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Students study climate change public opinions in China

September 30, 2013

UW-Eau Claire student researchers and Dr. Eric Jamelske, professor of economics, pose for a photo with a group of local people in Guangzhou, China. The researchers are asking college students and adults in China to complete surveys that will help them with their climate change attitudes survey. The students said people in China have shown great interest in their work, with many asking the students to pose for photos and others requesting that they share information when their work is completed.


UW-Eau Claire students collect climate change surveys from college students and adults in front of the Guangzhou public library in China. Three UW-Eau Claire students and an economics professor are in China this fall to gather data for their research project about climate change public opinions in China and U.S.

EAU CLAIRE — Three University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire student researchers and a university economist are in China this fall gathering information that will help them better understand climate change public opinions in China and the United States, the two largest carbon emitting countries in the world. 

"We want to know what people in both countries think about climate change and why they think as they do," said Dr. Eric Jamelske, an associate professor of economics, who is leading the faculty-student research project. "If there is to be meaningful global action taken to address climate change, it'll be essential for China and the United States to be involved. Despite the very different social and political cultures in these two countries, public opinion on this issue will undoubtedly play a role in how climate change policy and action unfolds internationally. So a better understanding of how people in these countries view climate change issues is of great interest."

The student researchers in China this fall are Wes Meives, a senior economics major from Mount Horeb; Emy Marier, a senior majoring in organizational communication and behavior analysis with an advanced business communication certificate from Hugo, Minn.; and Elora Leene, a history and political science major from Oconomowoc.

"My personal interest in our research is studying how to gain momentum for environmental policy that will address the causes and effects of climate change, whether it is through scientific research or increasing public support for such action," said Leene, who has worked with Jamelske on climate change research for four semesters. "I believe that change has to happen from the bottom up, and public opinion on climate change is related to how people might make personal choices based on their own impact on the environment."

Marier said she also was drawn to the project because of her belief that public opinion will influence policy changes related to climate change.

"I'm particularly interested in corporate sustainability because of the impact corporations have on human development," Marier said. "A climate policy that impacts carbon emissions would provide the necessary incentive to push corporations, who have not done so voluntarily, toward producing a triple bottom line for managing their natural, social and monetary capital to address the full cost of doing business."

While in China, the students will visit the cities of Beijing, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Xian. In each city, they will partner with Chinese professors and students to ask Chinese college students and adults to complete a climate change survey. Their goal is to get 500 completed surveys from each group in all four cities, resulting in a total sample of 2,000 college students and 2,000 adults in China.

The interest the Chinese citizens they've surveyed have shown in the project is encouraging, said Meives, noting that he was drawn to the project because of his concerns regarding carbon emissions and the environment.

"Already people are asking to see our results after we leave China and complete our analysis of the data," Meives. "Hopefully, once our work is completed, we will have some hard-hitting data to share."

As part of the project, researchers also are collecting similar data from U.S. college students and adults in Wisconsin, California, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Colorado and South Carolina.

The current study builds on earlier work done examining climate change public opinion among college students in China and the United States based on surveys conducted in 2011, Jamelske said, noting that the research team recently published a paper from its previous work in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences.

"Our current work expands our investigation to explore climate change public opinion among adult citizens in addition to continuing to survey both Chinese and American college students," Jamelske said. "We expect this work to yield very interesting and important data contributing to the existing climate change public opinion literature."

While gathering data for their research project is the focus of the trip to China, the students said the experience also is helping them better understand a country that plays an increasingly important role in the global economy.

The research trip was funded by the International Fellows Program, a UW-Eau Claire program that sends students, in partnership with faculty and staff mentors, abroad for intense international learning experiences. The program is supported by the Blugold Commitment, a program through which differential tuition paid by UW-Eau Claire students funds projects that enhance student learning.

While in China, student researchers are blogging about their experiences.

For more information about the current climate research, contact Dr. Eric Jamelske at



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