October 11, 2013

As Climate Changes, will we Change our Temperament?

Written for SIEL by:
Andrea R. Herman, 2015

As Climate Changes, will we Change our Temperament?

If youve ever gotten mad at the rain, or felt like screaming as sweat drips down your face in a crowded coffee shop on a sunny day, you are living evidence that emotional turbulence matches periods of environmental turbulence around you. According to an article from TakePart, a study shows that interpersonal conflict and violence rise during periods of environmental unrest. The study suggests that there is a “surprisingly strong link between climate change and conflict on a range of scales -- from violent crime between individuals, to wars, and even the collapse of civilization.”

In the journal Science, UC Berkeley researcher Marshall Burke described a quantitative assessment made of 60 studies that showed a link between climate variables and conflict outcomes. All 27 of the studies that looked at the effect of hotter temperatures found that those temperatures cause more conflict; this research does not mean temperatures are the only cause of conflict, but the research is nonetheless indicative of a strong correlation. The study indicated that increases in temperature from present day until 2050 is likely to cause conflicts between ethnic groups and nations by as much as 56%, and interpersonal violence by as much as 16%. 

History evidences that climate has played a huge role in various conflict events. The collapse of the Akkadian Empire, sometime after 2,200 B.C., is considered to have been bolstered by prolonged drought. Domestic violence in Australia is linked to the unusual heat wave of 1992. Even hundreds of years of peasant rebellion from the 1400s to 1900s in China has been tied to the impact of continuous droughts and floods.

Of course, the study received criticism for its findings. One of the main disputes was over the study’s mistreatment of the subject-matter -- climate is not the same as weather. “Whereas weather is “atmospheric conditions over a short period of time, climate is how the atmosphere behaves over long periods of time.” Weather is what you live in, climate is what you predict. Nonetheless, the study’s researcher stated that "the relationship between climate variables and conflict shows up at a variety of time scales, from hourly changes in temperature to century-scale changes in temperature and rainfall."

Economic and humanitarian concerns must seriously be taken into consideration in assessing the link between conflict and climate change. "The costs of inaction are probably higher than we previously thought: "Our results suggest that rates of human conflict could rise relative to a world without climate change," Burke said. 
The evidence, even if only suggestive, tells us that it is time to act more diligently to combat climate change. 

What do you think about this evidence? 

Do you think it is obvious that climate effects our lives? 

Do you think our hormones or other physiological attributes change because of the environment and therefore make us more or less temperamental

Freedom of movement away from bad climates may limit conflict; if you have the means to move away from the rain, then you will be happier doing so. We must also consider those who are financially incapable of moving away from climates that make them unhappy. Will continuing environmental degradation resulting from climate change, as it already impacts impoverished communities (economies, resources, etc.), make those at risk even worse off?

Please send comments to siel@lclark.edu. 

1 Douglas Main. Hot and Angry -- Yes, Climate Change Could Increase Conflict. accessed on 10/11/2013 at http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/10/03/hot-and-angry-yes-climate-change-could-increase-conflict.

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