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Do Dutch youth care about climate change?

A large-scale study shows that high school students are not overly concerned about global warming

6 Feb 2019 09:31 | Communication

On 7 February, high school students will again take to the streets for a climate protest. Are they representative of their peers? Lecturer-researcher Adwin Bosschaart of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS) does not think so. He has spent the past year researching what high school students think about climate change. “The assumption that large groups of youths are very concerned about climate change is not confirmed by this research.”

The average high school student does not doubt that climate change exists, but does not take the associated risks personally, Adwin Bosschaart observes on the basis of a survey conducted among 2200 third-year high school students from various school types throughout the Netherlands.

Air travel

The willingness of young people to take measures to limit climate damage varies, especially in relation to their climate awareness. For example, while students did acknowledge the benefit of reuse, a significantly smaller number of them subsequently said they would be willing to purchase fewer new items themselves. In addition, only a limited number of the students surveyed said they would be willing to travel less by air for the sake of the climate, even though they fully understand the benefit of this measure.

Bosschaart, senior lecturer-researcher in the Geography teacher training programme at the AUAS, and his students also looked at a specific group of 1100 fifteen-year-olds at Amsterdam schools. In addition to questionnaires, interviews were conducted with 60 of the participants.

The Amsterdam results show that risk awareness concerning climate change varies widely between students from different school types, with pre-university (VWO) students showing much more awareness of climate issues. There are also significant differences between students with and without a non-Western migration background.

Extreme views

Although there are not many differences between the average high school student in Amsterdam and those in rest of the Netherlands, students in Amsterdam are “far more extreme in their opinions,” according to Bosschaart. “Either they are very climate-conscious, especially pre-university students without a migration background, or they don't concern themselves with it at all, as is the case mainly for students in preparatory secondary vocational education (VMBO). 

This does not surprise him. “In Amsterdam, the contrasts are growing as a result of increasing social segregation. This is reflected in education,” says Bosschaart. His research also shows that the attitudes of parents play an important role in the attitudes of students, both through the subjects discussed at home and in a practical sense through leading by example.

Generation gap

The results of his research therefore invalidate the suggestion that the student protests – which are currently taking place all over Europe – mark the beginning of an emerging generation gap. According to Bosschaart, the results actually show that the climate change theme should be interpreted along socioeconomic lines, especially in Amsterdam.

Bosschaart says that climate change education should therefore take into account the differences between students on the basis of school type and migration background, as well as the important role played by parents.

About the research project

The study into students’ views on climate change is part of a larger research project that aims to help lecturers enable students to develop a conscious and educated perspective towards climate change. The intention is to study the lecturers in the next phase. In the third and final phase (for the time being), learning experiences will be monitored and teaching materials developed.