Do Natural Disasters Create an Opportunity for Crime?

climate change crime

You may or may not have noticed, every year more and more natural disaster events are reported all around the world. Well, maybe you haven’t noticed because you are not a climate science nerd like me. But just to let you know, one of the greatest reality shows of all time is taking place, and we’re all included in the cast.

Super storms, born in the Atlantic Ocean are hurtling themselves into the eastern seaboard of north America. Lethal heat waves are being experienced across the globe with longer and longer durations. Wildfires, droughts and floods. Not to mention the polar vortex experienced by USA and Canada last winter.

These events are often sudden and catch people off guard. The weak do not survive. The greatest of society rise above the environment through acts of heroism and the opportunists exploit a community when it’s at its weakest. The question is, do crime rates increase during these times, and are you prepared for it? Put on your raincoat, store up some tuna cans and let’s find out. Link 

What is a Natural Disaster

A natural disaster is defined as a catastrophic event caused by natural processes. And here are the important criteria of the definition: It is measured by loss of lives, economic loss and the resilience of the economy to rebuild lost infrastructure. So, if a catastrophic event occurs in an uninhabited or sparsely populated area and none of the above-mentioned elements can be ticked off, it is not referred to as a disaster, just a natural hazard, or Mother Nature having a good time!

Are Natural Disasters On The Increase?

Well definitely not the geophysical ones. You know, you wake up in the morning and your new car with a sixty-month balloon payment scheme has been swallowed into a sink hole. These are geological events that our crafty friends in the insurance industry refer to in tiny print as “acts of God. These plod along at the speed of geology and physics. Caused by the tectonic movement of the Earth, the stresses and strains of continental plate collisions sometimes go through periods of more activity. Mostly we go about our daily lives quite unaware of the dynamics involved in keeping the planet running way below our feet. The burps and hiccups we feel by the way of volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis are constantly paced in geological time and haven’t increased one little bit. 

Not the same can be said for climatological natural disasters. You may argue, correctly, that there have always been hurricanes, cyclones, droughts, wildfires, floods, droughts, blizzards and heatwaves. The problem lies in the fact that man-made global warming has exacerbated the natural rhythms of the weather, resulting in more frequent and extreme natural disasters. Natural disasters on steroids. 

Although these events have become much more frequent and severe, let’s go back for a second to the definition of natural disasters. If one was to hit some desolate coastline, we would not be alarmed. But the truth is we have pretty much overpopulated our world. Our numbers sitting at 7.7 billion and counting. And here’s the worrying thing: most of us live in large coastal cities, in the way of storm surges and rising sea levels. Not exactly a dream summer beach holiday. It is therefore not only how we live that is causing our vulnerability to extreme weather events, but also where we live.

Is Global Warming To Blame?

To be fair, it isn’t only global warming that is responsible for the increase in natural disasters. It is more honest to say that their eventuality is made up of many parts of the industry of man. Apart from pumping exorbitant amounts of carbon and methane into the air, to be trapped and heated in our bubble of an atmosphere, we have also deforested enormous tracts of land, able to supply us, for biological reasons, with more clean air. In order to accommodate our growing urban populations, we continue to drain away wetlands, chop down mangrove swamps and generally concrete over pretty much all unruly vegetation that stands in the way of another housing development or mall. Our dedication is to urban sprawl. 

The Dominos Begin To Fall

Ecologists understand the imminent threat of ridding the city of these green areas, whose purpose has always been to supply ecological services to their surrounds. The aging infrastructure of most cities, dams and levees were not designed with climate change in mind. It is a great pity that civil and environment engineers never learned about these things until it was too late. Areas denuded of vegetation cannot dissipate the sun’s heat. Heat islands cover our cities, trapping pollution, causing heatwaves. When the storms come, there is no vegetation to slow and filter heavy rain. Instead the runoff races through the streets, unfettered by smooth concrete surfaces, and in no time at all convergences to form destructive and lethal floods.

A heavy rainstorm falling on a vegetated area will not cause an impact, because the plants trap the water and it drains away harmlessly into the soil. A spate of warm weather, without the heat trap of pollution, and tall buildings blocking aeration, wouldn’t necessarily cause a heatwave. But a series of these interconnected events join to form a cascading domino-like event. It happens like this: a thunderstorm deposits a lot of water with nowhere to go except through a community of people, who may for instance belong to a poorer neighbourhood, with less resources to rebuild. Presto, just add water -we have a natural disaster! 

What Has This Got To Do With Crime?

