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Title: The public understanding of climate change : A case study of Taiwanese youth
Author: Kuo, Shih-Yun
View Online: njit-etd2010-116
(xix, 373 pages ~ 1.9 MB pdf)
Department: Department of Chemistry and Environmental Science
Degree: Doctor of Philosophy
Program: Environmental Science
Document Type: Dissertation
Advisory Committee: Cohen, Maurie J. (Committee chair)
Jackson, Nancy L. (Committee member)
Qiu, Zeyuan (Committee member)
Friedman, Robert S. (Committee member)
Hsiao, Hsin-Huang Michael (Committee member)
Date: 2010-08
Keywords: Climate change
Public understanding of science
Public perception
Availability: Unrestricted

Global climate change is likely to be the most challenging environmental dilemma of the 21st century because its impacts on ecosystems and human society are transnational in scale and long term in scope. Due to its high scientific complexity and uncertainty and high political and economic sensitivity, mitigating the problem will require interdisciplinary cooperation and collective and sustained efforts on the part of all nations. Sufficient domestic support from both government and the lay public will not only be significant to the success of an international climate regime, but also crucial to the effectiveness of potential domestic climate policies.

Such circumstances call for exploration of how the level of the public’s scientific understanding of climate change influences choices for climate protective actions and support for climate policies. Social scientists have the responsibility to explore how people perceive, understand, and respond to global climate change and to investigate the roles and interrelationships of various actors (e.g., scientists, citizens, and elected and appointed officials) in the policy-making process. Compared with numerous social scientific studies of global climate change in North America and Europe, substantially fewer investigations have focused on other regions of the world. Therefore, this doctoral research presents a case study of domestic climate policy formulation premised on the integration of science and citizens in an industrialized Asian society - Taiwan.

This dissertation reports the views of Taiwanese youth with respect to global climate change based on data compiled from three empirical studies (i.e., integrated assessment focus groups, pre- and post-surveys, and a web-based survey). These studies in combination present three primary findings: 1) Most Taiwanese young adults tend to endorse pro-climate protection attitudes and behaviors; 2) These young adults display an extensive but limited scientific understanding pertaining to the problem; 3) A process of experimental participation with scientists enhanced individual scientific understanding and policy making.

Further investigation revealed that these perceptions were grounded in a strong sense of ecological citizenship, which is likely influenced by the contemporary environmental movement in Taiwan since the 1980s. While this case study finds that scientific knowledge is less influential in determining individual behavioral intentions than public attitudes toward climate change, the continual enhancement of public ethical awareness about global climate change provides a helpful approach for policy makers seeking to obtain public support.

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