Global warming may cause an increase in violent crime, according to Dr. Craig A. Anderson, a psychologist at Iowa State University. Even an increase of 2 degrees Fahrenheit could result in an additional 24,000 murders and assaults in the U.S. alone.
Anderson’s predictions are based on what is called the “heat effect,” which shows that higher rates of aggression occur when people are hot. Crime and murder statistics support this theory, since “there are about 2.6% moremurders and assaults in the United States during the summer than other seasons,” he says. The heat effect is “just another of the many negative results that will come if global warming predictions come true.”
Critics say the crime increase is due to the fact that people are outside more during the summer months, mingling with others. “It is certainly possible that summer activities might contribute to the increase of violence,” Anderson says. “However, studies exist that make that conclusion less likely. For instance, spousal abuse increases during hotter weather.”
What are the physical changes that cause people to short out more easily when they’re hot? “The biological events that take place are not well understood,” Anderson says. “Simply put, we know that people are more irritable when they become physically uncomfortable. This holds true especially if the person does not realize the source of discomfort, like sitting in a hot car during a traffic jam.
“One possible explanation may lie in the fact that the area of the brain that controls body temperature regulation is very near to the emotional center. How these areas interact is not well understood and therefore needs to be researched,” he said. “Being uncomfortable colors the way people see things. Minor insults may be perceived as major ones, inviting-even demanding-retaliation. An accidental bump in a hot and crowded bar can lead to the trading of insults, punches and-eventually-bullets.”
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