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Study Says Climate Strongly Influences Human Conflict and Violence Worldwide

Each year, about half to one million people die because of wars and conflicts. Since people are paying such a high price of life, it becomes an important subject in sociology to understand why people are involved in conflict. Recently, researchers from University of California, Berkeley and Princeton University reported that shifts in climate have great influence on human violence around the world after analyses of data on climate changes and conflict events from 10,000 BC to the present.

“We found that even if temperature and rainfall just have small deviation, human conflicts could increase in a large scale,” said Marshall Burke, a doctoral candidate at Berkeley’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. “For example, higher than average annual temperature results in increased assaults and murders in the United States and civil conflicts throughout the tropics; extreme rainfall leads to land invasions in Brazil and domestic violence in India.” By collecting 60 existing studies including 45 different data set and reanalyzing the data and findings using a common statistical framework, the researchers found that the climate change’s influence on human conflicts accompanies the entire human history, covers all places in the world and associates with people from different levels.

The researchers defined three different categories of conflict, including personal violence and crime, intergroup violence and political instability and institutional breakdowns. The results showed that climate changes have significant influences on all these three categories. The results suggest that a one standard deviation shift towards hotter conditions results in the likelihood of personal violence to increase by 4 percent and intergroup conflict to rise by 14 percent.

From fan to air conditioner, human’s ability of adjusting temperature enhances as the development of science and technology. However, “People are hurting themselves because these human activities are making the earth’s climate become even warmer,” Burke said. “The problem is, we’ve done a lot to alter climate, but still, we have not found the solution to combat extreme conditions. Understanding how we adapt to these events is the key to cope with future climate changes.”

Temperature and crime

Figure of predicted changes in annual average temperatures of 2050. The unit indicating temperature changes is denoted as multiples of standard deviations of local historical temperatures and the latter is calculated based on data of annual average temperatures from 1950 to 2008. *Image source: Solomon M.Hsiang,Marshall Burke,Edward Miguel.Quantifying the Influence of Climate on Human Conflict.Science.2013

Several global climate models predict that by 2050, almost every human habitants will present a temperature rise by 2 standard deviations, as high as 4 in certain areas. “We hope people can learn how to deal with extreme climate in the future, otherwise it may exert significantly negative influence on global conflicts,” Burke added.

However, although the study testified a significant correlation between climate change and human conflicts, it didn’t completely explain the underneath mechanism. Climate change is not the only reason of human conflicts. In the future, researchers need to investigate deeply in many issues. “First, we have to understand what factor links climate to conflict. Research should focus on the understanding of mechanism, and then we’ll be able to tell people how to cope with future climate change.”

Source: EurekAlert!