Can kids help move the needle on climate change?

Kids who have been educated on climate change influence their parents, says research from NC State. 

September 20, 2019 

A global climate change protest led by young people 

On Friday, hundreds of young people packed together on Halifax Mall in downtown Raleigh to join a global climate strike, days before the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York. There were more than 2,500 events in 150 countries, and motivating the protests was a sense of fear among young people.

“I’m honestly scared about the future,” said 15-year-old Melissa Jeffris as she walked toward to crowd. “This is a conversation that’s been going on for a while now, and not much action is being taken."

The youth climate movement has gained momentum over the past year, bolstered by activists like Swedish teenager Greta Thornburg. School walkouts, climate change parades and social media campaigns have pushed the movement into the spotlight.

“We’re concerned about the earth and why go to school if there’s no future? It feels really hopeless if we don’t make a change,” said 16-year-old Quinn McGuire.

Kids are a trusted source of information about climate change  

But research from North Carolina State University shows that climate-educated children do have an impact, especially on their parents.

“I don’t think it’s that surprising that kids can have an impact,” said Nils Peterson, one of the study co-authors. “They’ve been instrumental on recycling, littering and other issues that generally make this world a more pleasant place to live in.”

The research team helped teachers develop a climate change curriculum and measured concern among parents before and after their children took part in the classes. Even after controlling for kids that were concerned about climate change before the experiment, levels of concern rose significantly among parents whose children had taken the class.

The groups that saw the most changes were conservatives, parents of girls and fathers.

“So not only can kids change our minds, but even among groups that are generally harder to move,” said Peterson. “When your own children give you information, you know they aren’t trying to trick you.”

But keeping young people from despair and apathy is a concern. Earlier research from NC State shows that it's important to educate kids about climate change in a way that promotes solutions and actions, rather than just problems. 

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 media outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

For more information about climate change and its impact on North Carolina:

Effects of Climate Change on the Southeast: North Carolina Climate Office 
Climate Change and Clean Energy: North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality

—Rossie Izlar

Rossie Izlar is a digital producer on the UNC-TV Science team.