s always happening,” Haug said. “The climate is always changing, but human activity is surpassing the world’s limit of how much change it can deal with at once. We live in a global society; everything is connected, therefore all those in this world should be aware of what is happening and what is changing. How we consume and live our lives affects those across the seas; I hope students at least understand that.”