Consumption, gender and climate change
Climate Change is caused by carbon-intensive and unsustainable ways of production and consumption. GHG emissions occur at all stages of the production, transportation, utilization and disposal of commodities and are thus closely linked to patterns and levels of consumption. In turn, climate change will increasingly impact people's ways of consuming goods as resources become scarce and commodities more costly due to crisis in the agricultural sector and the loss of arable land.
Consumption patterns differ significantly between the Global North and the Global South. In the Global South, consumption is closely tied to questions of survival and poverty narrows the range and level of what people consume while causing other environmentally degrading behaviours.
In countries of the Global North, an expanding consumer culture has lead to unsustainable consumption patterns which include an ever growing demand for carbon-intensive luxury goods and which are pushing the planetary boundaries.
The production, processing, packaging and transport of food are a major source of GHG emissions. The livestock sector alone is causing 14.5% of all emissions according to FAO data and a high consumption of meat is a common feature in the consumerist lifestyles of rich nations. But not only the consumption of food is relevant in the context of climate change, every consumer decision from the use of energy, to the purchase of clothing and electronic items to individual mobility is linked to GHG emissions. Thus, individual behaviour matters.
But analysis of consumption patterns and their impacts on the global climate cannot stop at the level of the individual consumer. It requires the overall challenging of the capitalist system and its demand for continuous economic growth and expanding demand for commodities.
Consumption and lifestyle patterns don't only differ between countries, but between region (especially between urban and rural areas), class, age and gender. Differences in consumption between women and men hold true on a global level. Two major factors contribute to this difference: the gendered division of labour and the gendered access to income and wealth.
Gendered difference in consumption are visible when it comes to the amount and types of goods that are purchased and used as well as in patterns of mobility. Women bear the brunt of care-work and are thus playing active roles in the choosing, purchasing, using and disposing of goods related to the household, such as food, clothing and household articles. Men on the other hand tend to buy expensive capital goods such as cars, electronic devices and real estate properties.
Having smaller incomes and less leisure time than men due to care-giving responsibilities, women generally consume less in comparison to men in the same geographical and social location.
Besides, women have a greater tendency to make more sustainable consumption choices, e.g. eating less meat or a showing preference for organic food.
There is also strong evidence that women place greater emphasis on and are more open towards behaviour and lifestyle changes in combating climate change while men tend to rely more on technological solutions.
In order to transform lifestyles and consumption patterns to become environmentally sound and less carbon-intensive, we need a deeper acknowledgement and understanding of gendered differences in consumption.
Therefore, these differences need to be made visible via the provision of gender-disaggregated data and further research on how individual consumption is linked to the gendered division of labour, rights and resources as well as to gendered body culture and lifestyles.
Policies and strategies for sustainable consumption need to be gender-sensitive. This means they need to acknowledge the different consumption and lifestyle patterns of women and men while being cautious not to further increase the overall workload of women by adding the brunt of climate change responsibilities on them.
The Global North has to take responsibility for the impacts that consumption there has on the global climate and livelihoods in countries of the Global South.
Individual consumption and behaviour matter and lifestyle changes are vital for mitigating climate change. But in order to genuinely transform the culture of consumption – and especially the culture of over-consumption – the role of capitalism and its reliance on economic growth and growing demand for goods need to be unmasked and challenged.