Efforts to build climate change concern seem warranted to overcome apathy and promote action. However, research suggests that these efforts can backfire by breeding despair, denial and inaction. This may be especially true among younger audiences, as despair is highest among those who view climate challenges as out of their control, and children generally have lower perceived and actual control than adults in political and personal arenas. Though many studies have documented feelings of despair and sadness among younger audiences, few have explored how climate change hope may counteract despair and encourage productive responses to climate change concern. This study examined how climate change hope, despair, and concern predict pro-environmental behavior with a quantitative survey of a random sample of middle school students in North Carolina, USA (n = 1486). We did not find an interaction between climate change hope and concern or despair, but instead found climate change hope and concern independently and positively related to behavior and despair negatively related to behavior. These results suggest that climate change concern among K-12 audiences may be an important antecedent to behavior which does not dampen the positive impacts of hope. Further, rather than mitigating the negative effects of climate change despair, hope may be an independent predecessor to behavior. Students at Title I (a measure of low socioeconomic status) schools were less likely to engage in pro-environmental behaviors, suggesting climate literacy efforts should target schools with lower levels of socioeconomic status specifically.
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