A new study from Michigan State University has pointed out that most college students don't have the basic scientific literary skills to understand the causes and effects of climate change.
"Improving students' understanding of these biological principles could make them better prepared to deal with important environmental issues such as global climate change," said Charles "Andy" Anderson.
The study assessed more than 500 students at 13 U.S. colleges for knowledge of fundamental science.
Most students did not truly understand the processes that transform carbon. They failed to apply principles such as the conservation of matter, which holds that when something changes chemically or physically, the amount of matter at the end of the process needs to equal the amount at the beginning.
Most students also incorrectly believe plants obtain their mass from the soil rather than primarily from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Anderson believes that biology textbooks and high-school and college science instructors need to do a better job of teaching the fundamentals - particularly how matter transforms from gaseous to solid states and vice-versa.
The implications are great for a generation of citizens who will grapple with complicated environmental issues such as clean energy and carbon sequestration more than any generation in history, Anderson said.
"One of the things I'm interested in is students' understanding of environmental problems. And probably the most important environmental problem is global climate change," he said.
And that's attributable to a buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And understanding where that carbon dioxide is coming from and what you can do about it fundamentally involves understanding the scientific carbon cycle."
The study is published in the January issue of BioScience.