For crime to happen there needs to be someone willing to commit a crime; a victim who possesses something of value to the criminal; and an opportunity that brings them together. Natural disasters can do this. They cause a breakdown of social order, loss of property, transport, amenities, food, water and personal effects. More cascading events. In a situation like this, first responders and law enforcement officers have different priorities to attract their attention, opening the way for opportunistic crime.

But is this what really happens? Let’s take a closer look. The news media like disasters because drama sells. They have us believe that natural disasters spell social disorder, panic and large-scale looting. But researchers seeking an empirical link between crime and disasters that cause mass emergencies, are divided with regards to these claims. After all, the polar vortex experienced in North America this January, actually caused a marked decrease in crime in Chicago, one of USA’s most crime-ridden cities. And no-one can dispute that temperatures plunging well below those normally experienced in Antarctica did not constitute a natural disaster! Let’s face it, maybe pick pockets don’t like to have cold hands. 

Two Conflicting Arguments

There are two opposing theories about social disorder and criminal activity. One school of thought proposes that directly after a disaster, social bonds are strengthened by the common suffering of all. This is when heroes are born, helping those in danger with disregard for their own safety. Survivors band together, focussing on helping each other meet basic needs. Altruism abounds and the amount of crime actually decreases. The media likes these stories too, but tends to exaggerate mayhem and chaos, with the odd heart-warming, human rendition. 

The other proposition states that post-disaster chaos breaks down the ability of authorities to control social order, aligning the three components needed for crime to thrive; the criminal, the victim and the opportunity. This is called the Routine Activities Theory. A disaster can certainly change routine behaviours of the people involved; leaving property unguarded and police too busy with emergencies to control crime. Another theory, the Social Disorganisation Theory, states that communities that don’t have strong social cohesion, or less socio-economic resources, are more likely to have increases in crime and anti-social behaviour

Hurricane Katrina & The Looting Myth

Hurricane Katrina, made landfall in New Orleans in August 2005. The consequent flooding of 80% of the city due to the breaking of poorly constructed and maintained levees, is a good example of the relationship between natural disasters and press reports of crime spreading fear and prejudice. It was extensively reported in the media that in the aftermath of Katrina, widespread looting occurred. The Disaster Research Center of the University of Delaware wanted to find out if the media reports were factual, as many sociological studies dispute this behavior (Quarantelli, 1991; Lentini et al, 2016; Gray & Wilson, 1984). They interviewed 64 people that were present during and after the disaster; such as survivors and first responders; and organisations such as the Red Cross. The results were published in a paper entitled Disaster Realities in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: Revisiting the Looting Myth (Published by Lauren Barsky and her band of researchers in 2006 at the University of Delaware).

It appears that the problem is one of semantics. Looting is defined as the act of larceny of personal property, but appropriating behaviour is when someone takes property owned by another because it is needed for emergency purposes. They may even intend to return it if they can. 

Study Findings

When the media reports were disentangled; it was found that they had in fact misled the population into believing that the appropriating behavior of citizens trying to help each other to survive in a crisis; was looting. Barsky and co. found that the reports of arrests due to looting post-disaster were reduced compared with pre-disaster reports. Many of the people interviewed believed that the true incidents of looting were perpetrated by that element of criminal who would have engaged in looting whether there was a hurricane or not. Katrina just provided the opportunity.

Instead, the media emphasis on crime caused panic amongst survivors and rescuers and in some instances, people refused to be evacuated from rising waters because they feared for their property and their lives. Another study found that media reports in the wake of Katrina over-exaggerated the extent of looting in New Orleans compared with other stricken areas along the gulf coast. Young African American men, stigmatized as perpetrators of gang violence during this time, were subsequently found to be involved in pro-social behavior. Often the so-called looting was the appropriation of items needed to help others survive. 

In fact, although the crime rate drastically dropped in the stricken city; the criminal justice system failed on levels which can only be compared with struggling third world countries. It has been argued that media reports created a racially-based criminalisation of a large portion of the citizenry of New Orleans; and these reports were used to legitimise punishment rather than aid as a disaster policy.

Florida And The Natural Disaster Laboratory

The problem is that most research regarding crime and disaster has been done on single isolated disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina. In each case, the relationship between the disaster and an increase in crime depends on many social, economic and demographic variables. Luckily, or not, depending on whether you live there; the state of Florida in the USA, provides researchers with an in-situ laboratory to spatially and temporally study the relationship between natural disasters and crime. This is because Florida has many natural disasters, which regularly destroy communities of the rich and poor alike. The Spatial Hazard Events and Losses for the United States (SHELDUS, not to be confused with Nick Fury’s S.H.I.E.L.D) database measures the number of disasters per year and state that the average Floridian county is struck by six natural disasters a year, in the form of hurricanes, floods, droughts and wildfires.

