Climate change poses existential risks to the planet and generates trillions of dollars in annual costs to society. While changing pro-climate beliefs, behaviors, policy preferences, and voting is difficult, a promising approach is through more education.
A recent IZA discussion paper by Noam Angrist, Kevin Winseck, Harry A. Patrinos and Joshua Graff Zivin provides strong causal evidence that education can impact a range of pro-climate outcomes. The authors find that an additional year of education is linked with increases in pro-climate beliefs, behaviors, most policy preferences, and green voting, with voting gains equivalent to a large 35% increase – effects which are particularly consequential to promote pro-climate policies.
While education is often a footnote in climate change agendas, this paper reveals the promise of education as an additional tool to combat climate change. Europe in particular is a context where climate change is receiving substantial attention, including efforts such as the European Green New Deal, yet education remains an underutilized lever.
Moreover, while educational attainment has expanded dramatically in recent decades, the median school reform law in 2020 in Europe guaranteed only 10 years of schooling, a full two years below a complete primary and secondary education of 12 years.
These gaps are even more dramatic in the developing world; in sub-Saharan Africa educational reform laws only guarantee 8 years of schooling on average. Expanding access to education has traditionally been believed to play a transformative role in the economic and social well-being of societies – it now also appears to play a vital role in the battle against climate change.