The climate is changing dating

"Could there be anything less sexy than buying into fossil fuel propaganda?"

(Photo credit: Filippo Montegorte/AFP via Getty Images)

Katharine Wilkinson has been on a lot of first dates. But she’s only ever walked out on one.

It was 2013 at a bar in mid-town Atlanta, Georgia, and Wilkinson had just published a book about evangelical Christians and the climate crisis. Her date was a guy from the dating app OKCupid. She doesn’t remember his name. Let’s just call him Todd.

A few minutes into their first drink, Todd asked what Wilkinson did for a living, and Wilkinson proudly mentioned her recent accomplishment. But Todd didn’t seem very impressed. In fact, he seemed dismayed.

“He said, ‘whoa whoa whoa, I can tell we’re going to disagree there,’” said Wilkinson. “And I said, ‘On what? Religion? Politics? Climate change?’

“And he said, ‘Definitely on climate change.’”

At this point, Wilkinson said, it was like every neuron in her brain came to a halt. “It took me a minute to gather myself,” she said. But once she did, she knew she couldn’t be there anymore.

“I think I said something like, ‘My mom needs me, I have to go.’ And I went.”

The growing deal-breaker of climate denial

Wilkinson, who is now the vice president of communications and strategy at the climate nonprofit Project Drawdown, has dedicated her career to solving the climate crisis. It’s understandable why she would not want to date someone who rejects the very premise of her life’s work.

But Wilkinson is not the only person who considers climate denial a deal-breaker when it comes to dating.

In fact, on OKCupid, so many people share Wilkinson’s aversion to climate deniers that the company now allows its users to pick and choose who they date based on whether the person is concerned about climate change.

Full disclosure: I’ve known about this for months. I use OKCupid sometimes, and one of the reasons I like it is that users can answer a lot of questions about their political beliefs—climate change included.

You can also sort out people who answer questions differently than you do, if those questions are deal-breakers. For example, here are some questions I have answered (the answers that are crossed out are answers that I don’t want a potential partner to have):

But OKCupid has only recently started advertising about its climate question specifically. So I reached out to the company if it could share some data about how its users are thinking about climate change in relation to dating.

“You definitely came to the right place because our users are really engaged and passionate about the leading issues of our time, including climate change,” OKCupid’s global communications manager Michael Kaye said in an email. “There was actually an 800 percent increase in mentions of Greta Thunberg on profiles around the world on OkCupid in 2019.”

Here is the data Kaye shared on the “millions” of people who answered the climate change question and talked about climate on their profiles:

Most daters are really concerned about climate change and discussing the issue on their dating profiles

  • There has been a 240 percent increase in mentions of climate change and environmental terms on OkCupid profiles over the past 2 years. 

  • 97 percent of people on OkCupid believe climate change is real and more than 82 percent of people around the world are concerned about climate change.

  • 99 percent of the people concerned about climate change strongly disapprove of Trump as president.

  • Over 90 percent of people would take action to correct something they do after discovering it’s bad for the environment.

Climate change is more important to daters than the economy, eradicating disease and world peace

  • The number of people who ranked climate change as the cause that is most important to them (over the economy, eradicating disease, and world peace) increased 264 percent from 2009 to 2014, and jumped 138 percent from 2009 to 2019

  • 51 percent of respondents in 2019 ranked climate change as the most important issue to them, up from 34 percent of respondents in 2009 and 2014 

  • Daters in San Francisco (92 percent) and Portland (90 percent) are most concerned about climate change compared to the rest of the United States.

  • 89 percent of daters in Seattle, 88 percent of daters in Boston and San Jose, 87 percent of daters in Washington DC, 86 percent of daters in Austin, and 85 percent of daters in Denver and New York City are concerned about climate change.

Young daters are most concerned about climate change, and women daters are more concerned about climate change than men daters

  • 82 percent of Gen Z is concerned about climate change, compared to 84 percent of Millennials and 76 percent of Gen X.

  • 88 percent of Gen Z women and 79 percent of Gen Z men are concerned about climate change.

  • 87 percent of Millennial women and 82 percent of Millennial men are concerned about climate change.

  • 80 percent of Gen X women and 74 percent of Gen X men are concerned about climate change.

What’s so bad about climate denial?

There’s always a subset of people (re: conservatives) who get angry at these types of stories.

I remember after Trump was elected, a lot of people online started saying they would not date or sleep with Trump supporters—and conservatives, especially writers for The Federalist, were not happy about it.

I also remember, however, the rebuttals—specifically, this one in The Daily Beast, called “Maybe Women Won’t Date You Because You’re Awful.” The piece rightly notes that everyone has their own deal-breakers when it comes to dating, and that as long as you’re a generally good person, you’ll probably eventually find someone who wants to date you. “The world is full of lonely people who will let things slide in the name of companionship.”

But why is it that so many people don’t want to let climate denial slide?

For Wilkinson, it’s not simply because she doesn’t like people she disagrees with. “Climate denial feels to me like an indicator of so many things, from intellect to ethics to everything in between,” she said.

“In general, I would have a hard time dating anyone on the conservative end of the spectrum because we see the world so fundamentally differently in the sense of what we care about,” she added. “But especially on climate, not accepting the science means you’re willfully duping yourself. And I’m just like, could there be anything less sexy than buying into fossil fuel propaganda?”

It’s also just nice to date people who share your interests—especially if one of your interests is creating a sustainable future. For example, Graham Freeman, a tech industry employee in Santa Cruz, California, is really interested in climate-friendly technology. But “With my last girlfriend, I'd excitedly point out a cool solar deployment on a house or commercial building, and she'd basically roll her eyes and condescend to me,” he told me. No one likes that.

There’s also the reality that building a relationship means building a future—and someone who doesn’t accept climate science probably isn’t going to want to build the same kind of future as someone who does. A climate denier may not understand or respect why you might have an ethical struggle with having kids; why you might not want to buy a diesel truck or eat meat; or why you don’t want to fly to Bali for your honeymoon.

In my conversation with Wilkinson, I suggested that part of the growing aversion to dating climate deniers might also be an aversion to arrogance. So much of dating, after all, is learning how to listen to someone else, and admit when you’re wrong. Denying climate change means you’re unwilling to listen to the vast majority of climate scientists around the world—the most qualified people to speak on the subject.

But Wilkinson said it was more than that. “It’s arrogance, but it’s arrogance that says ‘I’m so arrogant and sure of myself that I’m willing to put life on the line,’” she said. “People are going to die. This is not a game.”

Building a sustainable relationship

Today, Wilkinson is in a relationship with a partner who accepts climate science and is concerned about climate change. But they met through Wilkinson’s work—not through OKCupid.

Freeman, however, did meet his new partner on OKCupid—and he used the climate change question to do it.

“I marked the climate change question with the highest level of importance, and they never presented me with any women who turned out to be climate deniers,” he said. “My girlfriend impressed me with her walking, bike-riding, water-conserving, veggie-preferring ways, all of which was alluded to on her OKC profile.”

Freeman and and his bike-riding, water-conserving, veggie-preferring partner have been together now for 3 months, and things are going well. He loves that they share a vision for the future they want to build.

“Better yet,” Freeman added, “whenever I nerd out about solar power she sincerely matches my enthusiasm.”

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