Why do male climate change ‘sceptics’ have such a problem with women?

On 20 February, the Global Warming Policy Foundation will be launching a new pamphlet at the House of Lords, attacking the mainstream media for not giving more coverage to climate change ‘sceptics’.

The author, Christopher Booker, is a veteran male columnist for ‘The Sunday Telegraph’, and most, if not all, of his audience is likely to be male. Of the 65 pamphlets published by the Foundation since it was registered as an educational charity by Lord Lawson of Blaby in 2009, this is one of the 57 that have been written by men only.

However, male dominance of the Foundation’s other activities is even stronger. Of its 10 Trustees, all but one are men. All of the 25 members of its “Academic Advisory Council” are men. Its Chair, Director, Deputy Director, Science Editor, Energy Editor, Director of Development and Researcher are all men. And all seven of its annual lectures have been delivered by men.

The Foundation does not disclose any details about the identities of its members, thought to number about 100, or its donors who last year gave more than £284,000. However almost all of the Foundation’s most enthusiastic cheerleaders, such as Mr Booker and ‘The Times’ columnist Viscount Ridley, are men.

It is not obvious why the Foundation should be able to benefit from charity status while appearing to operate as an old boys’ club. There is no rationale for why the so-called ‘charity’ has such a severe gender imbalance in its activities. It is not, for instance, raising awareness of men’s issues, such as the risks of prostate cancer, where the majority of charity activities might feature men.

I asked the Charity Commission to investigate whether the under-representation of women within the governance and activities of the Foundation was the result of discrimination.

The Commission had previously carried out an inquiry into the Foundation and concluded that it had violated the rules for education charities because it was solely promoting climate change denial.

However, it refused to make any enquiries about the under-representation of women on the grounds that “there are no legal requirements around gender balance in governance and that under s20(2) of the Charities Act, the Commission is precluded from interfering in the administration of a charity”.

The Foundation may be dominated by older men because climate change denial is simply not popular among women and young people. Numerous studies have suggested that climate change ‘sceptics’ are usually older and male, with political views that place less value on the environment.

However, recent polls of the UK public suggest that there is little gender difference among the small proportion of the population who are hardcore ‘sceptics’.

A tracking survey commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy showed that, in March 2017, 7.6 per cent answered “I don’t think there is such a thing as climate change” or “Climate change is caused entirely caused by natural processes”, when asked for their views. Among men the figure was 8.1 per cent, while for women it was 7.1 per cent.

Although there are women who appear to be sceptical about climate change, anyone who has engaged with ‘sceptics’ will have learned that it is the men who are most vocal about their views. They tend to lack any training or qualifications in climate science, but still appear to believe that they know better than the experts.

And there is also a degree of male chauvinism that often underlies the arguments put forward by ‘sceptics’ during public discussions. For instance, when Lord Lawson was asked to comment on a statement by Professor Dame Julia Slingo, the chief scientist at the Met Office, about the link between flooding and climate change, he did not refer to her by her professional title but instead as “this Julia Slingo woman”.

Other climate change ‘sceptics’ routinely refer to female climate scientists in a dismissive way. For instance, Professor Joanna Haigh of Imperial College London was called a “puffed-up missy” in a trademark rant by James Delingpole for the extremist website Breitbart.

Mr Delingpole also referred on his website to Dr Emily Shuckburgh, an experienced climate scientist who specialises on impacts in polar regions, not by her name or job title but as “some foxy chick from the British Antarctic Survey”.

I understand that Professor Haigh, like many other female climate scientists, has also received emails from male climate change ‘sceptics’ that are patronising and filled with insults.

Female scientists outside the UK are also exposed to sexist invective from climate change ‘sceptics’, with ‘Scientific American’ reporting that “more than 90 percent of the harassing emails they receive are from men and often include gender-specific abuse”.

Of course not all climate change ‘sceptics’ are male chauvinists, but it is clear that those who most obsessively promote climate change denial are usually male, arrogant, and unable to accept that the experts are right, particularly if they are female.

 

Bob Ward is policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science. The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Grantham Research Institute.