Why We Need More Women Involved in Creating Environmental Policy
By Lucy Goodchild van Hilten
Three years into the Sustainable Development Goals—17 global goals set by the United Nations—many countries' policy makers are developing domestic legislation that will help them reach environmental targets, from cutting carbon emissions to improving clean water and sanitation. But when it comes to environmental research and action, weighing the options to reach policy decisions relies on personal experience and perspective as well as facts and evidence, and gender plays a major role.
So what impact could the gender balance be having on these decisions, and therefore the future of our planet? Potentially quite a significant one.
Although it's tempting to assume that such important decisions are made based on objective evidence, a new study conducted by a team at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the International Labour Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, reveals that gender has an impact throughout the process. According to the researchers' groundbreaking systematic analysis of gender differences in views across a range of political areas, female economists are more likely to support environmental policies than their male counterparts.
"When you make the argument that men and women should be at the table when policy is being debated and developed, you're assuming they have different views on things, but it hadn't been tested," said Prof. Ann Mari May of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, who led the survey of economists across 18 European countries. "Gender had never been looked at; we did it because we were curious."
On Environment, the Two Dominant Genders Think Differently
While the impact of the two most prominent genders on environmental leanings in the policy context might not have been investigated until now, there have been many studies on the differences between primarily cisgender men and women when it comes to the environmental attitudes in general.
In 2014, researchers from the University of Melbourne found a significant link between gender and environmental identity, showing that women are more likely to strive for environmental protection. This, say the researchers, is in line with even earlier results, such as a 1996 study published in the journal Environment and Behavior exploring five hypotheses that explain why women appear to be more environmentally conscious than men.
In 1999, a team of researchers from New Zealand analyzed data from a survey of U.S. homeowners and showed that women are more environmentally concerned than men. Furthermore, women have been shown to have a smaller carbon footprint than men. Moreover, a review of a decade of studies like these shows that women have stronger environmental attitudes and behaviors than men, across age and geographical boundaries.
If the impact of gender on environmental attitudes and behaviors is so strong, it stands to reason that this would be true at work as well as at home, regardless of women's socially prescribed roles. It's tempting to imagine people working in certain professions, like economists for example, to be immune to subjectivity. In reality, their perspectives have a major impact on their opinions, and therefore their decisions.
"There's a notion that economists and scientists are doing their work outside of a cultural environment, and it shouldn't matter who's doing the study," May said. "But in reality, we know your experience in life presents you with a different lens through which you view the world."
If this holds true, then researchers have a lot more to investigate: To date, there have been no such studies on genders that fall outside the two most dominant genders on the spectrum. What might the results look like for transgender people or genderqueer people? Does sexual orientation impact the findings? Perhaps future studies will give us a deeper understanding of the full impact of gender and sexual orientation on policy development.
Are Women Economists More Likely to Support Environmental Policy?
In 2018, May and her colleagues Mary G. McGarvey and David Kucera published a large survey of U.S. economists that didn't show any statistically significant differences in cisgender men's and women's views on policy issues. Still, they weren't convinced that they asked enough questions, so they went into greater detail when they did a similar survey of economists in Europe.
"We interviewed economists from 18 [European Union (EU)] countries working in universities and offering Ph.D. programs in economics," May explained. "We asked a wide range of policy questions and after controlling for things like country and region, where they earned their Ph.D. and when, we tested the results to see if there were differences in their views in five different areas. The results show differences in all five areas, specifically in the area of environmental economics."
They asked participants a range of specific environmental policy questions, such as, Should the EU ban Arctic drilling? Are carbon trading schemes appropriate for reducing carbon emissions? In general, women were either neutral about, or agreed that more should be done, whereas men mostly disagreed that more should be done. The biggest gap the researchers identified was on the question of whether the EU should continue its ban on planting genetically modified crops, with women supporting the ban.
For May, the significant difference in attitudes toward environmental policy was perhaps more unexpected than differences in other areas. "We have a group of questions that focuses on gender and equal opportunities; women were more likely to believe women's opportunities were not equal to men's, whereas men were more likely to disagree or be neutral. You could say this is due directly to experience—women experience the world differently, hence they have a different view on opportunity. It's a more interesting question to think about something like the environment."
Is Environmental Awareness a More "Feminine" Trait?
