Climate Change Conflict: Violence Rises As Temperatures Soar [Study]

Elaine Radford - Author

Aug. 2 2013, Updated 6:16 a.m. ET

Climate change is linked to conflict including war and the destruction of major civilizations. That’s the disturbing thrust of a new meta-study in Science this summer which reviewed 60 earlier studies to conclude that rising temperatures and changing rainfall levels are linked to both interpersonal violence and war between groups.

Because the world is expected to warm from two to four degrees by 2050, the research suggested that “amplified rates of human conflict could represent a large and critical impact of anthropogenic climate change.”

In other words, natural disasters caused by global warming as cities sink, deserts grow, and species disappear won’t be bad enough.

People will almost certainly fight over the remaining safe land and resources.

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Of course, the theory that hot weather helps people lose their temper is an old one, going back at least to the so-called Long Hot Summer of 1967. Over 150 race riots hit the United States that summer, with the most notorious being a Detroit riot which left 43 people dead.

But there has been considerable social science to back up the theory since then.

The new study, headed by up University of California Berkeley’s Solomon Hsiang, said that the risk of war will grow by 50 percent by 2050 if current temperature and rainfall changes are right.

He told CNN: “It does change how we think about the value of avoiding climate change. It makes us think that avoiding climate change is actually something we should be willing to invest more in.”

The study covered all major regions of the world and the last 12,000 years of human history as it probed the relationship between conflict and climate change. Heat combined with vanishing rainfall was often a civilization killer, with Hsiang noting that the Mayan cities and multiple Chinese dynasties fell as a result of that one-two punch.


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