Climate Change Crime Wave: Study Links Global Warming to 30,000 Additional Murders by 2099

Also: an extra 200,000 cases of rape, 1.4 million aggravated assaults, and 2.2 million simple assaults.
When it’s too darn hot, do people get violent? (John Gress / Reuters)
Sep 12, 2012
A former Gourmet staffer, Lawrence enjoys writing about design, food, travel, and lots of other stuff.

“Chicago has suffered over the past few months from a particularly bad case of the twin maladies of summer in the city: heat and crime waves,” reports Grist. “The Chicago spree, as unusually severe as it has been, mimics a pattern that researchers (and police officials, and, heck, just about all of us) have long observed. When temperatures go up, crime often does, too (last summer’s startling London riots were partly blamed on the weather).”

They gone on to explain that as part of his PhD. dissertation at Harvard, Matthew Ranson, “culled 50 years of weather data from across the country, from the National Climatic Data Center, and similarly comprehensive crime statistics over that time from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports database.”

Grist quotes Ranson as saying: “There’s a lot of research on things like climate and agriculture . . . But there are potential other things that matter to society that are less obvious but that might also be important, and crime is one of them.”

MORE: Climate Change Pays a Visit to the Caribbean, and Coral Reefs Suffer

In an abstract from Ranson’s paper, the Social Science Research Network quotes him saying, “The results show that temperature has a strong positive effect on criminal behavior, with little evidence of lagged impacts. Between 2010 and 2099, climate change will cause an additional 30,000 murders, 200,000 cases of rape, 1.4 million aggravated assaults, 2.2 million simple assaults, 400,000 robberies, 3.2 million burglaries, 3.0 million cases of larceny, and 1.3 million cases of vehicle theft in the United States.”

Now if you’re wondering whether or not one guy’s PhD dissertation really proves anything, Big Think reported in July that Robert Agnew, a professor of sociology at Emory University, “has warned that crime waves will follow the heat waves of climate change, along with economic deprivation, discrimination, criminal victimization, harsh or erratic discipline, child abuse and neglect.”

Sage Journals provided an abstract of an article by Agnew that “draws on the leading crime theories to discuss the potential impact of climate change on crime. It is argued that climate change will increase strain, reduce social control, weaken social support, foster beliefs favorable to crime, contribute to traits conducive to crime, increase certain opportunities for crime, and create social conflict.”

On the other hand, Environment & Energy Publishing quotes Roger Humber, director of the Criminal Justice Department at South University in Montgomery, Alabama, as observing that “the link between temperature and crime comes down to a matter of opportunity. ‘It's a simple but crucial fact that people tend to get out and about more when it's pleasant out,’ he said. ‘During the winter months, people can't get out. There aren't as many opportunities to interact.’ And it is only a matter of probability that sometimes that mixture may prove volatile.”

They also quote John Simister, a senior lecturer in economics at Manchester Metropolitan University, who has what he calls a “curvilinear hypothesis.” Simister said: “Crime rates rise as temperatures go up, but at extremely high temperatures, crime rates fall again.”

Or as Grist notes, “There’s also another theory that suggests that hot weather simply makes us nuts.”

Do you think there’s something to the theoretical link between climate change and crime rates, or is this all just a lot of hot air?

Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence |

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