The bigger question is what's behind these differences. Last year, Aaron R. Brough of the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University and James E.B. Wilkie of Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame carried out seven experiments with 2,000 participants from the US and China, showing a psychological link between eco-friendliness and perceptions of "femininity." Writing in Scientific American, they explained:
Due to this 'green-feminine stereotype,' both men and women judged eco-friendly products, behaviors, and consumers as more feminine than their non-green counterparts. In one experiment, participants of both sexes described an individual who brought a reusable canvas bag to the grocery store as more feminine than someone who used a plastic bag—regardless of whether the shopper was a male or female. In another experiment, participants perceived themselves to be more feminine after recalling a time when they did something good versus bad for the environment.
Another study pointed to personality, suggesting that the differences are down to traits like empathy and what scientists call "social dominance orientation" (SDO)—a measure of our preference for hierarchy. The New Zealand-based researchers tracked 4,381 primarily cisgender participants' values over one year, concluding that "women tended to display higher levels of environmental values because they were higher in empathy and lower in SDO, while men displayed lower levels of environmental values because they were lower in empathy and higher in SDO."
The Political Impact of the Gender Imbalance
When it comes to policy, cisgender men and women have different ways of talking about environmental issues, too. Earlier this year, researchers from Pennsylvania State University published a study showing that climate change policy arguments focusing on science and business are attributed more to men, whereas those focusing on ethics and environmental justice are attributed more to women. Reflecting previous research on the causes behind general gender differences in attitudes, they also found that "[m]en … tend to attribute negative feminine traits to other men who use ethics and environmental justice arguments."
These differences pose a major problem when we consider the gender imbalance in politics. "If women were involved in policy, we might see different studies being done and different policy recommendations," May said.
According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the U.S. ranked 104th globally for women in government in 2017, with just 20 percent of representatives in Congress being women. In Europe, there are currently between 29 and 37 percent of women in national and regional parliaments and governments, local assemblies, the European Parliament and the European Commission—all below the gender balance zone of 40 to 60 percent women.
"Right now, given the lack of gender balance in economics, it isn't such good news for the environment," May told Truthout. "The direction of change is slow, but there is movement toward democratization and including women in the policy process. There clearly needs to be more awareness and emphasis on the importance of including women and other disenfranchised groups in the policy process, and even the research aspect of it."
The team is now preparing to publish a second study with U.S. economists to see whether primarily cisgender men and women really do agree or whether there are gender-related differences in their attitudes to environmental policy.
Organizations like the European Institute for Gender Equality are pushing for a better gender balance to support policy, summarizing a recent publication on the subject this way:
Equal participation of women and men in politics is an important condition for effective democracy and good governance. Apart from strengthening and enhancing the democratic system, the participation of more women in political decision-making has many positive effects on society that can help improve the lives of women and men. Benefits include more equitable societies and inclusive governance, higher standards of living, positive development in education, health and infrastructure, and a decrease in political corruption.
Given the findings of May and her team—and the decades of research showing how differently men and women think about the environment—protecting the future of our planet ought to be added to this list.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
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By Karen Charman
When President Donald Trump visited California on September 14 and dismissed the state Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot's plea to recognize the role of climate change in the midst of the Golden State's worst and most dangerous recorded fire season to date, he gaslighted the tens of millions of West Coast residents suffering through the ordeal.
Foxes Guarding the Henhouse<p>Before he assumed power, Trump attacked regulations as unnecessary barriers to freedom and economic prosperity. Since taking office, he has targeted anything enacted by the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and taken steps to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, the international effort to combat climate change. He has also staffed heads of key agencies with climate deniers of various stripes, forced out career public servants and created a hostile work environment for those who don't profess loyalty to his deregulatory agenda.</p><p>Like Trump himself, some of his cabinet choices displayed an audacious penchant for <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/09/27/us/donald-trump-taxes.