Arnd Visarius

Climate change: Are students responding to concerns with action?

Arnd Visarius
Arnd Visarius
published 01/09/2020

Climate change is a major concern for most students. But does this worry translate to changes in their own behaviour and forgoing personal luxuries? We addressed this question together with Maastricht University as part of the Fachkraft 2030 study. 

Cologne, 2 September 2020. Corona is the topic on everyone's lips this year, particularly with its direct impact on the lives of students. Things couldn't have been more different back in 2019: At that point in time, climate change was the key issue, with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets and a staggering amount of media coverage. Although it has provided a distraction to the threat of climate change, coronavirus can't simply make it disappear into thin air. We surveyed 14,500 students on this still highly relevant topic; with a quite surprising response. 

Climate change: Worry about the future is widespread

The ongoing relevance of this topic is highlighted by indications that despite the positive impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on the climate’, other experts now suspect this beneficial effect will fizzle out over time. Nevertheless, climate change represents cause for concern among 90% of the students surveyed. Differences in opinion were observed between males and females, and individual subject areas. 85% of male respondents reported that they worry about climate change, whereas this number grew to 93% for female respondents. Clear similarities can be drawn to a study conducted by TU Chemnitz, which demonstrated that girls and women represent the majority of people participating in Fridays for Future (FFF). Across both genders, 95% of art/music students are concerned about climate change, whereas ‘only’ 84.5% of computer science students reported worrying about the future. 

‘The topic of climate change often goes hand in hand with negative emotions, which also determines how we approach it. Accordingly, over 90% of respondents expressed concerns about climate change at present.’ – Eckhard Köhn, CEO jobvalley.

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Join the protest? Only a minority state active involvement

With a high degree of widespread concern and hopes to achieve positive change and influence the future, surely you'd expect to see most students taking a stand? Somewhat surprisingly, only a minority of respondents responded that being actively involved in protesting climate change was something they regard as important. A mere 34 percent of respondents declared they've been actively involved in protest campaigns, with a marginal difference between the genders (just over 4 percent). However, major differences were observed across subject areas: Sports scientists (23 percent) and economists (23.3 percent) state they are less likely to get actively involved in climate change protests than people who study educational sciences (39.5 percent) and art/music (43.6 percent).

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Flight shaming: not as widespread as you’d think

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In their current form, air planes cause significantly higher emissions than other means of transport. Despite all their concerns about climate change, both female and male students can’t seem to keep their feet on the ground for very long. Just 41 percent of respondents claimed they would be happy to give up flying to save the planet. At 29 percent, economics students are the least open to limiting their flying habits, whereas 52.5 percent of art/music students would be happy to give up their wings. The picture gets even clearer when looking at the number of students who answered with an unambiguous ‘Yes’: At a mere 7.8 percent, economics was the only subject area to land in the single-digits. These findings are likely due to the fact that students can make the most of particularly low flight prices and some of the destinations they want to jet off to simply can't be reached with any other form of transport.

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Regional products – a mixed response among respondents

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Access to regional products is a key aspect of climate protection when it comes to food and shopping. Accordingly, roughly 74 percent of respondents say they look for regional products when buying food. Seems like a clear trend? Not exactly. Major differences were recorded between genders and subject areas. 79 percent of female respondents purchase regional products compared to 66 percent of men. Although almost 87 percent of art and music students pay attention to regional origin when shopping, computer science students seem to find this far less important (66 percent).

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Reducing consumption? Two thirds of respondents show their support

When it comes to consumer habits, a total of 63 percent of respondents are willing to avoid buying things to help the climate. Female respondents are more willing to do their part (67.4 percent) than their male counterparts (55.9 percent). Only 12.2 percent stated they had no intentions of changing their buying habits.

‘Even though not all respondents are concerned about their consumer habits, it would seem that the majority of students in Germany have started to link their lifestyle and the things they buy to saving the planet’ – Eckhard Köhn.

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Giving up meat to fight climate change – only to a limited extent

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Along with a number of ethical concerns about animal welfare, we also now know that the meat industry and the consumption of meat products fuel climate change. We can do our part to counter this by purchasing regional (organic) products and eating less – or completely giving up – meat. Be that as it may, only 60 percent of respondents say they eat less meat, or no meat at all, in order to help the planet. Nevertheless, 70 percent of female respondents reported they've given up or reduced meat consumption, whereas only 45 percent of their male counterparts are willing to change their habits.

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Climate change: Do future engineers rely on green mobility?

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Developing environmentally-friendly drive technologies and green mobility is key to reducing carbon emissions. 81 percent of respondents believe this process isn’t happening quickly enough. It's then interesting to take a look at whether at a time when the federal government is increasingly providing subsidies for electric vehicles and German car manufacturers are producing more electric vehicles than ever, this mindset is reflected among future car manufacturers. Surprisingly not. Only 74.3 percent of engineering students surveyed believe progress needs to accelerate in this field. In comparison, 93 percent of students of art and music support speeding up the development of environmentally friendly drive systems.

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jobvalley summary

As demonstrated above, ongoing climate change continues to be a major issue, including among Germany's students. Just as before the pandemic, companies are required not just to push for climate change, but to follow these values themselves. However, the survey also highlighted that the majority of respondents are only willing to adjust their habits to a limited extent. It will be interesting to see how this progresses when the members of Fridays for Future and other protest groups enter universities in increasingly higher numbers. Will this result in a growing culture of giving up habits fuelling climate change and engaging in less study programmes abroad in countries like Australia, New Zealand and the U.S.? We will be following these developments and report our findings in the future.

Arnd Visarius
About the author

Arnd Visarius

Since I've always been passionate about writing, it didn't take much effort to jump out of my studies into the fresh water of online editing when the opportunity presented itself. After working in Dortmund, Witten, Cologne (other side of the Rhine) and North Miami Beach, I'm now aboard as Content Manager at jobvalley.