Climate Change's Unexpected Consequence: Crime

By Anthony Rivas on February 23, 2014 8:10 PM EST

climate change crime
Climate change is warming the globe, melting glaciers, and affecting our weather patterns and wildlife. But with the larger consequences come smaller ones too, including higher crime rates. (Photo: Brummel Studio, CC BY 2.0)

Thinking about climate change can bring to mind many questions. How much does the average global temperature have to go up for us to reach the point of no return? What's its effect going to be on wildlife? What about on our life? And these are just some of the questions. But a new study finds that we may already be seeing a rather unexpected consequence of global warming: Crime rates are rising. 

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Although the correlation between the to may come as a surprise, criminologists have long suspected crime rates to rise with the temperatures. The 2003 book, Climate Change from a Criminological Perspective, notes that the crime stems from issues regarding land use, water rights, biosecurity, and food production and distribution. These issues then trickle down to the masses, causing economic distress, among many other things, and leading to other crimes like burglary, rape, assault, and murder.

For the current study, economist Matthew Ranson of Abt Associates, a research and consulting firm in Massachusetts, looked at 30 years of crime and weather data throughout almost 3,000 counties in the United States. Based on this data, which included crime rates, and statistical models, his study estimates the crime rates climate change would cause.

"Between 2010 and 2099, climate change will cause an additional 22,000 murders, 180,000 cases of rape, 1.2 million aggravated assaults, 2.3 million simple assaults, 260,000 robberies, 1.3 million burglaries, 2.2 million cases of larceny, and 580,000 cases of vehicle theft in the United States," when compared to rates without climate change, Ranson wrote in his study's abstract. In all, social costs could go as high as $115 billion from these crimes.

The additional crimes amount to 2.2 percent increase in murders, a 3.1 percent increase in rape cases, a 2.3 percent increase in aggravated assault, a 1.2 percent increase in simple assault, a one percent increase in robberies, a 0.9 percent increase in burglaries, a 0.5 percent increase in larcenies, and a 0.8 percent increase in vehicle theft, The Los Angeles Times reported.

"A one percent to three percent increase in a particular crime may seem modest," Ranson told The L.A. Times. "But for victims, survivors and law enforcement, the burden of those numbers can be very substantial. The broader context here is that climate change will influence our lives in a variety of ways beyond how much water we can spare for such things as farming. Now, there is reason to believe it will also impact social connections in our neighborhoods, the amount of time we allow our children to spend outside, and how much we are willing to spend on law enforcement."

In order to manage the overall increase in crimes - the estimate ranges from 1.5 to 5.5 percent - the country would have to increase its police force by four percent, the study found.

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