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Crimes of the Hot: A changing climate could lead to more violent crime

Evan Feeney

Posted March 18, 2014 in Solving Global Warming

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Ever have to wait in line during a scorching and muggy summer day? Makes you pretty grumpy doesn’t it? And that is not particularly surprising; extreme temperatures often alter our moods and behaviors.

What is surprising is just how subtle a deviation in temperature or weather patterns is needed to have an impact on our behavior. This is bad news, since humans are in the process of wreaking all kinds of havoc with our planet’s temperature and climate.

A recent study by the University of California, Berkeley and Princeton University revealed “shifts in climate are strongly linked to human violence.” Even relatively minor changes in regional temperature resulted in a 4 percent increase in the likelihood of personal violence and crime such as murder, assault, rape, and domestic violence; and a 14 percent increase in the likelihood of intergroup violence such as riots, ethnic violence, and civil wars.

Checkout this this PBS Newshour segment for a more in-depth look at the study’s findings:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYcWNoPnEwc

Another study by Abt Associates, a research and consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass., estimated that the social costs associated with the increase in violence that may accompany climate change could run as high as $115 billion. The Abt study determined that crime rates by 2090 could be 1.5 percent to 5.5 percent higher because of climate change.

Scientists are still not sure why violence rises with temperature, but the Berkeley scientists noted that 27 out of 27 studies of modern societies they reviewed had found a positive relationship between high temperatures and greater violence.

Despite the uncertainty as to why temperature causes this to happen, it’s not hard to guess why increased drought or higher rain fall (flooding) can lead to violence. They can cause food and water scarcity, loss of housing, economic depreciation, population displacement, and a myriad of other impacts that could promote crime.

These projected increased rates in violence are based on a 2 degree Celsius global temperature increase, which we will likely hit around mid-century; but what happens if we don’t get our temperature under control and start to move past 4 degrees, or 6 degrees? What will the possible increases in violence be then?

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Comments

GuthrumMar 18 2014 05:22 PM

Right ! Blame it on the weather. Now lawyers have a new defense: "he got shot because it was hot" , "she got beat because of the heat".
I think back to the days of no ac. Back then it was hot too, hotter then a firecracker!! We went outside and stayed. Our ac was the shade. Neighbors would sit outside in the evening and drink lemonade, ice tea, ice cold soft drinks, make ice cream, and talk. We knew our neighbors. People actually talked to each other face to face, not over a cell phone, texting, or social media. We slept with the windows wide open. No problem then with shootings, break ins, gangs, or other things done by hooligans. No, the problem is not caused by summer heat or so called rises in temperatures. The cause is a thing called - values!!

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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