This is Scientific American 60-second Science, I'm Adam Levy.
Avoiding the worst effects of climate change will require action. But it's hard to take action when you don't even know there's a problem. Around the world, only half of adults understand that humans are causing climate change through activities that produce greenhouse gases.
But the picture is different for kids. Previous work has shown that children are more engaged and more knowledgeable than adults are about climate change. The question is, can this be harnessed to make a difference?
"We had come across this idea that kids are capable of influencing their parents. And when we say influence, we really mean just teaching them."
Danielle Lawson, a social scientist at NC State University.
"That's what we set out to really investigate: Can we design things in such a way that kids are able to teach their parents about climate change? And because of the fact that it's someone's child speaking to them instead of just an adult on the street or a different climate communicator, a parent's willing and able to listen to their children."
To test the idea, Lawson set up a wildlife-based climate course for kids. This approach was based on previous courses, but the team added a twist: involving the parents. First, parents were invited to come along to an event that formed a part of the course. And that's not all.
"So we also had students interview their parents. And this interview never mentioned climate change specifically, but it had questions like: How have you seen the weather change over the last 5 to 10 years? Do you believe the sea level is rising? How do you think that could impact our communities?"
The study showed that the course did indeed increase concern about climate change, not just among the kids, but their parents too. And there were some surprising findings in the results.
"This process of children teaching their parents, it really was most effective among those parents who were previously the least concerned about climate change. So that was conservatives and fathers. And then what was also really exciting was that the treatment was particularly effective if the child that was doing the teaching was a daughter."
The study is in the journal Nature Climate Change.
These findings come at a time when more kids are becoming climate activists—and Lawson says that her study shows just how persuasive young people's voices can be.
"Kids are really powerful. They are having an impact, they are taking over the news, they're not letting us not talk about the issue. It makes me really excited to see how much of an impact kids can have. And I think kids can just have the power to bring us together in a way that we haven't seen yet when it comes to climate change."
Thanks for listening for Scientific American — 60-Second Science. I'm Adam Levy.