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Lifestyle

Rise of the Climate Dads

American fathers love EVs, support clean energy, and are trying to eat more plants.

A man grilling steaks.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Picture a stereotypical American father.

He’s tending to his grill on a hot summer day, grinning as he flips a burger, stabs at a hot dog sizzling on the rack. He’s a bit doughy from decades of drinking beer (he’s a Coors man, like his dad) and of sitting at a desk, comfortably trapped in middle management. He tells a joke, and you feign a laugh, realizing that it probably seemed funnier, and more acceptable, to him back when he was young. He’d voted for Obama in 2008 — simpler times, he shrugs — but now leans conservative. It’s 10 degrees warmer in his mosquito-filled backyard than it should be at this time of year, but he doesn’t want to hear about climate change. In fact, he rolls his eyes when he mentions the couple down the street — the ones with the Ioniq and the panels on their roof.

This cartoon of an American dad who scoffs about climate change is easy to conjure, abetted by a Republican campaign to make environmentalism seem the province of liberal elites. “People when they start talking about things like global warming,” Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida and likely presidential candidate, said in December, “they typically use that as a pretext to do a bunch of left-wing things.” Things, of course, that would be anathema to such Coors-drinking, meat-stabbing Weber dads.

Yet the results of the inaugural Heatmap Climate Poll, conducted in late February by Benenson Strategy Group, contradict such facile assumptions. Although recent surveys have shown that men across all ideological lines are less concerned about climate change than women, having children seems to sharpen their focus. I spoke with Peter Olivier, the head of new markets for the carbon-removal company UNDO — and a self-proclaimed “climate dad” — about the phenomenon. “You have a young kid, you look at them, you think, oh my God, this kid’s gonna grow up and ask me what I did [about climate change] or what I didn’t do,” he said. “And I’m going to have to answer them.”

On a number of critical issues, those answers may indeed be coming from America’s dads. From EV adoption to beef consumption, fathers are helping lead the country towards a more sustainable future — or a least they say they are. Their answers were so strikingly climate-friendly that one wonders if they were trying to make the moms, and everybody else, look bad in comparison. (Knowing dads, it wouldn't be the first time.)

When it comes to vehicles, America’s fathers are on the forefront of decarbonization. Twenty-one percent of dads say they currently drive an electric vehicle, and 48% would like to in the future; those numbers dip to 12% and 43% for all men, 8% and 44% for moms, and to 8% and 39% for all respondents. They’re also more likely to say they currently or would like to ride an e-bike, ride a regular bicycle, or take public transportation. Everyone was about equally likely to say they currently walk instead of drive, but dads were more eager to do it in the future.

As to their homes, the trends were similar, albeit in a somewhat baffling way. Twenty-six percent of fathers, compared with 22% of all men, 17% of mothers, and 19% of all respondents, say they use heat pumps to warm and cool their houses. Thirty-seven percent of dads hope to switch to heat pumps in the future, 14 points higher than all men. Twenty-six percent of fathers say they currently power their homes with solar panels — compared to 19% of all men, 13% of all respondents, and, bizarrely, just 8% of moms — and compost at greater rates than the other demographics. Dads were also more willing than the other demographics to say they’d be willing to downsize their home.

While some of these results could be influenced by economic factors — it’s not cheap to install solar panels or buy an electric car, and there is a wide gender gap in American pay — the same cannot be said for the matter of diet. Sixteen percent of fathers say they currently do not eat meat (compared to 10% of all men, 8% of mothers, and 10% of all respondents), and 29% of dads want to do so in the future (that number drops by about 10 percentage points for the other demographics).

While fathers lag mothers and all respondents in currently limiting their beef intake, 34% of dads want to eat less red meat in the future — compared to 23% of all men, 17% of moms, and 21% of all respondents. Fathers were also more likely than all men, mothers and all respondents to say they limit their consumption of all animal products, by a slim margin in the present (25% to 21%, 23%, and 21%) and a wider one in the future (33% to 23%, 26%, and 22%).

And when it comes to cooking that meat — or its plant protein-based facsimile — 29% of dads would like to use an electric stove instead of gas, compared to 25% of all men, 18% of moms, and 20% of all respondents; the four groups currently eschew gas in roughly equal numbers.

Fathers were also far more supportive of wind, nuclear, and geothermal energy than the other demographics (though the four groups were broadly in favor of solar panels). Eighty-one percent of fathers said they’d welcome wind turbines in their communities, compared to 70% of all men, 72% of all respondents, and 73% of mothers. Forty-six percent of dads would be similarly welcoming to nuclear power; that number dropped to 42% of all men, 32% of all respondents, and just 16% of moms. A whopping 83% of fathers would also welcome a geothermal station, far more than the 59% of all men, 62% of all respondents, and 47% of moms who said the same.

Fathers were also about twice as likely as the other demographics to say that renewable energy should be rolled out as quickly as possible, even if comes at the expense of natural land. They were also more likely than the other groups to be supportive of spraying chemicals in the atmosphere to counter the effects of climate change.

Some results did track more closely to what one might expect from American fathers — compared to mothers, they worry less about the effects of climate change on their homes (71% to 85%), their children (67% to 82%), and their own lives (59% to 80%). Elon Musk has made dads more, not less, likely to want to drive a Tesla, and they want to have fewer, or no, children in the future — ostensibly to combat climate change, but possibly also to be able to go fishing more often with their friends.

Despite the latter results, the broader picture makes it clear that American fathers are more engaged with battling climate change than the stereotype allows. “Dads are funny and strange and less ideological and pedantic and all these regular dad things too,” says Olivier. “And they don’t stop being that way when they get focused on climate. So they do funny stuff like talk obsessively about heat pumps and try to calculate their solar gains … just all kind of normal dad stuff.” In other words, fathers are beginning to shift their essential dad-ness to the crisis at hand, in their lovably corny way.

So the next time you’re in that sweltering, mosquito-filled backyard, take a good look at what that fictional father is cooking on his grill — those might just be Impossible Burgers he’s tending to.

The Heatmap Climate Poll of 1,000 American adults was conducted by Benenson Strategy Group via online panels from Feb. 15 to 20, 2023. The survey included interviews with Americans in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.02 percentage points. You can read more about the results here.

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Jacob Lambert profile image

Jacob Lambert

Jacob is Heatmap's founding multimedia editor. Before joining Heatmap, he was The Week's digital art director and an associate editor at MAD magazine.

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