- Posted September 1, 2013 by
Fewer resources, greater stress, more disasters: Climate change linked to violence among people and societies
An analysis of 61 in-depth cases of violence has shown that personal clashes and wider civil conflicts grow considerably in number with significant changes to weather patterns, such as rising temperature and lack of rain, scientists said.
Even fairly modest shifts away from the average lead to noticeable rise in the occurrence of violence, according to the study which theorized that the expected rise of in average world temperatures this century could result in a 50 per cent growth in major violent conflicts such as civil wars.
The scientists suggest that climate shifts, especially rising temperatures, are bound to cause more frequent conflicts over progressively declining natural resources, on top of the physiological impact on people due to hotter weather.
"We need to be cautious here. We do not mean that it is inevitable that further warming in the future will produce more conflict. We are saying that previous changes in climate -- especially, past temperature increase -- are connected with increasing personal and group disputes," said Marshall Burke of the University of California, Berkeley.
"It is certainly possible that future communities will be more able to deal with severe temperatures than we do today; but we believe that it is risky to just presume that this will be so," said Mr. Burke, one of the authors of the study published in the journal Science.
The study was based on an investigation of the scholastic literature for historical narratives of violent disputes, from individual aggression, such as murder and assaults to greater conflicts such as riots, racial tensions, civil war and even primary declines of civilisations that existed thousands of years back.
Disputes between groups rather than between persons exhibited the clearest link to alterations in the climate, the scientists said, with temperature increases being the most prevalent risk factor -- all of the 27 causes of contemporary societies, for example, established a connection between warmer weather and increase in violence.
"We found that a one standard-deviation shift towards warmer conditions causes personal violence to increase 4 per cent and inter-societal conflicts to grow by 14 per cent," Mr Burke said.
"To appreciate the magnitude of the shift, this sort of increase in temperature is about equal to warming an African nation by 0.4C for a whole year or warming a United States county by 3C for a given month. Although these are moderate changes, they have an immense effect on communities," he said.
"Our findings give inkling to a couple of aspects of the matter that might link climate to conflict. The first is economic shortage. Years of high temperature and severe precipitation cause a degradation of economic conditions, principally in poor countries, and if things turn really bad, desperate people who lack other options might choose to rise up in arms. This appears to be a major path connecting climate and group conflict in many agricultural communities," he added.
"Simultaneously, exposure to extremely hot temperatures also seems to promote a physiological reaction in how humans interrelate with one another: People become less trustful, more hostile, and more vicious. It is probable that both of these factors are prime motivators, and we hope that future study will aid in determining which factor applies in which setting," he added.
Solomon Hsiang of Princeton University, another co-author of the research, said that the connection between climate shift and violent dispute is apparent but for now there is no obvious rationalization -- somewhat akin to the link in the 1950s between smoking and lung cancer, which could only be established after many years.
"Presently, there are some suppositions pointing out why the climate might induce conflict. For instance, we know that shifts in climate influence current economic circumstances, particularly in agricultural countries, and studies imply that people are more liable to take up arms when the economy declines, perhaps partly to preserve their livelihoods," Mr Hsiang said.
How social media fuels holiday inflation
Parents are now under pressure to fill summer holidays with activities for their children by the explosion of social media, as claimed by some people.
According to the Future Foundation think-tank, the facility with which people can “post” their vacation pictures and other activities online puts pressure on others to stay in step.
The authors claimed that their data shows time spent on holidays increasing in the last five decades, identifying a particular rise in the amount of time people spend socialising outside their homes, as well as an increase in the variety of activities they get involved in.
The appearance of what they called an “experience economy”, in which the amassing of experience is more important than the accumulation of material things, can be partly explained by the great upsurge in mobile phone users with Internet-linked smartphones, up by 20 per cent since 2010.
The report, entitled “Fifty Years of Summer” and created for the Nectar loyalty card company, said the way families and individuals socialise during summer has also shifted, with 66 per cent saying that barbecuing is the most frequent way to dine with friends; a drastic increase from only 6 per cent in the 1960s.
They also claimed that there is a rising pressure among young people to plan for their summer experience, with more and more of them using spray tans, sun beds and exercise programs to prepare for warm weather.