Climate Change Could Increase Crime
Sun, April 18, 2021

Climate Change Could Increase Crime

The 2013 authoritative fifth assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) showed that the warming of the climate system is unequivocal. Most of the changes we have seen since the 1950s are unprecedented. The amount of snow and ice has diminished, sea level has risen, the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased. 

The report also showed that each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) report on The Global Climate in 2015-2019 revealed that the global average temperature has increased by 1.1°C since the pre-industrial period. During these years, researchers saw a continued rise in carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and other key greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to new records. It was reported that CO2 growth rates increased by nearly 20% compared to the past five years. 

“Climate change causes and impacts are increasing rather than slowing down. Sea level rise has accelerated and we are concerned that an abrupt decline in the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, which will exacerbate future rise. As we have seen this year with a tragic effect in the Bahamas and Mozambique, sea-level rise and intense tropical storms led to humanitarian and economic catastrophes,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, who is co-chair of the Science Advisory Group of the UN Climate Summit, said. 

Researchers have also documented significant changes across the world. According to the WMO, the rate of global mean sea-level rise has amounted to 5 mm per year for the last five years; the amount of ice lost annually from the Antarctic ice sheet increased at least six-fold; more than 90% of the excess heat caused by climate change is stored in the oceans; more than 90% of the natural disasters are related to weather, and wildfires are strongly influenced by weather and climate phenomena.

While Earth’s climate has been constantly changing throughout history, the current warming trend is of particular significance because there is a 95% probability that it is the result of human activity since the mid-20th century. The worsening climate crisis not only affected our planet but also the humans and wildlife living on it. Ecosystems are changing rapidly. Some species are either adapting or becoming extinct. 

Meanwhile, humans, while also adapting, are facing severe consequences from climate change. It has even caused more problems that we have to deal with every day.

Increasing Violent Crimes Due to Global Warming

When we think about factors that affect or influence crime, many of us might not think of climate change. However, the dangers of the climate crisis have become so evident that it can now affect crimes. A 2018 study published in GeoHealth discovered that higher rates of both violent and property crimes are linked to warmer temperatures. The researchers found that violent crime is always more prevalent when temperatures are warmer in the winter months. This is more prevalent when winters are mild in regions that usually have fierce winters, just like what’s happening in the northeast and midwest. 

According to The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, the researchers compared crime and climate data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. The data included 16,000 cities across the north-east, south-east, south-central, west and midwest regions, covering the years 1979 to 2016. The information included a variety of crimes, including murder, rape, aggravated assault, burglary, and motor vehicle theft. Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were also used to analyze the year-to-year climate fluctuations for each city.

The team identified three elements needed for a crime to happen: a motivated offender, a suitable target, and the absence of a guardian such as a police officer. All of these elements are more likely to come together when the weather is decent. “The relationship between climate, human interaction and crime that we’ve unveiled is something that will have an impact on people’s wellbeing,” Ryan Harp, the lead author of the study and a doctoral candidate in the department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, said. 

A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder added another piece of evidence confirming that warmer climates indeed affect the rise of violent crimes. According to Science Daily, an American website that aggregates press releases and publishes lightly edited press releases about science, climate change could cause tens of thousands of people to commit violent crimes every year. The team combined the mathematical relationships they uncovered in previous work with output from 42 state-of-the-art global climate models to predict the additional future violent crimes in the US.

The researchers also included some key factors that the previous research might have overlooked such as variations in crime rates across seasons and for different regions of the country. "We are just beginning to scratch the surface on the myriad ways climate change is impacting people, especially through social systems and health. We could see a future where results like this impact planning and resource allocation among health, law enforcement and criminal justice communities,” coauthor Kris Karnauskas, CIRES Fellow and associate professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at CU Boulder, said. 

Heat Affected Crime

In previous studies, researchers essentially showed that during warmer temperatures, people are more likely to go out. Thus, increasing the likelihood of people committing crimes. A 2019 study showed a stronger link between heat and crime. 

The researchers at the University of Southern California, distributed by the National Bureau of Economic Research, analyzed crime reports, arrest counts and service call records from 2010 to 2017 from the Los Angeles Police Department, the country’s third-largest police department. According to MarketWatch, an online site that provides the latest stock market, financial and business news, this is the first research to document the relationship between heat and crime. The researchers discovered that days with high temperatures recorded a 2.2% rise in general crime and a 5.7% increase in violent crime on average.

Aside from that, the team found that the relationship between heat and crime was accentuated in higher-poverty neighborhoods and has strongly affected domestic (in-residence) crimes and intimate-partner violence. Study authors Kilian Heilmann, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Southern California, and Matthew Kahn, a USC economics professor, suggested that “the quality of living quarters matters.”

Climate change affects and influences almost every aspect of our lives in ways that we are not aware of. It’s important that climate change is addressed to prevent problems like this in the future.