Two Media Matters analyses suggest that over 85 percent of those quoted in the media about climate change are men. Several top women in the field denounced this disparity, noting that women will be disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change.
A review of a recent Media Matters analysis of print and television coverage of the U.N. climate reports found that women made up less than 15 percent of interviewees. A look back at our analysis of broadcast coverage of climate change unearthed the same stark disparity: less than 14 percent of those quoted on the nightly news shows and Sunday shows in 2013 were women.
Allison Chin, the former president of the Sierra Club, decried this gender gap in a statement to Media Matters:
The gender imbalance among those quoted on the climate crisis is striking, particularly since women around the world are more vulnerable to the dangers of climate disruption and among the most active in the movement for solutions. Globally, existing inequalities give women less access and less control over resources and make them more susceptible to the worst effects of extreme weather. The last thing the media should do is amplify that divide by only covering one set of perspectives.
Rebecca Lefton, senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress and an expert in international climate change policy and gender equality agreed, telling Media Matters that this is an environmental justice issue because “women are disproportionately impacted by climate change, especially in developing countries.” Indeed, studies show, for instance, that women disproportionately suffer the impacts of extreme weather disasters, some of which are exacerbated by climate change, in part because they are more likely to be poor. Lefton added, “Without women's voices we lose the perspective of half of the population and without women's participation, the transition to a cleaner economy will be slower.”
The lack of women's voices in climate change conversations in the media is not due to a shortage of powerful women in climate policy and communications. U.N. Climate Chief Christiana Figueres, who is in charge of negotiating a global climate treaty, noted in March that “women often bear the brunt in places where the impacts of climate change are already being felt.” The last two heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, which is slated to come out with carbon pollution standards for future power plants, were both women -- current administrator Gina McCarthy and former administrator Lisa Jackson.
Media Matters has previously found that women make up only about a quarter of guests on the Sunday morning talk shows and weekday evening cable news segments on the economy. However, the gender gap on climate change conversations is even starker. One contributing factor may be that the climate sciences have experienced a “female brain drain,” according to Scientific American, as have many other scientific fields. This “female brain drain” is also evident in the largely male leadership of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Women that do enter the field often face discrimination. Two prominent female climate scientists, Heidi Cullen and Katherine Hayhoe, have both been dismissed by Rush Limbaugh as “babe[s].” Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian who is one of the stars of a new Showtime series on climate change, told E&E News that much of the internet harassment she receives focuses on her gender:
Another way to avoid a particularly nasty form of harassment: Don't be a female climate scientist.
According to Hayhoe and [Kari] Norgaard, women who have been targeted for their climate change research, more than 90 percent of the harassing emails they receive are from men and often include gender-specific abuse.
Some emails tell them to get back in the kitchen. A few are more threatening. “I've filed a police report before,” Hayhoe said, after emails have made her feel unsafe or threatened her family.
Ensuring that women receive equal airtime in climate change discussions is crucial to providing girls with female role models in the media, which in turn can help to eradicate gender inequality in the field.
UPDATE: Upworthy recently highlighted Carter Wall, a clean energy professional working to address climate change, who noted that when she majored in Biochemistry, she struggled to find female role models. Her story is part of a Department of Energy series on women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematic fields).
Photo at top of U.N. Climate Chief Christiana Figueres, of Costa Rica, by the EPA via The Guardian.