How Gender Explains Climate Change Politics

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The international politics of addressing climate change are so complicated, so contentious, and so hysterical, that some exasperated observers have suggested we just deal with it later. But why is this issue so difficult? There are many reasons, of course: the influence of powerful business lobbies, the hesitancy of energy-dependent developing states to adopt more expensive efficiency practices, the tragedy of the commons, and a lot more. But does gender play a role?

Treehugger's Matthew McDermott finds a recent study by Michigan State University sociologist Aaron McCright, which concludes that there is a climate change gender gap. Women are more likely to believe that climate change is real and caused by humans because, according to the report, culturally ingrained gender norms make them more receptive to believe those things. McDermott asks, "Ever wonder why it seems the most vocal climate change skeptics are men?" Here's an excerpt from McCright's report, explaining why men are polluting Mars but women are concerned about the rate of global warming on Venus:

According to this theory, boys in the United States learn that masculinity emphasizes detachment, control and mastery. A feminine identity, on the other hand, stresses attachment, empathy, and care--traits that may make it easier to feel concern about the potential dire consequences of global warming.

McCright goes on to explain why the culturally ingrained gender norms in men not only make them more likely to be wrong, but more likely to believe that their false opinion is absolutely and undeniable correct:

Men still claim they have a better understanding of global warming than women, even though women's beliefs align much more closely with the scientific consensus. Here is yet another study finding that women underestimate their scientific knowledge--a troubling pattern that inhibits many young women from pursuing scientific careers.

McCright's implied conclusion is that the solution isn't for men to try and emulate women--it's for women to take more leadership roles in the scientific community. However, one point McCright misses is that it's not the scientific community slowing down the U.S. climate change response--it's Congress, which just happens to consist of about 16 percent women and 84 percent men.

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