Do You Think You Make Good Climate Choices?

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Do You Think You Make Good Climate Choices?

In “Think You’re Making Good Climate Choices? Take This Mini-Quiz,” Veronica Penney’s four-question quiz assesses your understanding of the efficacy of different climate choices. The quiz takes less than five minutes; we recommend that you answer the four quiz questions before moving on.

Ms. Penney then discusses the results of a study in which most participants struggled to assess the impact of different activities on the climate:

Were you way off?

If so, don’t feel bad. You’re not alone. Researchers surveyed 965 people in the United States and Canada, and only one answered three of four questions correctly. Nobody got all four questions right.

When participants were asked to rank the impact of different activities, four out of five people underestimated the climate importance of flying. More than half overestimated the significance of reusable grocery bags.

“I was a little bit surprised at the persistence of some misperceptions,” said Seth Wynes, a doctoral candidate at the University of British Columbia and the lead author of the study, published this month in the journal Climatic Change.

Ms. Penney also explores the significance of individual behaviors in the context of global greenhouse gas emissions:

The United States and Canada are two of the top greenhouse gas emitters worldwide, both in total and per capita emissions. On average, each person produces over 15 tons of carbon dioxide, a primary contributor to global warming, each year. That’s around three times as much as the British average and about eight times as much as in India.

For many people around the world, of course, hopping on a plane to Paris or eating fewer steaks isn’t an option to begin with. A report last year in the medical journal The Lancet suggested far less red meat for people who eat a lot of it, like Americans and Canadians, but not the world’s poor, who need more animal protein for better health.

“We don’t live in a world where everyone has sort of a carbon budget, like a carbon credit card, where we only get to expend X tons of CO2 per year,” said Dr. Shahzeen Attari, an associate professor at Indiana University Bloomington who studies climate perceptions and decision-making and who was not involved in the survey.

Furthermore, reducing carbon emissions to curb climate change will require sweeping policy changes on the government level and an overhaul of the world’s energy grids.

But, individual carbon footprints, particularly in the world’s wealthiest countries, still add up. Household emissions, which include energy use, food purchases and transportation, make up a fifth of all emissions in the United States.

When people in the survey were asked to pick the most significant lifestyle change they could make to cut emissions, driving less was the most popular answer. In reality, the most meaningful change would be to have fewer children. The next three are living car-free, avoiding air travel, and eating a vegetarian diet. (Eating vegetarian, for example, is eight times more effective than upgrading lightbulbs.)

Students, take the quiz and read the entire article, then tell us:

  • How did you do on the quiz? Are you a good judge of the best ways to reduce carbon emissions?

  • What surprised you from the article or quiz results? Are any behaviors more or less effective than you thought they were?

  • Do you try to make good climate choices? Do you already incorporate any of these strategies in your life? Will you adjust your behavior based on the information in the article?

  • How much should we consider individual behavioral change versus structural change when it comes to reducing emissions? Do you think that people who live in countries that produce more emissions, like the United States and Canada, bear a greater responsibility to be conscious of their choices?

  • The study Ms. Penney discusses suggests conducting education around high-impact activities and adding carbon footprint labels to consumer goods. What do you think of these proposals? What would help you reduce your carbon footprint? What other solutions can you come up with?

  • How does this quiz help tell the story of climate change? What articles, videos, podcasts or other pieces of media have helped you better understand the issue?

  • Veronica Penney, the author of the article above, is one of the guests on our live climate change panel for students on April 22. After taking the quiz and reading the article, what questions do you have for Ms. Penney? You can register for the event and submit your questions here — we might use them during the panel.


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Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.