Examining differences in public opinion on climate change between college students in China and the USA


China and the USA share the highest importance related to climate change, both in terms of their greenhouse gas emissions and their centrality to potential mitigation policies. Because college students represent the future leaders of these countries and because young adults have a longer time horizon and thus are more vulnerable to the long-term consequences of climate change, their opinions on this issue are of considerable interest. We report and interpret the results of online surveys of just over 4,000 college students from across China (n = 1670) and the USA (n = 2335) between September and November 2013. We examined perceptions and beliefs regarding the scientific basis and potential impacts of climate change as well as attitudes about policy responses. A substantially larger proportion of Chinese students reported acceptance of the considerable scientific consensus regarding anthropogenic climate change. In contrast, a smaller proportion of US students reported seeing a risk of harm to humans from climate change, while a higher proportion of US students reported being unconcerned about climate change compared to Chinese students. In terms of policy, Chinese respondents showed greater support for joining an international agreement to address climate change than Americans. Although the future of international climate change policy is uncertain, it is clear that meaningful climate change mitigation policies and actions must include the participation and cooperation of both China and the USA. Thus, the results of this study should be interesting and informative to all parties considering the issue of global climate change policy.

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Many thanks are given to all the students and professors at universities in China and the USA that participated in these surveys. We also acknowledge Elora Leene, Emy Marier, Wesley Meives, Liang Yifang, Wenqing Li, Xu Jiajing, and Zhang Ying for their excellent work as research assistants. Additionally, we are grateful for valuable comments from Yonghong Jiang, Shiying Wang, Bo Wang, Wang Ran, Yan Yunfeng, Yifan Yang, Yujie Li, Binbin Wang, Tao Hu, Endre Tvinnereim, and Matthew Winden. Funding for this research was provided by the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.

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Correspondence to Eric Jamelske.

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Jamelske, E., Boulter, J., Jang, W. et al. Examining differences in public opinion on climate change between college students in China and the USA. J Environ Stud Sci 5, 87–98 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-015-0229-9

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  • Climate change
  • Global warming
  • Public opinion
  • China
  • USA