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage" target="_blank">self-dealing</a> and abusing their positions of authority. One example is Trump's first Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Scott Pruitt, who aggressively worked to overturn Obama's climate regulations, spent most of his time in <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/trump-epa-head-steps-down-after-wave-of-ethics-management-scandals/2018/07/05/39f4251a-6813-11e8-bea7-c8eb28bc52b1_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">private meetings</a> with fossil fuel and chemical company executives, sidelined career EPA staff and reconfigured independent scientific advisory boards to make them more supportive of the industries EPA is charged with regulating. Dubbed "<a href="https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-pruitt-leaves-20180705-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">one of the most scandal-plagued Cabinet officials in U.S. history</a>," Pruitt resigned in disgrace after revelations about his multiple brazen abuses, including using the agency as his personal concierge service and piggy bank.</p><p>Pruitt's deputy, Andrew Wheeler, a <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/andrew-wheeler-acting-epa-administrator-former-number-two-before-scott-pruitt-resignation/" target="_blank">former coal industry lobbyist</a> and longtime Republican Washington insider, took over and has continued Trump's deregulatory agenda apace.</p><p>At the Department of Interior (DOI), a sprawling agency that oversees 75 percent of the country's public federal lands and includes the U.S. Geological Survey, which is tasked with evaluating natural hazards that threaten life and the health of our ecosystems, Trump installed another flamboyant anti-environmentalist to head the agency. Like Pruitt, Trump's first Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke aggressively attacked environmental regulations, <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/05/07/epa-dismisses-half-of-its-scientific-advisers-on-key-board-citing-clean-break-with-obama-administration/" target="_blank">ditched more than 200 advisory panels</a>, and pushed to open up vast swaths of public land to oil and gas drilling. Described by one environmental group as "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/interior-secretary-zinke-resigns-amid-investigations/2018/12/15/481f9104-0077-11e9-ad40-cdfd0e0dd65a_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the most anti-conservation Interior secretary in our nation's history</a>," Zinke was forced out after numerous highly publicized conflict-of-interest scandals.</p><p>The DOI is now run by Zinke's deputy secretary, David Bernhardt, another longtime Republican Washington insider and former oil industry lobbyist who has also been the subject of <a href="https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/05/this-is-still-happening-david-bernhardt-trump-lincoln.html" target="_blank">several government ethics complaints</a> for various violations favoring polluting industries.</p><p>More recently, longtime climate change denier David Legates, a climatologist at the University of Delaware previously <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/19032015/u-delaware-refuses-disclose-funding-sources-its-climate-contrarian" target="_blank">funded by fossil fuel interests</a>, was hired for a <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/12/912301325/longtime-climate-science-denier-hired-at-noaa" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">top job</a> advancing weather modeling and prediction at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Legates has called for <a href="https://www.democracynow.org/2020/9/18/noaa_david_legates_climate_crisis" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">increasing carbon emissions</a>.</p><p>The Trump administration has done much more than stack government agencies with fossil fuel industry proponents. It has removed or diluted discussion of climate change from as many government platforms as it can and decimated independent scientific advisory boards that provide unbiased, fact-based information the government needs to enact policies that protect the public. It has also <a href="https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/482352-trump-budget-slashes-funding-for-epa-environmental-programs" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">slashed environmental agency staffing and budgets</a>.</p>
The Damage So Far<p>A September 17 <a href="https://rhg.com/research/the-rollback-of-us-climate-policy/" target="_blank">report</a> by the Rhodium Group calculates that 1.8 billion tons more greenhouse gases will be released over the next 15 years as a result of climate change rollbacks the Trump administration has achieved so far. These include repealing Obama's main climate policy, the Clean Power Plan, which was intended to reduce dirty emissions from power plants; increasing pollution from cars by rolling back fuel economy standards and challenging California's longtime authority to set stricter emissions standards; targeting controls on hydrofluorocarbons, powerful greenhouse gases used mainly in refrigerators and air conditioners that also destroy the Earth's protective ozone layer; and allowing unreported and unregulated emissions of methane, another potent greenhouse gas, by oil and gas companies.</p><p>Besides these measures, Trump is also trying to gut core environmental statutes like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, all of which were enacted to protect human health and preserve a livable world.</p><p>The Paris agreement aims to keep the rise in average global temperatures at less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and hopefully cap it at 1.5 degrees C or lower. We are now at approximately 1.2 degrees C and counting.</p>
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By Jan Ellen Spiegel
It wasn't so long ago that the issue of climate change was poised to play a huge – possibly even a decisive – role in the 2020 election, especially in the race for control of the U.S. Senate. Many people supporting Democratic candidates saw a possible Democratic majority as a hedge against a potential Trump re-election … a way to plug the firehose spray of more than 100 environmental regulation rollbacks and new anti-climate initiatives by the administration over its first term.
