From Bar Fights to Wars How Climate Change Fuels Violence
As if we needed something else to spur us into action on climate change, a new report comes to a striking conclusion: that climate change most likely is a strong factor in spiking rates of violence of all kinds, ranging from bar fights to wars. That's what the nonprofit nonpartisan economic research organization, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), concluded in a working paper, Climate and Conflict, that aggregated information compiled by 55 other studies. Those were culled from an even larger group to eliminate those whose methodology NBER researchers considered unreliable.
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It's been observed for centuries that violent crime increases in hot weather. The new report documents that raised temperatures are likely the most significant weather factor in raised tempers. But it also found a connection between heavy rainfall and drought to violence.
"Looking across 55 studies, we find that deviations from moderate temperatures and precipitation patterns systematically increase the risk of conflict, often substantially, with average effects that are highly statistically significant," said NBER. "We find that contemporaneous temperature has the largest average effect by far, with each one degree Celsius increase toward warmer temperatures increasing the frequency of contemporaneous interpersonal conflict by 2.4 percent and of intergroup conflict by 11.3 percent, but that the two-period cumulative effect of rainfall on intergroup conflict is also substantial (3.5 percent per Celsius degree)."
Stanford researcher Marshall Burke, one of three authors of the NBER working paper, pointed out that multiple studies they looked at came to a similar conclusion. In 19 studies, the team found 24 estimates of the relationship between temperature and violence, all positive. "The probability of getting 24 positive values if there was in fact no relationship between temperature and conflict ... is less than 1 in 100 million," Burke told the Washington Post. "It's like flipping a coin 24 times and getting heads each time."
The NBER study took an even broader view, looking at what it called "interpersonal conflict," including domestic violence, road rage, assault, rape and murder, and "intergroup conflict," from war to ethnic violence, gang violence, civil war and political coups.
A recently published dissertation by Harvard doctoral student Matthew Ransom Crime, Weather and Climate Change looked at 30 years of monthly U.S. crime and weather data and projected the impact of climate change on criminal behavior in the future. "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," he concluded.
And the NBER findings back up a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ICPP), released last spring, which found that not only did climate change provide fertile ground for violence globally but that large-scale conflicts destroyed infrastructure and resources that addressed climate change and its impacts, creating a negative feedback loop.
"We conclude by highlighting remaining challenges in this field and the approaches we expect will be most effective at solving them, including identifying mechanisms that link climate to conflict, measuring the ability of societies to adapt to climate changes and understanding the likely impacts of future global warming," said the NBER researchers.
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One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
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A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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