Research Summary

Exploring the essential psychological factors in fostering hope concerning climate change

Creating hopefulness when teaching about climate change

Environmental Education Research

When facing issues caused by climate change, the next generation of leaders may feel overwhelmed and pessimistic. Fostering a feeling of hopefulness around mitigating climate change can help to actively engage young people with addressing these problems. Understanding the factors that affect hope can promote engagement in addressing climate change issues, which is why EE should consider integrating hope into programmatic aims and resources. Previous research has also found that levels of environmental concern may influence hope. The researchers sought to understand high school students of hopefulness and their level of concern for the environment.

The researchers used the Reasonable Persons Model (RPM) to understand hopefulness in this study. RPM describes how to motivate a person to solve problems, and there are three components. The first component, model building, is the amount of knowledge the person has about the subject. The second component, being effective, is if the individual believes they have the skills to effectively participate in problem solving. The third component of RPM, meaningful action, describes if a person believes that their actions in helping problem-solve will make a difference. The authors believed that the three components influence each other in hopeful individuals.

This study took place in six southeastern states (Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Virginia). The authors collected data using a survey of 628 high school students from 18 different high schools across these states. The survey was administered prior to a lesson on how forested areas can reduce the impact of climate change. The survey asked closed-ended questions to gauge participants’ knowledge of climate change (model building), belief whether they can take action (being effective), and possible actions (meaningful action). In addition, the survey asked closed-ended questions to gauge participant’s environmental concern, perspectives on engaging with solutions to climate change, and demographics. The survey also asked whether the participant knew someone who managed forests; the authors thought this might influence hope. The data were analyzed using statistics.

This study found that being effective was the only component of the RPM that directly led to hope. This suggests that participants were more likely to hopeful about solving climate issues if they believed that they or society can be effective in the problem-solving process. Notably, the authors found that participants who were concerned about climate change were also more likely to be hopeful. They suggested this may be because concerned individuals sought information and strategies, which increased being effective.

Supporting previous research, the study found that simply understanding the issue (model building) did not lead to increased hope. However, there was some support for all three components working together could increase hope. Female and 11-12th grade participants indicated more hopefulness than male students and 9th-10th grade participants. Finally, the study found that knowing someone who managed forests increased being effective, which then increased hope.

There were a few limitations in the research study and its design. The teachers volunteered to give the survey because they wanted to teach the students about climate change, which could mean there was an increased chance that the teachers felt hopeful about climate change and could pass this feeling on to their students. Another limitation is that that hope may be too complex to be simplified using the RPM.

To help students become hopeful, the authors recommend targeting participants’ concern as well as feelings of ability to take action. Helping students understand that there are things they and society can do can also promote feelings of hope. When teaching about climate change, the authors suggest it is important to teach about actions people can take to combat climate change, as well as provide specific examples around how individuals and communities are addressing the issue. The authors note that helping students understand climate change may increase concern, but not necessarily hope.

The Bottom Line

The authors of this study explored the concept of hope related to climate change. Specifically, they used a survey to measure whether components of a model impacted hope among high school students in six southern states. The study found that students who felt that they have the skills necessary to problem solve were the most likely to be hopeful. To create programs that inspire hope, the researchers suggest that when teaching about climate change, educators give actions that students can take to mitigate climate change issues and examples of communities working together to solve these problems.