Climate change belief, sustainability education, and political values: Assessing the need for higher-education curriculum reform

Vanderbilt University

Publication Release Date: April 23, 2019
Date Posted: May 13, 2019
Submitted by: Tessie Devlin
Sustainability Topics: Curriculum, Air & Climate
Content Type: Publications
Publisher: Elsevier
Periodical Name: Journal of Cleaner Production
Type: Journal Article


Educational attainment is generally a strong predictor of belief in climate change, but prior research indicates that for political conservatives a college education is not always associated with increased belief. Conservatives in several countries, especially those in populist parties, have shown skepticism toward climate-mitigation policies and in some cases toward climate science. The study contributes to theories of environmental belief by examining two mechanisms for the low effect of the college education on climate belief for conservatives: selective exposure bias (students avoid courses that challenge their beliefs) and resistance to belief change (students reject or filter information that is incompatible with their political orientation). Using a survey of college-educated adults in the U.S., the study finds strong evidence for selective exposure bias and mixed evidence for resistance to belief change. Importantly, approximately one-third of conservative students who took a college course with climate-change content shifted from initial skepticism or uncertainty to a more confident belief. Moreover, exposure to an education with a core curriculum is associated with stronger belief. The study provides support for the policy goal of a curricular requirement for climate education, which can overcome selective exposure bias and, for some students, resistance to belief change.