When it comes to caring for the environment, is there a gender difference between men and women?
A growing body of social science research suggests yes. Women consistently rank values strongly linked to environmental concern — things such as altruism, personal responsibility and empathy — as more important than men do. They also say they see environmentalism as important to protecting themselves and their families.
The Institute for Women's Policy Research found women are less likely than men to support environmental spending cuts and are less sympathetic to business when it comes to environmental regulation. They also have more positive feelings about environmental activists and are concerned about environmental risks to health, especially locally.
Women in industrialized countries are more likely to buy ecologically friendly and organic foods, more likely to recycle and more interested in efficient energy use, according to research by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. And a survey of research by investigators at Stanford, Ohio State University and the Associated Press found women perceived greater vulnerability to risks and were more willing to pay higher income taxes and gasoline prices to protect the environment.
So where does that leave the dudes?
Consider transportation and diet — two areas where humans exercise choices that can have significant effect on the environment. At the L.A. Auto Show, each year I watch men ogle performance cars, 4-wheel drive trucks and imported luxury sedans. Overwhelmingly, auto industry data show men purchase these vehicles, though they consistently rank among the lowest-mileage vehicles on the road. One day at the show, a fellow from Murrieta examining new electric vehicle models told me, in a not uncommon refrain, "Sure, I like these cars, they make sense for the environment. Would I buy one? Yeah, for my wife."
Automakers may love the praise they get for developing electric vehicles and hybrids, but you have only to watch the advertisements on sports programs to see what they think men want. Game time always comes with a parade of ads for hulking chrome-clad trucks towing cargo through flames or four-wheel drive vehicles splashing through backcountry streams or sultry foreign sedans wooing women.
Research at Carnegie Mellon University shows that in the United States, the average single man is responsible for the equivalent of 32 tons of carbon dioxide annually, compared with 30 tons for a woman, mainly because of vehicle use. Studies from Europe have drawn similar conclusions, finding that women worldwide have less effect on the atmosphere, in part because they drive and fly less. The research also shows that men in developed countries eat more meat than women, which is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
Of course, it may just be that men don't understand the consequences of their actions. A recent analysis of eight years of Gallup Poll data suggests that U.S. women have greater scientific knowledge of climate change than men, and women also express slightly greater concern about this threat.
Environmental issues have contributed to a growing gender gap between Democrats and Republicans. According to the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, the last 30 years have seen women consistently moving away from the GOP. This year's presidential campaign has given Republican women who care about the environment additional incentive to decamp, with Rick Santorum declaring global warming a hoax and Newt Gingrich making a macho attempt to put skirts on electric vehicles by noting that there are no gun racks in Chevy Volts.
So what are we guys supposed to do?
Perhaps we need to look to Aldo Leopold, an intrepid wilderness trekker, avid hunter and angler, a man's man who wrote America's seminal wildlife management and hunting laws. In "A Sand County Almanac" he writes about expanding human relationships to include "relationships to society as a whole to relationships with the land," or in short, a "land ethic that changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it" living with care for all its members, nature and people.
How about it, guys?
Gary Polakovic is a Los Angeles-based environmental consultant who covered environmental issues for the Los Angeles Times. He also serves on the governing boards for the Coalition for Clean Air and the California State Parks Foundation.