What do PSU Students Think of Climate Change?

Old Main building at sunset

In Fall 2019, Awaken State surveyed students in a variety of classes at Penn State to see what they thought about the climate crisis. The survey asked respondents questions about their concerns, feelings, experience, and opinions regarding climate change.

Participating classes came from Biological Science, Biochemistry and Molecular Engineering, Microbiology, Philosophy, and Sociology, with a total of 1,584 students responding.

Students want climate action

Survey respondents overwhelmingly accept climate science. They believe that climate change presents a threat both to humanity as a whole and to their personal communities. Students want PSU to do more to address climate change.

Women are, in general, more concerned about climate change than men, though both men and women on average are very concerned. Student information sources affect both their acceptance of climate change and feelings about climate change. Students benefit when their primary climate information source is a university course or faculty member. The various university colleges have different levels of climate acceptance among their students.

Students responded a variety of questions on a scale of 1-5:

  • 88.40% of respondents selected 4 or 5 for belief in climate change
  • 72.97% of respondents selected 4 or 5 for assessment of threat
  • 53.89% believe that climate change is a thread to their local community; only 5.99% rated the threat as very low.

Students feel anxious and powerless

When asked about their emotions regarding climate change…

  • 63.72% of respondents report feeling anxious
  • 65.30% of respondents report feeling powerless

Other emotions show similar distress at lower frequencies

  • 50.01% of respondents report feeling guilty
  • 49.70% of respondents report feeling confused
  • 49.83% of respondents report feeling angry
  • 38.50% of respondents report feeling hopeless

Students feel unprepared by Penn State

On the same 1-5 point scale…

  • 62.05% of respondents report 1 or 2 for how well PSU has prepared them
  • 28.33% reported that PSU has prepared them “not at all well”
  • Only 2.37% reported that PSU has prepared them “very well”
  • On a scale of 1 to 5, (from “Definitely no” to “Definitely yes”) 73.60% of respondents selected 4 or 5 

Photo by L. Reidar Jensen

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