Extract from ABC News
Photo: Students volunteer for a 'seaweed tourism' project as part of efforts to improve the health of the Great Barrier Reef. (ABC North Qld: Harriet Tatham)
Women care more about addressing climate change than men, doubtless because they suffer more from its effects, writes Erin Stewart. So why are the Coalition and Labor not prioritising it in their election campaigns?In his capacity as the former minister for women, Tony Abbott claimed the best thing he did was repeal the carbon tax.
"As many of us know," he said in December 2014, "women are particularly focused on the household budget, and the repeal of the carbon tax means a $550-a-year benefit for the average family".
Aside from overstating his figures, Mr Abbott expressed the absurdly inaccurate view that women were more interested in domestic arithmetic than the world around them. In actuality, women care a great deal about climate change, and are more likely to suffer as a result of it.
Eighty-two per cent of female respondents to the ABC's Vote Compass felt the Federal Government should do "much" or "somewhat more" to tackle climate change, compared with just 67 per cent of men.
These findings are in line with data from the Pew Research Centre which found 83 per cent of Australian women see climate change as a serious problem, compared with just 71 per cent of men.
Part of the reason for the climate gap is doubtless because women would be disproportionately affected if climate change was not effectively addressed. Chair of Population Health at Western Sydney University Professor Hilary Bambrick said extreme weather events killed more women than men globally because they were less likely to have the resources to survive.
They were also more likely to experience poverty and social restrictions, were less likely to be part of decision-making processes, and were also more likely to be exposed to mosquito-borne diseases in performing household tasks such as collecting water and harvesting food.
The reasons climate change was especially bad for women, Professor Bambrick wrote recently at the Conversation, was "largely because they are overrepresented among the world's poor and are thus more exposed to these dangers".
Australian women 'financially vulnerable' to climate changeThe threats are seen in Australia, too. Greens Senator Larissa Waters said she believed women were particularly financially vulnerable to climate change due to structural disadvantage and discrimination.
"With lesser financial means, it will be harder for women to recover from damage to their homes from extreme weather events driven by global warming, such as flooding, droughts or bushfires," Senator Waters told ABC News.
Photo: Federal Greens Deputy Leader Larissa Waters says Australian women are financially vulnerable to climate change. (AAP: Mick Tsikas)
"Tragically, the incidence of family violence can increase in the wake of traumatic events such as serious natural disasters. For example, in the wake of the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria."
According to the World Health Organization's Gender and Climate Change report, women were also more likely to pick up caring responsibilities in times of disaster and extreme weather events.
These duties created additional disadvantages in earning an income or gaining education. While the risks were heightened for women in developing countries, they were still shared across the world.
Research from Charles Sturt University that looked at the gendered effects of drought in rural Australia showed women tended to ignore their own health in order to look after their family and community in the wake of environmental strain.
"Women often bear the burden of having to rebuild communities after losing community resources, skills, and relationships from families and services that have left," it said.
Men suffer the effects of climate change, tooHowever, the effects of climate change are not solely experienced by women.
For instance, the Charles Sturt University research showed drought has a devastating impact on men too, who have an increased risk of experiencing isolation and loneliness, as well as suicide. Being confronted with a potential loss of livelihood, and feeling unable to reach out for help because of crushing gender roles, contributes to these risks — which must be taken very seriously.
With a July 2 election fast approaching, the Coalition and Labor have outlined significantly different climate policies, but neither has been campaigning hard on the issue.
Photo: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said Australia should be a "role model in the management of coral reefs". (ABC News: David McMeekin)
Which seems odd, particularly given new reports which show 93 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef has been threatened by coral bleaching, caused (at least in part) by rising sea temperatures.
The Coalition has just announced a $1 billion plan to address the issue by providing concessional loans for clean energy projects that will improve water quality, but Queensland Government modelling suggested $16 billion would be required to meet water quality targets.
Moreover, as Opposition Leader Bill Shorten argued on Q&A on Monday, it makes little sense to talk about saving the reef without talking about climate change. "They are inextricably linked," Mr Shorten said. "It is a joke that on one hand my opponent is out there on the reef — that's good — pledging money — that's good — but if you've got climate change policies which do nothing about climate change, it's just a billion-dollar Band-Aid of neglect."
Majority of voters want greater government action on climate changeIt is odder still given the results of a May ReachTEL poll, which found 56 per cent of voters think the Government should do more to address climate change and 64 per cent would be more likely to vote for a party that planned to completely convert Australia to renewable energy within 20 years.
(Although Pew found 71 per cent of Australian women thought people must make lifestyle changes in order to reduce the effects of climate change, while only 57 per cent of men agreed.)
And yet Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has done little more to prioritise climate change than his predecessor, aside from signing the Paris Agreement promising to reduce emissions by 26-28 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. He also has not reversed Mr Abbott's decimation of climate change research and development.
Meanwhile Labor is proposing two emissions trading schemes to charge big polluters for their environmental damages — one for the electricity industry and another for other polluting industries — which are to fund the bigger target of a 45 per cent reduction of emissions by 2030.
Climate Councillor Lesley Hughes, a Distinguished Professor of Biology and Pro Vice-Chancellor at Macquarie University, said the pledges that have been made were insufficient — they would not keep climate warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Men leave a bigger carbon footprint than womenBut while the effects of climate change are gendered, so too are its causes and potential solutions.
Dr Ariel Salleh, a Research Associate in Political Economy at the University of Sydney, pointed to evidence from around the world showing women did not leave as large an ecological footprint as men, because of differences in their consumption patterns.
A study from the Swedish Defence Research Agency showed that in some regions — they looked at Germany and Norway — differences in consumption rates were not as pronounced, but even so, men consumed more energy (8 per cent and 6 per cent respectively).
They found significantly larger differences in the two other countries they studied, Greece and Sweden (39 per cent and 22 per cent respectively). The men's bigger carbon footprint was due to their greater tendency to travel by car, go out for meals, and consume alcohol and tobacco products.
In terms of climate solutions, Dr Salleh said men were more likely to prefer "end-of-pipe" answers, that is, where problems were addressed by radical technological responses that may be risky.
Women, however, tended to take on the personal responsibility of making everyday changes, diverting the need to take unnecessary risks and incorporating care for the environment as routine.
"The way society is structured, women are given the labour to do with reproducing the next generation," as well as sustaining their families and communities, Dr Salleh told ABC News.
"It's a logical corollary that they will focus on issues like climate change.