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College of St. Catherine: St. Kate’s faculty members compile environmental-literacy report card


College of St. Catherine Associate Dean Anthony Murphy, Ph.D., and Associate Professor Andrea Olson, Ph.D., have compiled the results of “The Third Minnesota Report Card on Environmental Literacy,” a survey funded by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Among the report’s most important findings that Drs. Murphy and Olson uncovered were Minnesotans’ substantial support of recycling programs, environmental education and renewable energy.

Overall, the report showed that 93 percent of Minnesotans support environmental education in schools, 85 percent participate in recycling programs and 67 percent believe that renewable energy is the best means to meet America’s energy needs.

However, the survey uncovered that Minnesotans’ actual knowledge of energy issues and problems was considerably less than their perceived knowledge.

“Environmental literacy is more than just knowing about the environment, it is also about your attitudes and actions toward the environment,” said Dr. Murphy.

“Getting people to go ‘green’ is a complicated endeavor and we need to begin with where people are before we can move them forward. Surveys like this are important because they give us information on where people are on different environmental issues.”

The survey was commissioned to discover what Minnesotans believe they know and what they actually do know about the environment, energy issues and environmental problems.

Associate Dean Anthony Murphy, Ph.D.
Associate Dean Anthony Murphy, Ph.D.

The MPCA will use the report as a resource to guide its environmental initiatives. Using the Report Card findings, it will also work with educators across the state to adapt and develop environmental education efforts to better serve their audiences’ needs.

On what Minnesotans believe they know and actually know about environmental issues and problems, the survey showed that approximately 40 percent of Minnesota adults believe that they are knowledgeable and that 43 percent actually do have an above-average knowledge about the environment, answering correctly five or more of the eight general knowledge environmental questions.

However, when it came to Minnesotans’ knowledge about energy issues, a larger discrepancy occurred between how much people reported they knew and what they actually knew. While 44 percent of Minnesotans reported that they were knowledgeable about energy issues, only 31 percent were able to answer correctly four or more of the five questions pertaining to energy knowledge. Although 36 percent were rated average and could answer three or more questions correctly, 33 percent earned a failing grade, answering one or none of the questions correctly.

In addition to uncovering what Minnesotans know about the environment, the survey also examined their attitudes toward the environment. These questions probed how familiar Minnesotans are about current environmental laws and regulations as well as environmental education, and sought their opinions about how the United States should address energy needs. The report showed that less than one-third of respondents indicated they were highly familiar with the laws and regulations related to:

• energy conservation and efficiency–31 percent,

• water pollution–29 percent,

• land development–28 percent,

• chemicals in food–26 percent,

• air pollution–25 percent, and

• global warming–23 percent.

Questions about environmental behavior sought to uncover buying behaviors that impact the environment, including the distance food travels from source to table. Here 41 percent of Minnesotans reported that they frequently purchase locally grown food. Additional questions asked respondents the percentage of time they spend outdoors, which ranged from 12 percent reporting they spend five or fewer hours per week outdoors to 7.4 percent of Minnesotans reporting they spend more than 40 hours per week outdoors.

Dr. Murphy said that it is important to conduct these surveys and examine changes over time. Surveys were also conducted in 2001 and 2003. For all three report cards, Minnesota adults were surveyed for their knowledge about, attitudes toward, and behaviors related to the environment. The surveys also compare Minnesotans’ literacy to that of previous Minnesota report cards and to similar surveys performed by states and nationally.

Survey instrument and methodology:
The Minnesota environmental literacy survey was developed with members of a working group. The survey instrument included questions from various national report cards on environmental knowledge, attitudes and behaviors conducted by the National Environmental Education Training Foundation and Roper Starch Worldwide. Questions were also developed specifically for this survey.

About the authors:
Anthony P. Murphy, Ph.D., is associate dean of the St. Kate’s Education Department. He is the principal author of the previous two “Minnesota Reports Cards on Environmental Literacy.” He is involved in science education programs at the state and national levels. Dr. Murphy has published articles in various journals and presented at state and national conferences. He was the project manager for this report card.

Andrea M. Olson, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the St. Kate’s Psychology Department. In addition to teaching courses in statistics, industrial/organizational psychology, and general psychology, Dr. Olson has served as a program evaluator, grant evaluator and statistical consultant for several projects.

To learn more about “The Third Minnesota Report Card on Environmental Literacy,” go here.

Interested in learning more about Associate Dean Anthony Murphy and the initiatives in which he’s involved? Here’s a Q and A from September 2008.

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