Brad Sinkaus

Does your afternoon routine include ordering a burrito bowl at Chipotle and grabbing a coffee at Starbucks afterward? Well, due to climate change, there may be less of both in your life.  A drought in Brazil is currently threatening the world’s coffee exports, and Chipotle may suspend guacamole sales due to severe weather events caused by climate change.  Too often, people think of climate change abstractly, in terms of melting ice caps, rising sea waters, and shifting weather patterns. However, additional sociological effects occur as a result of weather-altering scenarios and affect daily life.  These effects, while subtle, have been growing in intensity and have received major press coverage just in the last week.  Like the growing insect populations mentioned in a colleague’s recent post, effects caused by climate change disrupt both the livelihood and functionality of our society.

One area where our society could be severely impacted is if climate change leads to an increase in nationwide crime, as projected by a recent study from the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management. Before the year 2100, the potential exists for an additional 22,000 murders and 180,000 incidents of rape in addition to significant increases in assaults, burglaries, and cases of larceny due to the effects of climate change.  The study used current crime data with widely agreed upon future temperature projections, in addition to many years of research on crime and temperature. While this study is controversial, it backs up a long-held notion that crimes are more likely to be committed in warmer temperatures.  Matthew Ranson, who conducted the study, stated, “If temperatures happen to be unseasonably warm, then crime rates happen to be higher and when it’s unseasonably cold, crime rates drop. The picture is slightly different depending on the crime: Nonviolent crimes like burglaries go down when the weather is below 40 or 50 degrees, then remain steady as the temperature climbs above that.”  In contrast, he says, “for violent crimes, the hotter it is, the more crime.”

This type of increase in crime would significantly alter the safety of U.S. citizens, and would require an “immediate and permanent” 4 percent increase in the size of the police force in this country.  The cost to society could be crippling, a figure between $38 billion and $115 billion. Outside of the financial encumbrance, it is important to note the consequences this increase will bear on safety standards, crime prevention, and the psychology of urban dwellers.  Ranson said, “The broader context here is that climate change will influence our lives in a variety of ways beyond how much water we can spare for such things as farming. … Now, there is reason to believe it will also impact social connections in our neighborhoods, the amount of time we allow our children to spend outside and how much we are willing to spend on law enforcement.”

Outside of potential increases in crime, there are other serious consequences that could result from climate change, such as shifting population away from the coast and adverse human health impacts.  Secretary of State John Kerry recently stated that climate change is “the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.”  Climate change is not solely about rising sea levels and warmer temperatures; in fact, it affects every facet of how people live their lives – how safe they feel in their neighborhoods, how close they live to the beach, and even how they keep themselves healthy.  The human race is known for its strength, its resilience, and its ability to adapt in a changing environment.  The time is now to act, as the livelihood of our society depends on it.