The students’ knowledge of climate change was rather good. In particular, students identified the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change. Students expressed that too much greenhouse gases ( = 3.9, sd = 1.1), using fossil fuels such as oil and coal ( = 4.0, sd = 1.1), consuming a lot of milk and dairy products ( = 3.8, sd = 1.3), and intensive forest logging ( = 3.7, sd = 1.2) increase climate change. The students’ understanding of the scientific basis of climate change was not commensurate with the causes of climate change, because their answers that emitted IR radiation is absorbed by greenhouse gases ( = 3.1, sd = 0.96) and too much IR radiation stays on the Earth ( = 3.5, sd = 1.1) were not very high. Also, the students’ knowledge that nitrogen oxides from fertilizers ( = 3.5, sd = 1.0), purchased products ( = 3.5, sd = 1.1), and landfills ( = 3.3, sd = 0.97) generate climate change were also rather low.
Girls knew the causes of climate change significantly more than boys (p < 0.00 for all the variables). The fifth graders’ understanding of greenhouse gases was the lowest, and that of the ninth graders was the highest, χ2(5) = 18.805, p < 0.001. Surprisingly, the fifth graders’ understanding of the impact of forest harvesting on climate change was the greatest, χ2(5) = 27.028, p < 0.000. The respondents’ place of residence affected the understanding of climate change for some variables. The understanding that too much greenhouse gas generates climate change was lowest at Turku, χ2(6) = 17.667, p < 0.007. Similarly, logging for Rovaniemi, χ2(6) = 14.751, p < 0.022; products for Helsinki, χ2(6) = 13.882, p < 0.031, and landfills for Oulu, χ2(6) = 17.308, p < 0.008, were associated with a lower understanding of the acceleration of climate change.
shows the students’ answers regarding hope and climate change. When we look at the students as a whole, the hope for climate change was not built on a minimisation of climate change, and denial of hope received fewer positive responses. For example, the idea that climate does not change (56% from “not at all” to “a little”) did not increase students’ hope (
= 1.9, sd = 1.7). Similarly, 39% of students said that hope did not increase when summers are warmer in Finland (
= 2.7, sd = 1.9). These variables had the largest standard deviations. In large datasets, larger standard deviations may mean an uncertainty of what the variable measures or that the students think very differently about that aspect of climate change.
In examining the students’ responses in more detail, particularly in regard to constructive hope, there were significant associations with various perspectives expressed by the students. For this statement, 61% of the respondents chose “somewhat” to “very much” ( = 4.0, sd = 1.6). Moreover, 52% of the students answered similarly for the statement “I can change my behaviour, and together, we can have a positive impact on the climate” ( = 4.0, sd = 1.5). Self-empowerment was seen as having a hopeful effect with 52.8% of the students responding at least “somewhat” for their own possibility of affecting climate change ( = 3.6; sd = 1.6). Similarly, climate work by environmental organizations was perceived to guide much (48.8%) of the increase in the pupils’ hope towards climate change ( = 3.6; sd = 1.5). The Paris Climate Agreement seemed to be difficult for the students to recognize or understand, because 42.3% of the students did not express a strong view on either end of the scale ( = 3.4; sd = 1.4).
Based on this data, it was quite obvious that there was not much regional difference in the students’ hopes regarding climate change, as the students’ answers differed by region only for warm summers, χ2(6) = 3.277, p < 0.039. In contrast, gender differences were found for a number of variables associated with the hope of climate change. Girls were less confident than boys on the effectiveness of science and technology to address climate change, t(941.5) = −2.307, p < 0.022, d = 0.15. Climate change underestimation did not increase hope in girls as much as in boys, t(948) = −6.710, p < 0.00, d = 0.44. The girls also thought more highly than boys that the positive effects of individual and collective actions would increase hope for climate change, t(948) = 6.394, p < 0.00, d = 0.41. Increased awareness has created more hope for girls than boys with regard to climate change, t(948) = 4.345, p < 0.00, d = 0.28. Constructive hope for climate change also varied in that the attitude of responsibility and severity of climate change was also significantly higher for girls than boys, t(948) = 4.378, p <0.00, d = 0.29. In addition, girls did not think as often as boys that climate change denial creates hope for climate change, t(948) = −5.300, p = 0.00, d = 0.33. They also believed more than boys that their own climate change mitigation actions increased hope, t(948) = 5.360, p = 0.00, d = 34. Warmer summers in Finland increased boys’ hope for climate change more than girls, t(943.278) = −3.728, p = 0.00, d = 0.24.
Age also influenced students’ hope for climate change in some variables. The belief that climate change was not as severe as climate scientists claim increased the hope for climate among 14-year-olds, χ2(6) = 15.657, p < 0.016. In addition, 16-year-olds felt that the increased awareness created hope for climate change, χ2(6) = 18.607, p < 0.005. Both 11-year-olds and 16-year-olds felt that taking climate change seriously and responsibly increased their hope, χ2(6) = 12.708, p < 0.048. The youngest students felt that warming summers increased hope for climate change, χ2(6) = 15.762, p < 0.014.
As depicted in Table 4
, when taken alone, gender was a significant predictor in all steps of the hierarchical regression model; girls expressed better mitigation knowledge of climate change than boys. In Step 2, the city and class level were entered in the model, but they did not predict climate change mitigation knowledge. In Step 3 of the model, the other control variables were entered, and finally, constructive hope, denial of hope, climate change knowledge, and trust for climate change adaptation were inserted. In this final step, knowledge of climate change was the strongest positive predictor. The results indicated a strong connection between climate change knowledge and the understanding of climate change mitigation means. In addition, constructive hope was a significant positive predictor. Denial of hope was a significant negative predictor. So, it seems to be evident the scientifically correct climate change knowledge and constructive hope, for example, the beliefs of one’s own possibilities to make change, predict well students’ knowledge to mitigate climate change. The full model accounted for 45% of the variance, F(7, 942) = 168.623, p
A Pearson’s correlation analysis (Table 5
) was conducted between constructive and denial of hope and climate change mitigation knowledge and trust for climate change adaptation. All four correlations were significant. The strongest significant positive correlation was between mitigation knowledge and constructive hope, and the weakest was denial of hope with optimism of adaptation. Thus, it would seem that positive thinking about climate change was linked to higher knowledge of climate change mitigation. Students were also confident that people in Finland and elsewhere, and science and technology would help us to adapt to climate change, but the correlations were not high, especially related to denial of hope. Actually, a Spearman correlation analysis revealed the students’ ideas that warmer summers (rs
= 0.208, p
< 0.001) and doubt that climate change is a natural phenomenon (rs
= 0.194, p
< 0.001) affected hopefulness towards climate change adaptation. Therefore, they somehow think they have greater confidence in climate change adaptation, or that adaptation may not even be needed.
Limitations of the Study
This study had some limitations. Because it explored a new area of research, some of the scales were created specifically for this study. Thus, although the reliability of the scales was satisfactory, they should be further validated in future studies. Additionally, the correlations were at best of medium strength. The results of this study were based on a convenience sample of Finnish elementary and secondary students. To be able to generalize the results in a broader way, it is important to use random sampling in future studies and to include young people from different cultures and countries [25