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Men have a larger carbon footprint than women, a new study has found. The disparity is mainly due to men’s appetite for meat and cars. It marks one of the first pieces of research specifically examining the carbon footprints of males versus females. Researchers say that these gender differences in emissions should be factored into climate action policies.
In a new Swedish study, researchers found that men’s spending on goods causes 16% more emissions than women. That’s despite the sum of money spent by both men and women being roughly similar. Conducted by environmental consultancy Ecoloop, the study has been published in the peer-reviewed Journal for Industrial Ecology. The study did not look at individuals who identify as nonbinary.
Meat and cars to blame
The study looked at both men’s and women’s consumption of goods such as food, household items, home furnishings, holidays, and car fuel. Data were based on official spending statistics released in 2012, the most recent available in Sweden.
On average, men only spent 2% more on goods than women but accounted for 16% more GHG emissions. It found that men’s significantly higher carbon footprint was mainly attributable to their driving habits and appetite for meat.
70% of the total money spent by men went toward items described as “GHG-intensive” goods. Single men, for example, generally use up more car fuel than single women for transport and holidays. Compared to taking trains, driving cars in Sweden causes 6-times more emissions.
Men also ate far more meat and dairy products than the women did, further adding to their hefty footprint. Animal agriculture is responsible for around 18% of the world’s GHG emissions and is a leading cause of deforestation, soil erosion, and water pollution.
Gender in climate policy
The study found that women tended to spend more money on “low-emitting products” like furnishing, clothes, and healthcare.
For study lead author Annika Carlsson-Kanyama, the spending patterns of women should serve as an example of how to lead more climate-friendly lifestyles. Men could “really learn from women’s expenditure habits, which produce significantly less carbon emissions despite the similar amount of spending,” she told CNN.
Carlsson-Kanyama added that their findings show that governments need to start factoring in gender disparities into their climate and environmental policies. “Policies…should be targeted to men to discourage them from spending so much on fuel, from using cars so much.”
“It’s essential for governments, in their messaging, to explain to men how high the emissions are that their expenditure is causing,” she continued.
Tackling food and transport is key
Another major conclusion from the study is that food and transport emissions account for the majority of individuals’ emissions, regardless of gender. For both men and women, food and holiday expenditure were responsible for around half of their carbon footprint.
The authors advised that the public should begin swapping their meat and dairy products for more plant-based foods and available alternatives.
“Meat and dairy products have much higher emissions than all their replacements. Pork is five times more polluting than tofu and lamb is 25 times more polluting than tofu. Milk is five times as polluting as oat drink and cheese is four times as polluting as vegan cheese,” wrote the researchers.
They further recommended people to switch to train-based holidays, rather than flying or driving by car. Other lifestyle changes that people can make include eating more locally grown foods, as well as buying secondhand clothing and furniture. Together, all of these actions could help save as much as 38% of emissions.
“Our results show that total greenhouse gas emissions can be lowered by 36–38% by shifting the expenditure on these products and services to less carbon-intensive alternatives without changing the total expenditure.”
Lead image courtesy of Unsplash.