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Science - What is acid rain?

Many teenagers in the world's most developed countries lack basic knowledge of environmental science - raising fears about the ability of societies to avoid unprecedented threats to the planet. Young people tend to have a good awareness of environmental issues, but often know little about their causes.

A study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that more than 90 per cent of 15-year-olds are familiar with issues relating to air pollution, nuclear waste and water shortages.

Almost half, however, were unable to identify a single source of acid rain, such as factory or automobile emissions. In Turkey, only one in four could respond. The best score came from Finland, where three out of four were able to give an answer.

The UK performs "significantly above" the OECD average performance for environmental science (there are no separate figures for Scotland). However, it ranks only 21st out of 57 countries (including 27 non-OECD countries). Finland, again, is top.

"Today's 15-year-olds will be the scientists, politicians, consumers, innovators and voters of tomorrow, and their actions and attitudes will determine whether the world successfully addresses unprecedented risks to the global environment," OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria said.

"This survey shows that, in many countries and social groups, awareness is high but levels of knowledge and understanding need to be raised. Without this, there is a risk that ignorance will lead to complacency and inaction."

Higher-performing students said they researched the media and the internet to find out about environmental issues, but for most students the most common source of information was school.

The data is published in Green at Fifteen?, the latest report on findings from the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).


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