In a revealing new examination of gender and climate, a group of activists and researchers aim to establish a rationale for under-standing boys’ and men’s multiple roles in climate change. Men, Masculinities and Climate Change presents—and analyzes—key areas for further exploration of masculinities (the characteristics associated with what it means to be a man) in patriarchal systems that play a contributing role in perpetuating climate change. As a concept paper, Men, Masculinities and Climate Change explores opportunities to engage men and boys as agents of positive change, alongside women and girls, and further strengthens the call for social, economic and environmental justice for all.
The excerpt from the narrative below was written by a team that included: Jane Kato-Wallace (Promundo-US), Nikki van der Gaag (Consultant, Promundo-US Senior Fellow), Joni van de Sand (MenEngage Global Alliance), Vidar Vetterfalk (Men for Gender Equality-Sweden), Wessel van den Berg (Sonke Gender Justice), Marina Parker (Centre Anna), Gary Barker (Promundo-US), Laxman Belbase (MenEngage Global Alliance), Sofia Santos (Promundo-Europe), and Kate Doyle (Promundo-US).
Climate change is one of the most urgent global challenges
facing the world today. We are the first generation to know that we are capable of undermining the Earth’s delicate ecosystem and most likely the last generation with the ability to do anything about it. Around the world, the 10 warmest years on record all have occurred since 1998. Globally, 2015 was the hottest year on record. After an assessment of more than 30,000 scientific papers from 80 countries, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently confirmed that “human influence on the climate system is clear and growing.” The more human activities disrupt the climate, the greater the risks of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and our ecosystems. The IPCC also highlighted
that it is within our grasp to limit climate change and its risks in ways that allow for continued economic and human development. However, without radically challenging and transforming existing economic, political, technological and social systems—where the one percent own as much as the other 99—such efforts will fall short. Indeed, according to the IPCC 2014 report, climate change will amplify existing risks and create new risks for natural and human systems.
Though there is significant pressure from wealthy nations for poorer nations to cut their emissions—through carbon credits, for example—scientific analysis on the causes of climate change consistently reveals that it is the “cheerful recklessness” with which wealthier societies emit greenhouse gases that has caused unprecedented climate change. Climate data from the World Resources Institute finds that China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, followed by the United States, the EU, India, Russia and Japan. Looked at a different way, an analysis by the Climate Accountability Institute on carbon-producing entities such as oil corporations finds that 90 percent of historical emissions since the 1750s can be traced to just the 90 largest fossil fuel and cement producers, most still in business today.
The threats of climate change are not gender-neutral. Gender analysis on climate change over the past three decades has brought to light the disproportionate effects of climate change and environmental degradation on women’s lives—particularly those of low-income women in global South settings. In countries where there is marked gender inequality, four times as many women as men die in floods. In some cases during natural disasters, women and children are 14 times more likely to die than men. This phenomenon will grow more frequent with global warming. Research has also shown that women often have a smaller carbon footprint than men, regardless of whether they are rich or poor. Therefore, a greater understanding of
how gendered identities affect men and women’s roles, activities and subsequent contributions to carbon emissions is essential if mitigation politics and programs are to achieve their desired effect.
Simultaneously, activists—often led by women’s groups in the global South—have conducted policy advocacy on climate change to stress that the human rights of women and girls
who live in poverty, or in vulnerable and unsafe conditions, are threatened by the double injustice of climate change and gender inequality. Such strict gender norms and expectations limit the options available to them as they try to manage the new risks brought about by climate change. For example, the work of
Vandana Shiva advocates for an engagement of women in agriculture, and Wangari Maathai works for reforestation in Africa. Globally, women’s advocacy networks and coalitions such as the Women’s Environmental and Development Organization (WEDO) have highlighted the intersec-tion between social inequalities and climate change and have mobilized feminists to take action.
Since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the Women’s Major Group has facilitated women’s civil society input into UN policies on sustainable development. And most recently, the Women’s Global Call for Climate Justice campaigned for the urgent need for just action on climate change during the 2015 Paris Climate Conference.
At the same time, an understanding of boys’ and men’s multiple roles in climate change has remained almost invisible, except in certain areas of research. And, in areas where there is research, boys and men have mostly been analyzed as a monolithic group responsible for the negative effects of climate change due to their patterns of consumption and the association between modern indus-trialization and key aspects of hegemonic masculinities. However, few studies look at the diverse and nuanced ways in which boys and men also impact and are impacted by climate change, including as heads of large corporate sector organizations that are the drivers of climate change, as energy consumers, as victims of environmental degradation, and as agents of change alongside women and girls. There is little recognition that men’s diversity—according to social class, ethnic group, sexuality and other factors— also affects not only the way that they live their lives, but the way that they drive or respond to climate change.
Men, Masculinities and Climate Change presents the need for a more nuanced analysis of boys’ and men’s multiple roles in climate change. Such an investigation will contribute to a more complete understanding of the gendered root causes, impacts and solutions to climate change adaptation and resilience, and will further strengthen the call
for social, economic and environmental justice for all. Boys and men must be seen as part of the solution to achieve gender-informed climate justice, as they are, in different capacities, in gender-based violence prevention, unpaid care work, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and peace and security. Men, Masculinities and Climate Change seeks to outline these multiple roles to identify possible ways forward to engage boys and men as agents of sustainable, positive change alongside girls and women.
