Is environmental consciousness a gendered issue? And if so, can we change it?
If I had a dollar for every time my wife fished a piece of plastic or cardboard out of the trash, I could buy a yacht, wear ascots, and rename myself something catchy like “Thurston.” In case you hadn’t guessed, she’s not the one tossing it in there.
Like most men, I know throwing away plastic is bad for the environment; I try to recycle. But that dangerous cocktail—equal parts forgetfulness and laziness—keeps guiding me straight to the nearest wastebasket the next time I need to get rid of something.
It gets worse. Grocery shopping alone? “Oops, I forgot the green bags.” Thirsty at work? “That Styrofoam cup should do the trick.” The carbon footprint keeps growing. But the thing is, it’s not just me. Most men I know seem to be in the same boat. The research backs it up—although some of it is admittedly dated.
- After a review of six studies back in 2000, researchers found women expressed “significantly greater environmental concern than [men].” They were also more active in pro-environmental behavior.
- A March Pew Poll shows 34% of men opposes more U.S. fracking in the Northeast and West. That number is 42% for women.
- In 2011, Pew found 69% of women thought Global Warming was a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem. 60% of men agreed.
- In 1994, a study looking at race, gender and the environment, found that when it comes to environmental risks, white men were the least concerned group.
So what’s the deal? I like whales, the rain forest, and acid-free rain just as much as the next guy, but on most days something stops me from bringing in my own thermos to a Starbucks. Something stops me from riding a bike into work when it’s just a 25-minute ride. Is the answer in our chromosomes? Probably not.
Thomas Nelson could be called an exception to the trend. He founded the “Give a Sh*t about Nature” Facebook page in March, 2012. Today it has more than 230,000 Likes. The booming fan base also follows Nelson on Twitter, Tumblr, and buys t-shirts (20 trees planted for each sold).
Over email, Nelson told me he’s certainly heard the idea men are less environmentally engaged.
“I think a lot of the ladies on GASAN would argue that they do environmentalism the best,” says Nelson, “but I’m a man, and I feel like I’m pretty good at caring about nature.”
Sixty percent of his Facebook Likes come from women. But he’s quick to point out there are more women on Facebook than there are men.
“It seems that men and women on Facebook at least are on the same page.”
Nelson says whether the research is right or not, women and men need to make sure they don’t alienate anyone. “We’ve all been a part of the damage done and so we all deserve a place at the table when it comes to fixing it.”
He says that the best way to get people involved is to start talking about it, asking the important questions.
So I’ll start. What is it about being a man that makes us statistically less likely to worry about the environment and what we’re doing to it? What makes us statistically less likely to recycle, take shorter showers or carpool?