Cost-effective assessment of urban heat island intensities and its potential for action-oriented climate change education: An educational reconstruction

Gubler, Moritz R. (2021). Cost-effective assessment of urban heat island intensities and its potential for action-oriented climate change education: An educational reconstruction. (Dissertation, Universität Bern, Geographisches Institut)

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Education is seen as a key leverage point to tackle the unprecedented challenges arising from anthropogenic climate change. Situated within the broader context of education for sustainable development, action-oriented climate change education aims at empowering particularly young people to proactively initiate and implement individual and collective responses addressing the climate crisis. Thus, there exists a need to identify and understand education-related preconditions and strategies that contribute to the development of action competencies among students.
Emphasizing local, present, and personally relevant manifestations of climate change is popularly proposed as an effective communication and education strategy to foster motivations for climate change engagement. Despite extensive research on individuals’ cognitive, affective, and behaviour-related responses to reductions of the so-called psychological distance of climate change in social, psychological, and communication sciences, the proposition lacks empirical investigation in educational contexts and among the important cohort of young people.
The present thesis aims at addressing this blind spot by exploring the potentials and limitations of proximizing climate change as an action-oriented education strategy from an interdisciplinary and multimethodological perspective. Following the conceptual framework of the model of educational reconstruction, it thereby addresses multiple discipline-specific and cross-disciplinary research gaps and aims related to the fields of urban climatology, environmental and social psychology, as well as climate change education.
Taking the perspective of urban climatology, the first goal is to assess summertime urban heat island intensities in Bern, Switzerland at high resolutions using cost-effective measurement devices and geostatistical modelling. The results approve the applicability of a network consisting of 79 low-cost measurement devices for detailed assessments of intra-urban air temperature variability, although intercomparisons with automated weather stations show that daytime observations require careful interpretation due to potential radiation biases. Based on these data, land use regression modelling is shown to be a reliable approach for high-resolution urban heat island mapping during heatwaves using easily accessible geospatial data. Besides allowing for the planning and implementation of adaptation strategies to reduce the risks of intensifying urban heat stress, the fine-scaled analysis of intra-urban air temperature variability provides the science content-related basis for the development of a learning opportunity focussing on proximate impacts of climate change.
The second goal consists of examining how young people perceive, judge, and respond to climate change through the lens of environmental and social psychology. On the one hand, results of a questionnaire study among secondary school students in the Canton of Bern (N = 587) suggest that adolescents perceive climate to be a certain and present risk that affects other places and people rather than themselves. Further, regression analysis reveals a significant inverse relationship between perceived psychological distance of and concern about climate change. On the other hand, a survey among young people (N = 4057) in the German-speaking part of Switzerland reveals that participation in the climate strike movement is most strongly linked to social identification with the strikers. Based on the finding that beliefs about the effectiveness of the movement, level of education, and worries about climate change are also associated with participating in the youth strikes, these results suggest that social identity-related processes seem at least as important as risk perceptions for collective climate action among young people. Taken as a whole, these insights uncover important socio-psychological determinants of young people’s engagement with climate change and subsequently allow for a student-centred educational reconstruction of psychologically close manifestations of climate change.
The third and ultimate aim is to investigate the suggestion of education about proximate risks of climate change resulting in higher motivations of students for climate change engagement based on an educational intervention manipulating the psychological distance of climate change in the content-related context of urban heat stress and human health (Bern vs. Singapore). The resulting effects of proximized climate change education on cognitive (perceived severity of climate change risks), emotional (worry about climate change), and behaviour-related responses (behavioural intentions for climate action) of adolescents are compared across a psychologically close setting (N = 162), a psychologically distant setting (N = 169), and a neutral control group (N = 217). Although the results show a significant effect of the close treatment resulting in an increase of all outcome variables, its interaction with gender reveals a reactance effect among male participants, which is reflected in a decrease in level of worries and behavioural intentions. In sum, the findings suggest that the imperative of proximized climate change education leading to higher motivations to act on the issue is not straightforward as often assumed due to interactions with individual characteristics.
In conclusion, this thesis makes not only an important contribution to the understanding and empirically supported development of action-oriented climate change education strategies, but also to a deeper comprehension of how young people view, conceptualize, feel about, and act on the perhaps greatest challenge of this century. Complemented by profound insights into cost-effective approaches to assess the exposure of urban populations to heat-related risks, this thesis provides an example of how multiple research perspectives may contribute to the whole becoming greater than the sum of its parts.

Item Type:

Thesis (Dissertation)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Physical Geography > Unit Climatology
10 Strategic Research Centers > Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography

UniBE Contributor:

Gubler, Moritz Raffael


300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology > 370 Education
500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology




Moritz Raffael Gubler

Date Deposited:

05 Jan 2022 11:59

Last Modified:

14 Jun 2022 18:53




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