Understanding the influences of patriarchy—the system that upholds men’s power over women as well as unequal power dynamics among men and among women—is critical to identifying causal relationships and developing solutions to tackle climate change. Such analyses have already led to more sophisticated under-standings of and solutions for the fields of sexual and reproductive health and rights, violence against women, and women’s economic empowerment, among other topics. There needs to be a further strengthening of the call by women’s rights colleagues to integrate a gender lens into climate change debates. Heretofore, however, debates have focused far more on technical and economic arguments to underpin rationale for action, and neglected gender.
Since the Industrial Revolution, the progress of modern societies has been predicated on the need for continued modernization and economic growth. The phrase “man versus (mother) nature” perhaps best epitomizes how men’s identities within patriarchal societies have been based upon the need to subordinate the surrounding natural environment. It should come as no surprise that ambitious inter-
national agreements on limiting CO2 emissions are viewed as threats to the current social and economic orders. Recent analyses on climate skepticism, primarily from corporate groups and politically conservative groups in the global North, show how such actors view the legitimization of climate change science as a threat to “modern industrial rationality” and hegemonic masculinities.
In the United States and elsewhere, the
fields of meteorology, physics and chemistry have connections to military tradition where weapons and technology continue to be central to victory in wartime. According to scholar-activist Amina Mama, the process of militarization exaggerates the bipolarization of gender identities in extremis for the purpose of waging war. This bipolarization perpetuates a system where men prove their masculinity through performance such as military combat. The field of climate science is seen as just another function of the war machine that showed promise in allowing states to predict, control and alter the natural world. Most recently, resources have also been invested into investigating how geographic areas vulnerable to climate change can become breeding grounds for political instability and terrorism and ways in which military intervention can prevent violent acts from being perpetrated in the homeland.
Consequently, the alliance between the armed forces and scientific research results in solutions that have more in common with military missions than with empowering men and women to develop sustainable strategies for mitigation and adaptation.
In addressing the impacts of climate change, the overrepre-sentation of male researchers on intergovernmental bodies such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)—tasked with setting climate change policy and nego-tiating climate change agreements—has been historically gender blind. Women and indigenous groups, for example, have had to lobby for decades to ensure their needs and realities were reflected in inter-national agreements. Due to calls for gender parity, the UNFCCC has recently acknowledged that women’s representation within some of the constituted bodies of the Convention on Climate Change was as low as 11–13 percent. Now, though, consensus documents emphasize the importance of gender balance and the participation of women in UNFCCC negotiations. Still, there is much more to be done. Achieving gender parity is not enough to develop and achieve a true transformational agenda to address climate change.
Feminists also critique that climate scientists have focused too many resources on understanding the geophysical characteristics of climate change—a phenomenon already well understood—and less on its social impacts, consequences, and grassroots solutions to adaptation. Current research reveals that women in some countries have less social and physical mobility and more domestic and care-giving responsibilities than men. Therefore, they are more likely to suffer the negative consequences of climate disruptions because they are often left to prioritize the safety of family members, particularly children. In many societies, rural women play a major role in agriculture, but have little power to invest in crops that are more resilient to
climate change. There is also evidence, though not as frequently acknowledged, given the emphasis on a “women and girls as victims” analysis, of women’s courage and resilience in coping with disasters and in rebuilding their damaged communities.
At the same time, environmental disasters brought about by climate change also negatively affect boys and men in gendered ways that are, in general, different from girls and women. The invisibility of their vulnerabilities is also the result of the ways in which climate science and research has been driven by a patriarchal agenda. For example, in times of drought, male farmers in developed and developing countries have higher rates of suicide; such men have weak or nonexistent support networks. In parts of Latin America, expectations of male heroism require boys and men to engage in risky behavior in the face of danger and make them more likely to die in an extreme event. The notion of the “big man” in rural southern Africa, which includes the ability to accumulate wealth in the form of people (women and children) and assets such as land, cattle, and equipment, is causing a crisis of masculinity in areas of changing natural resources. In cases such as these, participating in conflicts and using violence can become an alternative to achieving and wielding power in society. In Western Zambia, subscribing to harmful masculine ideals worsens poverty in areas already made vulnerable by climate change. In the floodplains there, privileged ideas of what it means to be a man are seen as the cause of the “masculinization of spending,” where men spend money on women and alcohol, further burdening women and girls with the responsibility of holding the household together.
Gender socialization at the individual level, where boys and young men are often taught to be assertive, unfeeling, and unafraid, and girls and young women are taught to be passive and emotion-ally caring (particularly toward their families), may also impact how men and women view and respond to climate change in general. In recent polls conducted in wealthy countries, for example, men are less likely to consider climate change a serious threat than women. In Germany, 67 percent of women versus 52 percent of men are concerned that climate change will harm them personally. In the United States, the gender gap is even wider (69 percent of women versus 48 percent of men). In what is perhaps the most worrisome statistic, men are much less likely than women in wealthy countries to agree that personal lifestyle changes are necessary to reduce the effects of climate change—changes that are desperately needed since most greenhouse gas emissions are caused by wealthier nations. In poorer countries, however, where populations are much more likely to experience natural disasters caused by climate change firsthand, men and women respond in similar ways and are much more likely overall to view climate change as a real and visible threat.
The authors of Men, Masculinities and Climate Change are all members of the MenEngage Global Alliance (www.menengage.org). For specific inquiries, contact Jane Kato-Wallace, senior program officer at Promundo-US, firstname.lastname@example.org; Joni van de Sand, email@example.com, global coordinator and advocacy manager, and Laxman Belbase, firstname.lastname@example.org, global networks manager at MenEngage. To read the report in its entirety, go to: http://menengage.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Men-Masculinities-and-Climate-Change-FINAL.pdf.