Monday, December 21, 2009

why are virtually all climate "sceptics" men?

BBCNews | The question first came to mind on the plane to Copenhagen last week while scanning The Guardian's feature on movers and shakers in the "sceptical" field.

Bjorn LomborgSo we go down their list... Bjorn Lomborg, Viscount Monckton, former TV presenter David Bellamy, British National Party leader Nick Griffin, Freakonomics authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, Lord Lawson, social anthropologist Benny Peiser, geologist Ian Plimer, US Senator James Inhofe, Czech President Vaclav Klaus... all men.

It's a marked contrast to the world of mainstream climate science, which boasts a number of eminent female practitioners including IPCC lead authors Susan Solomon and Cynthia Rosenzweig; and to the world of UN climate talks, where many delegations include, and are led by, women, including the UK's negotiating team.

The renowned environmental commentator Charles Clover noted the trend recently in The Times, writing of "... the born-again climate sceptic, the kind of man (always a man, almost invariably wearing a tweed jacket) who now materialises beside me at parties and confides that he has been having second thoughts about climate change".

So what's going on? Why is this issue such a gender-divider?

You might think it's a trite question; but I would argue it's not, for the following reason.

There are two distinct views of why climate scepticism exists in the way it does today.

One - promulgated by many sceptics themselves - speaks to a rigorous, analytical deconstruction of a deeply-flawed scientific edifice that is maintained by a self-interested cabal of tax-hungry politicians and careerist scientists.

The other is that climate scepticism has psychological roots; that it stems from a deep-seated inability or unwillingness to accept the overwhelming evidence that humanity has built with coal and lubricated with oil its own handcart whose destination board reads "climate hell".

As one ex-scientist and now climate action advocate put it to me rather caustically a while back: "I've been debating the science with them for years, but recently I realised we shouldn't be talking about the science but about something unpleasant that happened in their childhood".

Perhaps an answer to the gender issue will help illuminate this much bigger and politically significant question.