Alpha males think caring about the environment is too feminine, research shows. So lets make saving the planet a bit more macho, says Guardian nature writer Patrick Barkham
Theres a problem species, carelessly roaming the planet consuming, polluting or trashing everything in its wake. No, not simply Homo sapiens: more precisely, the males of the species.
Studies consistently show a gender gap in attitudes towards Mother Earth. Women, social scientists tell us, are more willing to take action to help the environment, whatever their age and wherever they live. Meanwhile men, who possess a larger carbon footprint, roar around dropping more litter while feeling less worried about globalwarming.
Donald Trumps recent confusion between weather and climate is the latest of many anti-green alpha-male outrages. The US president perfectly illustrates the thesis of professors Aaron Brough and James Wilkie, who argue that men are destroying the planet because they are worried about theirmasculinity.
If that sounds tragically trivial, well, were also ruining the planet for exfoliating facewashes and takeaway coffees.
Brough and Wilkie found both men and women in the US and China cleaved to a green-feminine stereotype. Eco-friendly behaviours, products and consumers were judged more feminine than non-green equivalents. So taking a reusable canvas bag on a shopping trip was judged more feminine than brandishing oh-so-macho plastic bags.
Then, when the researchers threatened the masculinity of male participants by asking them to use a pink floral gift card to purchase three products (a lamp, rucksack and batteries), they found the pink gift card-holding men were more likely than men possessing a neutral gift card to choose non-green products over environmentally friendly ones.
Such neat experiments appear inconsequential but suggest profound implications. In addition to littering, wasting water, or using too much electricity, write Brough and Wilkie, one could harm the environment merely by making men feel feminine.
In an era of threatened masculinity and environmental catastrophe, a causal relationship between the two the former contributing towards the latter could be devastating. As macho men believe their traditions are imperilled, they come out as only they know how: fighting. A backlash against feminism, a backlash against the planet.
Is Trumps denigration of both local and global environments from chopping down the White House magnolia tree to dropping climate change from the list of threats to national security a troubled souls reassertion of his masculinity? If Trump personifies the problem, whats the solution?
Its tempting to suggest an inverse Handmaids Tale: imprison all men and keep a rump population in secure breeding pens which women can visit when required. Then female-led humanity can repair its relationship with Mother Earth.
More humanely, macho men could be restored as the apex predator in rewilded landscapes. Stripped of gadgets, they would roam securely fenced reserves, building dens, slaying badgers with their bare hands and occasionally falling prey to female dentists pepping up their bored existences with trophy hunting.
Brough and Wilkies prescription is more modest: convert threatened alphas to caring via crafty marketing. Make a man feel manly, and he is more likely to go green.
Portray electric cars as guzzlingly glorious SUVs. Present green groups as menvironmentally friendly. One experiment found men more likely to donate to Wilderness Rangers a fictional charity with a black and blue howling wolf logo than Friends of Nature, with a twee font and tree symbol.
Im suspicious of marketing solutions, but perhaps we can combine the rewilding that is revolutionising conservation with a rewilding of traditional masculinity. Too many green causes are framed by denial, duty, responsibility heavy stuff that poor timorous, threatened alpha males struggle to shoulder.
Saving the wild can be fun and dynamic. Green action is rooted in love of place; green patriotism offers a compelling emotional case for nature that spans left and right, and men andwomen.
We must start young, and expose nursery children to our natural environment in all its liberating, thrilling, invigorating and scary glory. Let them rampage not tiptoe through it (with respect, of course). And let big boys go wild too. Just as Barack Obama glacier-hopped in Alaska with Bear Grylls, so shouldTrump.
Swap golf for Grylls. Get those famously tiny hands chopping wood. And if Trump doesnt quite adopt a jute bag for butterfly-spotting trips, he may yet consider the wisdom of leaving oil in the ground.
Patrick Barkham is a natural history writer for the Guardian