Potential Climate Voters<p>In a September 1 memo on climate and the election, Andrew Baumann, vice president of the consultants Global Strategy Group, wrote: "Few issues have seen as dramatic a shift in public opinion as climate change has over the last few years. Only marriage equality and the recent shift in views around racial justice outpace the rapid growth in the salience of climate change as an issue."</p><p>Calling it a "winning political issue" the memo says: "First, it is clearly a motivator for both younger and Latinx voters. Second, it has the power to move swing voters, particularly center-right white women."</p><p>Baumann points to a finding that when a group of such women were asked generic ballot questions, Democrats trailed by nine percentage points. But when the question was revised as a choice between:</p><p>"A Democrat who supports taking strong government action to combat climate change.<br>A Republican who opposes taking strong government action to combat climate change."</p><p>… the result was a 29 percentage point shift, putting Democrats ahead by 20 percentage points among that same group.</p><p>"I think it is playing a role," says Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, a longtime outspoken climate activist who is on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and also on the Senate Democrats' Special Committee on the Climate Crisis. If Democrats win back the Senate, he stands to play an even more pivotal climate role as part of the majority. He is not up for re-election this year.</p><p><span></span>"I think from the Democratic side it's playing a role in generating enthusiasm – particularly making younger voters feel that they have a real stake in this election. On the Republican side, I think things have moved enough that candidates can no longer get away with simply scoffing about climate change."</p>
Climate a Top Concern for Youths, Latinx<p>So who's still thinking climate? Mostly young voters – 18 to 25 or 29 and Latinx voters.</p><p>Climate and the environment are the top concern among young voters, just above racism and healthcare according to <a href="https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/poll-young-people-believe-they-can-lead-change-unprecedented-election-cycle" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">CIRCLE</a>, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, which focuses on the political life of young people in the U.S. For Latinx youth, it drops a bit but remains in the top three.</p><p>The issues young people care about have an impact on how they volunteer their time, says Kristian Lundberg, an associate researcher at CIRCLE. He says that's played out most notably through the Sunrise Movement, which focuses on climate change and the environment along with other key activist groups such as Black Lives Matter and March for Our Lives.</p><p>He points to polling this summer that showed that 83% of 18-to-29-year-olds felt they had the power to change things. "Young people feel much more empowerment than in 2016 and 2018," Lundberg says. "It's intentional these movements are carving out space for young people. It's an important strategy."</p><p>In positions of power in these organizations, young people have developed peer-to-peer outreach on activism. And Lundberg says young people have made the leap that connects activism to voting as a lever for change. "In the past in very close races, young people breaking heavily have provided the margin of victory," he says.</p><p>CIRCLE is highlighting 10 U.S. Senate races as ones in which young voters can be decisive. Several of them have notable climate or environmental components – most prominently the Colorado and Montana races.</p><p>The Republican incumbents in each state – Cory Gardner in Colorado and Steve Daines in Montana – are running against a popular Democratic governor – John Hickenlooper in Colorado, now out of office — and Steve Bullock, still the governor of Montana. Both governors have had to balance their state's fossil fuel economic interests with supporting climate change solutions.</p>
Tying Climate Change to the Economy<p>In August, Data for Progress, a progressive research think tank, released polling on climate change – including in the battleground Senate elections in Arizona, Iowa, Maine, and North Carolina – showing voters back a Senate candidate supporting strong climate action.</p><blockquote>Climate change as 'mobilizing issue … key persuasion issue.'<br></blockquote><p>It also showed that linking climate change to the economy may be key. That means talking about clean energy and jobs together, says Danielle Deiseroth, climate data analyst for <a href="https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/poll-young-people-believe-they-can-lead-change-unprecedented-election-cycle" target="_blank">Data for Progress</a>. She says that in addition to jobs, climate change issues include climate justice and economic equality – both of heightened interest because of fallout from western wildfires.</p><p>"Climate change, we've observed over the last year or so, is a key mobilizing issue and a key persuasion issue," she says. "Climate issues can only grow support for Democratic candidates.</p><p>"I think it's pretty naive to say climate is the key issue for voters. For a lot of voters it really exemplifies so many things that are wrong with the Trump presidency," Deiseroth says.</p><p>So a factor among others. Helpful, but pivotal only in narrow circumstances.</p><p>At the League of Conservations Voters, a progressive environmentalist organization putting a lot of money and effort into the 2020 races, Senior Director of Political Affairs Craig Auster says: "I'll push back that climate change doesn't matter or isn't registering."</p><p>"It's still showing up in several Senate races. It's been playing a role in almost all of them."</p><p>Candidates are still talking about it, he says, pointing to Colorado, Montana, Iowa, and other states where ads are addressing climate and environmental issues. That shows the candidates believe their opponent is vulnerable on the issue or they're strong on it, he says.</p><p>Like others, Auster calls climate a motivator.</p><p>"Climate change matters," he says. "We have proof point after proof point about what's happening, whether it's a hurricane, a superstorm, derechos in Iowa, or wildfires out west.</p><p>"Pre-COVID it was top tier for Democratic voters along with healthcare. If COVID didn't happen I think climate would be a big deal."</p>
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