Putting All The Theories Together

Taking into account both the Routine Activities Theory and the Social Disorganisation Theory, Sammy Zahran and fellow researchers conducted a study called Natural Disasters and Social Disorder: Modelling Crime Outcomes in Florida.  Data was collected from each county in Florida, after every natural disaster occurring between 1991 and 2005. The study took into account population size, economic wealth, density of law enforcement officers and non-profit organisations per affected community. The number of non-profit organisations in a community is a good indicator of the social unity of the people living there.

The study assessed the occurrence of different types of crime in each community, post-disaster. The crime types included violent crime, property crime and domestic violence. The results showed that in the aftermath of disaster, there was indeed a significant drop in violent and property crimes, across all walks of life, and an increase in reported domestic violence. Perhaps the stress that a natural disaster puts on communities and families who do not have the resources to recover from such loss of livelihood; creates an environment where crimes such as domestic violence can increase.

Preparing For The Future

Whether people turn into superheroes or super villains seems to depend very much on what their lives were like before disaster struck. Variables such as population size, personal income, level of education and wealth of the community must be considered before concluding that a natural disaster equals an increase in crime. Prior knowledge of the resilience of a community and the resources and disaster management plans at its disposal can help predict the possible outcome of how a disaster event will affect different areas, and how to mitigate crime in each eventuality. To make this practical take some time to consider the following:

  • Consider where you live and what type of natural disaster could happen in your community. Run some possible scenarios, if this happened, then what would I do? Create a plan. Its important to discuss this with your family, “If ever the forest behind our house catches on fire then……”. Nominating an emergency rendezvous point with the family is a good idea (don’t forget your pets in this discussion). 
  • Assess the people around you. Could you travel, rely on and survive with your neighbours, or do you need to get away from them as soon as possible. 
  • Emergency kits, grab bags and tinned food are good to have, but assume you won’t have time to get these things. A flash flood could catch you in the traffic. Knowledge, skills and planning become far more important than equipment which could be collected (or appropriated) at a later stage. If you are going to collect emergency equipment, you need a set for the house and one that travels with you in your day to day life. You can’t use what you don’t have, but you can always use what you know to do. 
  • Get fit and strong. Surviving a natural disaster may mean walking long distances because roads are destroyed or even fleeing from a direct threat. You may need to climb trees or carry awkward items like a hungry three-year-old who has missed her afternoon nap. 
  • Acquire some lifesaving skills. Teach your children to swim. Learn to think like a forager. Add some first aid and self defense skills into the mix. 

References And Further Reading

Adebayo, Z. (2018, March 10). Are Natural Disasters Getting Worse? Retrieved from The Borgen Project: https://borgenproject.org/are-natural-disasters-getting-worse/

anon. (n.d.). Natural Disasters. Retrieved from BasicPlanet: https://www.basicplanet.com/natural-disasters/

Barsky, L. (2006, January). Disaster realities following Katrina: Revisiting the looting myth. Retrieved from ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/285738721_Disaster_realities_following_Katrina_Revisiting_the_looting_myth

Barsky, L., Trainor, J., & Torres, M. (2006). Disaster Realities in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrins: Revisiting the Looting Myth. Delaware: Natural Hazards Center.

Bellair, P. (2017, July). Social Disorganization Theory . Retrieved from Oxford Researcg Encyclopedias Criminology and Criminal Justice: https://oxfordre.com/criminology/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190264079.001.0001/acrefore-9780190264079-e-253

Berger, D. (2009, August 14). Constructing crime, framing disaster: Routines of criminalization and crisis in Hurricane Katrina. Retrieved from SAGE Journals: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1462474509341139

Berger, D. (2013, April 18). Constructing crime, framing disaster. Retrieved from ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/251884926_Constructing_crime_framing_disaster

Frailing, K. (2016, February 25). Understanding crime in communities after disaster: A research brief. Retrieved from Journalist’s Resource : https://journalistsresource.org/studies/government/criminal-justice/crime-disaster-hurricane-earthquake-research/

Garthwaite, J. (2019, February 6). Polar vortex: The science behind the cold. Retrieved from PhysOrg: https://phys.org/news/2019-02-polar-vortex-science-cold.html

Gray, J., & Wilson, E. (1984). LOOTING IN DISASTER: A GENERAL PROFILE OF VICTIHTZATION. Ohio: Disaster Research Center The Ohio State University working paper #71.

