Research Brief: Students’ understanding of the carbon cycle and global climate change

Global climate change is a serious problem that requires the involvement of a scientifically literate public to solve. But what does the public understand about this complex issue and its relationship to the combustion of fossil fuels?

We have been investigating this question by studying how incoming freshmen at Michigan State University make sense of standard representations of the global carbon cycle. The incoming freshmen represent the college-bound public who have high school degrees. We asked them about the carbon cycle because the carbon cycle explains the cause of global climate change – the addition of CO2 into the atmosphere from the combustion of fossil fuels – and provides a framework for evaluating options for its mitigation.

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