Global warming has become one of the most important scientific, political, and social issues of our era. In designing an effective mitigation strategy, it is clear that public education must play an important role. This study looks at various components of climate change literacy within a cohort of university students and investigates the impact of action-oriented learning on student understanding. Results from questionnaires given to primarily nonscience students enrolled in weather and climate courses are used to examine student knowledge of climate change. In agreement with prior research, this study finds that significant student misconceptions exist regarding the causes of global warming and the relationship between global warming and ozone depletion. Most students seem to connect global warming only with visible pollution, such as exhaust from either a car or factory, while discounting more indirect emissions such as from electricity use and through product or food consumption. The authors then explore how a learning activity designed around the “ecological footprint” affects student ideas about their personal energy use and connections with global warming. The results show that a relatively simple learning activity that personally engages the student improves understanding of the connection between personal energy use and global warming. This work suggests that similar curricula, employing methods of personal engagement and social activism, be further developed to aid in the teaching of climate change.

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Department of Meteorology, San José State University, San José, California

Department of Communication Studies, San José State University, San José, California

Sustainability Indicators Program, Redefining Progress, Oakland, California

A supplement to this article is available online (DOI: 10.1175/2007BAMS2432.2)