Men Are Basically Terrible for the Environment

If environmental stewardship turned into some sort of epic battle of the sexes, men would get clobbered.

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If environmental stewardship turned into some sort of epic battle of the sexes, men would get clobbered. It's not an idea that is innately intuitive to this male writer (who's doing all the cosmetics-buying, electric hair-drying and clothes shopping?) but it's a finding that shines through in study after study.

The latest example is in a new study in Social Science Research that looks at female empowerment in various nations. It's not keeping score which gender has a bigger carbon footprint, it's examining the environmental practices of nations and the level of status women have in the country. The study, by sociologists Christina Ergas and Richard York at the University of Oregon, found that “controlling for other factors, in nations where women’s status is higher, CO2 emissions are lower.” And it appears the researchers did their homework:

Even when controlling for a variety of measures of “modernization,” world-system position, and democracy, nations where women have higher political status — as indicated by the length of time women have had the right to vote and women’s representation in parliament and ministerial government — tend to have lower CO2 emissions per capita. This finding suggests that efforts to improve women’s political status around the world, clearly worthy on their own merits, may work synergistically with efforts to reduce CO2 emissions and avert dramatic global climate change.

The coauthors aren't exactly sure why the correlation of female empowerment and environmental progress exists but they suggest that "women make different decisions than do men when placed in positions of power." They also tick off a number of ways women are outpacing their male counterparts on environmental issues: “Nations with higher proportions of women in parliament ratify a greater number of environmental treaties ... Women in the United States demonstrate greater scientific knowledge of climate change ... tend to perceive environmental risks as more threatening ... are more active in environmental reform projects” etc.

If that's dispiriting to green-minded dudes, it's not the only study that shows males are making this world a smoggier place. In short, that's because of men's diet and driving habits. In a 2009 study, Sweden's Annika Carlsson-Kanyama and Finland's Riita Raty studied 10 daily activities of men and women in Germany, Norway, Greece, and Sweden. "Their findings revealed men consumed more meat and processed beverages than women did, used cars more frequently and drove longer distances, resulting in greater carbon emissions," wrote Time's Bryan Walsh. "The differences range from six percent in Norway and eight percent in Germany to 22 percent in Sweden and as massive as 39 percent in Greece."

In 2010, Carnegie Mellon adjunct professor Christopher Weber ran a test for the gender-disparity in the U.S. and also found that men were creating a greater carbon footprint. "The average single woman in this country is responsible for 30 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e); the average single man, 32 tons," found the study. It also went deeper into behavioral patterns that make up this difference. "Single men's driving habits have a carbon footprint of 13 metric tons of CO2e, compared with women's 9.4 tons," wrote Slate's Nina Rastogi, in her description of the study. "After that, the most important differences, from a greenhouse gas perspective, were that single women spent more on home utilities and health care, and single men spent more on alcohol, tobacco, and education." In sum, women are part of the solution and men are part of the problem.

[Photo: Alexander Raths / Shutterstock]

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.