Adolescents' Representations of Climate Change

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD

Abstract

Adolescents will face the serious future challenges associated with climate change,
yet – compared to adults – there is relatively little research investigating their
understandings of climate change. Much of the existing research is concerned with
the accuracy of their knowledge or their stated support for particular actions to
mitigate climate change. The focus of inquiry is typically prescribed, and the
dominant use of quantitative methods means that response options are pre-specified.
The aim of this thesis was to elicit and examine the ways adolescents
understand and make meaning of climate change, and how and where they
position it in relation to their own and others’ lives. Four empirical qualitative
studies were conducted to explore this focus, with Social Representation Theory
used as lens through which to consider the research findings.

The participants in these studies represented climate change as a real and
anthropogenic phenomenon with potentially devastating consequences for the
Earth and its inhabitants. Participants positioned others as more responsible for
causing climate change. The more serious consequences of climate change were
often – but not always – placed with others or at a distance, with some
participants associating climate change consequences – and solutions – with
science-fiction-like concepts. Participants argued that government-led political,
economic, and social change is required to resolve climate change. They also
expressed considerable anger at the intergenerational injustice of climate change
and the lack of action being taken. However, although united on the issue of
intergenerational injustice and the need for action on climate change, not all
participants were fully supportive of the youth climate movement and its
adherents.

Whilst their representations of climate change mirror adults’ in many ways, the
issue of intergenerational injustice features prominently in these adolescents’
representations. The findings indicate the potential utility of earlier and broader
climate change education and of expanding political participation to include older
adolescents.
Date of Award26 May 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorJulie Barnett (Supervisor) & Saffron O'Neill (Supervisor)

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