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A protest sign reads "Eco not Ego."

Climate change denialism has more to do with identity than information, researchers say. (Mark Spiske/Pexels)

Brett McKay | Oct. 14, 2022

The majority of Edmontonians believe that climate change is the result of human activity, and a problem government policy and individual actions need to take seriously, according to a climate perception survey conducted by the city. A closer look at those who opposed these statements might help explain what is motivating their beliefs in the face of the overwhelming evidence of climate change.

Roughly 15% of respondents to the climate perception survey in 2018 said that they either somewhat disagree or strongly disagree with the statement that climate change is caused by human activities. Within this group, 19.7% of men shared held this view, compared to 10.8% of women. A similar disparity was observed in questions relating to individual contributions to global environmental problems, and the importance of government response to the climate crisis.

Men being nearly twice as likely to engage in climate change denial shouldn’t be a surprise, said Angeline Letourneau, a Ph.D. student and researcher in the Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology at the University of Alberta, “That’s pretty consistent with what we see across the board, in just about every jurisdiction.”

A column chart showing that men are nearly twice as likely to disagree that climate change is human caused than women.

Although most Edmontonians agree that climate change is caused by human activity, a gendered breakdown of those who don’t shows men are nearly twice as likely to disagree with climate science, which sheds some light on what is motivating their beliefs.

Letourneau’s research explores the links between white masculinity and climate change denial, with a focus on masculine identities among resource extraction workers, and men more broadly in Alberta and beyond. The roots of climate change denial are more often rooted in identity, specifically masculinity and whiteness, rather than being an issue of misunderstanding the science or fearing climate action might hurt they industries they are employed in, said Letourneau.

“My work is sort of proving that work in fossil fuel industries really doesn’t seem to affect people’s likelihood of believing in climate change or not. Rather, it’s sort of how much they align themselves with what we broadly define as toxic masculinity,” Letourneau explained.

This buy-in to misogynistic and selfish beliefs also has a large crossover with troubling fringe and far-right ideologies.

“This is consistent with a lot of research on political ideologies, which is once again, the very far right political ideologies tend to be more dominated by whiteness. And that seems to be carried over into climate change denial as well,” she said.

Establishing the link between these aspects of a person’s self-perception and the rejection of climate science might help explain their beliefs and actions, but it also means education or awareness as strategies to confront climate change denial will have little effect.

“More education at this point really doesn’t make any difference,” said Letourneau. Instead, she argued, our efforts would be better spent identifying the parties who are the major drivers behind climate change denial narratives.

“A lot of this comes down to the sociological side of things, what we call climate obstruction. It is the intentional act of preventing action on climate change in the face of a great deal of evidence that it is in fact happening and that it is in fact human caused. A lot of that discourse is sort of initiated and led by large fossil fuel actors. So ,you get a lot of PR firms, paid for by say, the Koch brothers, Exxon Mobil, all these sort of key players in the fossil fuel industry. And the people who are quite receptive to these discourses tend to be white men.”

The City of Edmonton climate perception survey results released since 2018 have not included gender data, but the city said it hopes to again include gender data in the 2022 update to the survey.

“The information is still collected but there was an issue with coding that particular dataset at the time,” said Karen Yeung, a community and business analyst at the City of Edmonton’s Environment and Climate Resilience Unit. Yeung added that a choice was made to omit the column containing this data to get the results online in a timely matter, and that the gender data was not statistically significant.

“I it’s think more important now, as the far right continues to gain momentum, to keep those gender demographic variables in surveys on key topics like climate change,” said Letourneau.

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