Climate Policy Must Center Women, According To New Report

Supermajority Education Fund

March 9, 2020

A new report from the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) and the Sierra Club highlights the need for a new approach to climate policy that directly addresses race, class, and gender.

The report notes that even though over half of American women believe the current climate emergency is harming the United States, women and people of color are often not included in the climate change policymaking process. People of color are also far more likely to express concern about the environment, with 67 percent of Latino Americans and 63 percent of Black Americans agreeing that the climate crisis is harming the country.  

The health impacts of climate change also disproportionately affect women. The report found that women were more likely than men to need to visit the emergency room for asthma- and respiratory-related conditions caused or exacerbated by the 2008 California wildfires. Additionally, a 2019 study stated that experiencing extreme weather events may be associated with higher risks of both low-birth weights and premature births.

“The climate crisis does not impact all equally,” WEDO researcher Mara Dolan told Supermajority News. “Our experiences of climate change are shaped by race, class, gender, ability, and other identities we hold because these things also shape our access to economic and social stability and security.”

Dolan notes that women of color and their families, in particular, are more likely to live in areas that are disproportionately vulnerable to and are already being impacted by climate change, like the Gulf Coast communities of Louisiana and Alabama. Americans of color are also more likely to live near fossil fuel sites or waste facilities. “There also is simply not enough research that has been done on the reproductive health outcomes of being forced to live near these kinds of facilities, which tend to impact women of color,” she said. “The lived testimony of women has long indicated that they witness and recognize negative health impacts, but policies have yet to reflect this reality.”

But while women and girls of color have long been on the frontlines of climate change, their voices are often still excluded in media coverage of climate and environmental issues. The report found that women, in general, were quoted in only 19 percent of climate-related stories. The remaining coverage tends to focus on the impact climate policy will have on men, who are more likely to work in the coal, natural gas, and petroleum industries. Men also are disproportionately represented in the wind and solar industries and the discussions around alternative sources of power.

“Women are leading experts in climate science, journalism & activism– they’re just not being asked,” said Dolan. “Media outlets need to make a concerted effort to think about who they are featuring and who they are erasing in their coverage, recognizing that the status quo is simply unacceptable.”