Why on Earth is Climate Change a Gender Issue?

Women experience climate change differently than men – in more ways than one.

First, globally, women are more likely to suffer the negative consequences of a changing planet. Why? They have less agency, fewer economic resources within their control, more responsibility for the care of young children and the elderly, and much greater vulnerability to dislocation. Men are significantly more likely to be the short-term financial beneficiaries of the status quo.

Throughout the global south, women are more responsible for water, fuel (especially firewood), and food production. All three of these are exceedingly, and immediately,  affected by climate change.¹

Second, and critically important to understand in order to bring about change, climate is understood and interpreted differently by men and women. This is dramatically true in the US (which should really focus our attention, given the heavyweight of the US in causing climate change and in opportunities for mitigation) but also in many other countries. What does this mean?

In poll after poll, women consistently express greater concern about global warming and see greater urgency in making changes. In one research project after another, men consistently view the risk of global warming less seriously than women – even though they tend to know more of the scientific facts.² It also means activities or political positions which involve “caring for the earth” are seen as feminine. Studies show a tendency to “feminize” even simple eco-friendly activities (for example, many men AND women view simply carrying reusable grocery bags as “more feminine.”)

This has serious ramifications. There is great concern today about a small but growing (!) subset of men who see attempts to mitigate climate change as a threat to their sense of entitlement – entitlement to resources and to do whatever they like with those resources. For men who feel that domination is their birthright, a part of their very identity as men, threats to reduce their unbridled control over natural resources are highly unpopular, to put it mildly.

As Martin Gelin writes in “The Misogyny of Climate Deniers,”

There is a package of values and behaviors connected to a form of masculinity that I call ‘industrial breadwinner masculinity.’ …They believe humans are obliged to use nature and its resources to make products out of them. And they have a risk perception that nature will tolerate all types of waste. It’s a risk perception that doesn’t think of nature as vulnerable and as something that is possible to be destroyed.

What can we do?

Train the next generation of men NOW. We cannot afford to have young men strongly identifying with a version of masculinity tied to the dominance of nature.

Insist that women are involved in ALL decision-making on environmental initiatives and climate change discussions. All too often, decisions about resources affecting generations to come are made with few, or no, women in the room.

Don’t just take it from me. Here are just a few other takes on this topic.

Gender Differences in Public Understanding of Climate Change

How Patriarchy is Ruining the Climate

Women and Climate Change

WECAN – Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, International

When it Comes to Addressing Climate Change, Gender Matters

Gender and Climate Change

A Reading List on Women and Climate Change

¹ UN Women: In Focus – Climate Action By, and For, Women

² Gender Differences in Public Understanding of Climate Change

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Nancy Fahringer
Nancy Fahringer
4 years ago

I’m glad to get this, as I hadn’t thought it through, though obviously the Australian honcho and our own Trump illustrate the worst of the climate change deniers, while Greta Thunberg illustrates the most enlightened……and most aware and frustrated at the obstacles to change and scoffing from Trump.

It’s too bad men still hold so many levers of power, just when climate change seems to be
affecting the world much faster than predicted just a few years ago.