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Climate change may increase violence, study shows

August 4, 2013

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Recently, studies and journalistic investigations have focused on one particularly chilling potential social consequence of climate change: an increased frequency of armed conflicts around the world. By studying the link between various climactic factors and rates of historical violence, researchers have speculated that the climate trends we’ll experience over the next century—hotter overall temperatures, more erratic rainfall patterns and a rising sea level—could make conflict and war more common in the future.

Now, in the most comprehensive analysis of the work on climate change and armed conflict to date, a team from UC Berkeley and elsewhere has found that these climate trends are indeed likely to significantly increase the incidence of armed conflict overall. Their paper, published today in Science, examined 60 studies to aggregate sets of data on events spanning 8000 B.C.E. to the present that examined climate variables and incidences of violence in all major regions of the globe. For example, one of the source papers focused on temperature changes and violent crime in the U.S. from 1952 to 2009, while another looked at the number of conflicts in Europe per decade from 1400 to 1999 as a function of precipitation.


Extrapolating to the future, these rates mean that if the entire planet went through an average of 3.6°F of warming by 2050—an optimistic limit set at the 2009 Copenhagen conference—we’d see personal crime rise by 16 percent and intergroup conflicts surge by 50 percent.

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