Global warming in the minds of Mexican higher education students: an exploratory study

Nora Munguia, America Romero, Carlos Anaya-Eredias, Krystal M. Perkins, Luis Velazquez*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Purpose: The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13 is at the core of many sustainability initiatives on Mexican higher education institutions (HEIs). Yet, progress to SDG 13 and the entire 2030 Agenda might today appear unlikely to meet. To change this situation, it is necessary to form professionals aware of the impacts of climate change and competent to respond efficiently to its adaptation and mitigation. In this context, the purpose of this study is to reveal the beliefs and concerns about global warming of Mexican students enrolled in engineering bachelor's degrees at higher education institutes that promote sustainability. Design/methodology/approach: In an exploratory study, engineering university students at six large public universities in Mexico answered questions regarding their beliefs and concerns regarding climate change. The study was carried out by using the Global Warming's Six Americas survey questionnaire. The questionnaire was developed by a research team from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication at Yale University to identify different audiences within the American public regarding climate change. Participants were recruited via convenience/snowball techniques which provided access to a diverse sample. Those who agreed to partake in the study were directed to an online platform via Google forms. Data were collected from January to April 2021. Coding and data treatment was conducted according to the developers' codebook and SPSS scripts. After running the statistical program scripts to determine the respondents' segment, a univariate descriptive analysis was performed for each item in the questionnaire to describe general properties in each variable. Subsequently, a series of correspondence analyses was conducted to examine the existence of clusters or patterns that could indicate relationships among selected questions. Findings: The findings of this study revealed that the majority of the Mexican engineering higher education students participating in the survey fell in the segment of alarmed, 47.3%, or the segment of concerned, 46.%. Furthermore, 78.6% of higher education students in the alarmed segment were extremely sure that global warming is happening. In addition, 98% believed that it is caused mostly by human activities. Furthermore, 89% stated that global warming would harm them personally significantly and 96% thought that future generations would be harmed considerably. About 78% believed that people in Mexico and the USA are currently being harmed by global warming. On the other hand, about 45% of students in the concerned group noted they were extremely sure. In addition, 96% of them thought that global warming is being produced mostly by anthropogenic activities. Furthermore, 39% said global warming will harm them personally to a great deal. However, nearly 80% noted that global warming would also hurt future generations. Although those students in the alarmed and concerned group show similar beliefs and concerns about global warming, the magnitude of concern was more significant for those in the alarmed segment. Research limitations/implications: There are several limitations to the study. First, the online questionnaire did not allow for clarification or follow-up on behalf of the respondents. Therefore, it could be possible that respondents misunderstood some items. However, the research team took the following measures to limit confusion: (1) The questionnaire had been previously used in several studies. None of these studies reported problems related to confusion, so the research team took this fact as evidence of the acceptable reliability of the questionnaire. (2) A face-to-face pilot test was carried out with 30 university students where no problems of comprehension were reported. (3) The target population had adequate prior knowledge of climate change, so the possibility of misunderstandings was likely low. A second limitation relates to the nature of the study. Fighting to mitigate the global climate crisis is a positive social norm. Respondents may have provided answers in line with this social norm and presented themselves as more pro-environmental than they actually are. Second, because of our selection criteria, our data may overestimate the general public's “worldviews” on climate change. Finally, this study was carried on during the COVID-19 pandemic, which could have impacted items' responses. These limitations constitute future opportunities for future research. Specifically, future research might ideally use a large-scale comprehensive study evaluating the broader Mexican public's beliefs and views about climate change. Furthermore, because our data showed that our respondents were very concerned about climate change, but did little in terms of behavioral mitigation, future research should continue to examine and explore differences in various measures of climate friendly behaviors among different segments of the population. Practical implications: This study's findings have at least twofold implications for university authorities and sustainability practitioners in their pursuit of meeting SDG 13. The first implication is related to academic life. Undoubtedly, having a high percentage of students believing in global warming and mainly that this phenomenon is by anthropogenic activities is a strong indication of their knowledge. But, indirectly, these results validate the sustainability teaching and research efforts in their HEIs, implying the commitment to sustaining and improving the quality of their sustainability-educational initiatives in all institutional areas. The second implication of our findings is related to HEIs' future commitments to address the target of SDG 13 during the present Decade of Actions. Results also lead us to reflect on the role of Mexican HEIs as agents of change, beyond offering good instruction on climate science as an agent of socialization to encourage positive mitigation and adaptation behaviors among the general population. Social implications: The social implication behind the environmental values of younger people found in this study is that a deeper understanding of these millennials' beliefs and concerns toward global warming will help Mexican policymakers implement policies in this regard and hopefully will be endorsed by a significant proportion of the Mexican population. Originality/value: The originality of this study is the application of the Global Warming's Six Americas survey questionnaire in higher education settings. Therefore, the knowledge generated determines the quality of the article. As findings in this study revealed, there is apparently little disagreement among the Mexican engineering higher education students about the belief of the existence of global warming and this phenomenon is being caused mainly by human-related activities. Nevertheless, a minority of students still believe that global warming is caused naturally or not occurring. However, it is not possible to claim victory, as these achievements should not be considered, in any way, a guarantee that students will carry out behaviors in their daily lives that impact a reduction in global warming. Nevertheless, the study provides insights to allow university authorities to ensure that the current beliefs and concerns will not fade in the post-pandemic times. Thus, the COVID-19 pandemic should be taken a pivotal era toward the goal of increasing the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited.

Keywords

  • Beliefs
  • Concerns
  • Global warming and climate change
  • Higher education
  • Paris agreement
  • SDG2013

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