I expected resistance when I undertook my #ClimateHungerStrike in November 2023. But I didn't anticipate the consistently abusive, sexist, misogynistic and racist deluge that subsequently appeared on my social media accounts from climate change deniers. They are almost always men on Twitter and devoid of logic. Their criticism is personal, even through they don't know me. They focus almost exclusively on gender, sex, penis size, LGBTIQ+ identities, religion and, of course my Aboriginal identity. They also like to boast about conspicuous consumption of meat and fossil fuels.
For the record, I don't personalise any of it. I didn't go on my hunger strike to preach to the converted. I'm glad I'm disrupting them. But I do feel sorry and embarrassed for them. I wonder what their mothers, grandmothers, aunties, and daughters would think. I know my family would be appalled if I were to behave that way.
While water off a duck's back to me, these behaviours reveal a deeply troubling truth about a significant subset of Australia's men. Climate change denial is deeply entwined with their toxic masculinity, homophobia, racism and petro- and meat-centric masculinity. These men, and yes they are almost entirely men, are not just rejecting the reality of humanity's greatest crisis. They are clinging desperately to outdated hyper-masculine identities. And they're promoting and perpetuating harmful gender norms, hate, homophobia and racism.
The sexism and homophobia embedded in climate change denialism is particularly glaring. Denialists' use of abuse based on gender, sex, sexuality, and physical appearances is indicative of a larger issue – their discomfort when confronted with challenges and deviations from their subconsciously ingrained gender norms and heteronormative expectations. Toxic masculinity, characterised by a fear of vulnerability and an insistence on dominance, supports their rejection of climate science. Their personal attacks and belittling of people becomes their safe space.
Racism is another ugly facet. The connection between racism and climate change denial is not new; it often reflects a resistance to global collaboration and a reluctance to accept the responsibility of developed nations like Australia in contributing to climate change. By attacking people's identities, denialists attempt to divert attention from the systemic changes and responsibilities required to address environmental issues. Just like Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison did when they joked about Pacific Island countries sinking due to rising sea levels back in 2015.
Amusingly, but perhaps also more tellingly, is denialists' promotion of excessive consumption of meat, junk food, and fossil fuels. This is where the link to toxic petro- and meat-centred masculinity becomes unmistakable. I remember during my hunger strike, climate change denialists would drive their V8s past me revving-up their engines while yelling out "climate change is a hoax". This was somehow self-validating for them. Glorification of excessive and harmful consumption aligns with the ethos of industries, which not only actively contribute to climate change with accepting responsibility, but also promote a specific brand of hyper-masculinity centred on male dominance and consumption.
Climate change is undeniably man-made. But what I learned from my #ClimateHungerStrike is that toxic men are a part of the problem too - beyond the science, technology, policy and political reforms needed for a safer planet. We must deal with toxic behaviours propagated by this subset of men who cling to outdated gender norms, resist change and use abuse as their defence. Engaging in rational discussion with them seems futile in the face of their deeply ingrained misogyny, racism, and homophobia. I don't know what the answer is, but if you do, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please write a comment below.
I block and report the worse of it. But just incase you'd like to see some examples, have a trawl trough my Twitter feed and search for words like "penis", "gay", "LGBTIQ", "Islam", "God", "Abo", the C and/or F word, "carnivore", "bacon", "meat", or "steak". But a warning, you'll find lots of offensive content.