Hartz, T. (2019, February 1). Violence plunged, too, during Polar Vortex: 2 shootings reported in 52 hours. Retrieved from Chicago Sun Times: https://chicago.suntimes.com/2019/2/1/18330767/violence-plunged-too-during-polar-vortex-2-shootings-reported-in-52-hours

Lentini, M., Nikolov, P., & Schwartz, M. (2016). Do Natural Disasters Induce More Crime? Alpenglow: Binghamton University Undergraduate Journal of Research and Creative Activity.

Maynard, S., & Conner, N. (2016). Ecosystem Services. Retrieved from IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management: https://www.iucn.org/commissions/commission-ecosystem-management/our-work/cems-thematic-groups/ecosystem-services

none. (present day). Current World Population. Retrieved from Worldometers: https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/

Quarantelli, E. L. (1991). Lessons From Research: Findings On Mass Communication System Behavior In The Pre, Trans, And Postimpact Periods Of Disasters. Retrieved from University of Delaware Disaster Research Center: http://udspace.udel.edu/handle/19716/532

Reid Ross, E., Caris, E. M., Bea, M., & Moses , V. (2019, February). 5 Unsung Superheroes Who Rose Up During Natural Disasters. Retrieved from Cracked: https://www.cracked.com/article_26200_5-unsung-superheroes-who-rose-up-during-natural-disasters.html

Ripley, A. (2008, September 3). Why Disasters Are Getting Worse. Retrieved from Time: http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1838400,00.html

Routine Activity Theory. (n.d.). Retrieved from ScienceDirect: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/computer-science/routine-activity-theory

SHELDUS (Spatial Hazard Events and Losses Database for the United States). (n.d.). Retrieved from Princeton University Library: http://library.princeton.edu/resource/13181

Simon, J. S. (2007). Wake of the Flood: Crime, Disaster, and the American Risk Imaginary after Katrina. Berkely Law Scholarship Repository.

Tully, E. (2018). Climate and Crime: Examining the Relationship Between Extreme Weather Events and Crime Rates in the United States. Retrieved from Claremont Colleges Scholarship @ Claremont: https://scholarship.claremont.edu/cmc_theses/1924/

Vahedifard, F., & Aghakouchak, A. (2018, October 22). The risk of ‘cascading’ natural disasters is on the rise. Retrieved from PhysOrg: https://phys.org/news/2018-10-cascading-natural-disasters.html

Zahran, S., Tara O’Connor, S., Peek, L., & Brody, S. D. (2009). Natural Disasters and Social Order: Modelling Crime Outcomes in Florida. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 26-52.

Zimmerman, K. A. (2015, August 27). Hurricane Katrina: Facts, Damage & Aftermath. Retrieved from Live Science: https://www.livescience.com/22522-hurricane-katrina-facts.html


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Crime Rates And Climate Change – Is There a Link?

Climate Change and Crime

Whether we believe it or not, whether we like it or not, we have all heard a lot about climate change. Our love affair with fossil fuels has swathed the Earth in greenhouse gases; trapping them within the atmosphere. Planetary temperatures have increased, bringing about extreme weather events. Violent and intensified climatic events are in the news so much nowadays that they are almost becoming the norm. Climate denialists have less and less of a foot to stand on as the storms, floods, droughts and heatwaves hit with more frequency and with more devastating effect. 

As the temperatures rise and scientists count the cost on natural resources, they have to ask tricky questions like “How are we going to feed the exploding human population on a collapsing global ecological system?” Or, “Where is everyone going to move to when the sea level rises flooding coastal cities?” Or, “How can we mitigate disasters caused by extreme weather events?” With these enormous predicaments to face, little attention has been given to the subtler consequences of climate change. How it affects the psychological and sociological health of humans, and how it will change our behavior with regards to aggression and ultimately violent crime.

ARE WE MORE ADAPTABLE TO COLD OR HEAT?

Humans are warm-blooded creatures and have to maintain a core body temperature around 36.2°C. As a species our origins in Africa began towards the end of the last ice ages. It was during the end of these ice ages that our colonisation of the planet began. Therefore, we have adapted to weather that is colder than our bodily needs. When it is cold, we can regulate our body temperature by getting goose bumps, shivering, increasing nutrients and exercising to stay warm. By the use of fire and erecting shelters we learned how to modify our physical environment. And we invented clothes keep us warm. These things are all part of being human. 

As long as we can keep our bodies around 36.2°C, we function just fine. But what about at the other end of the spectrum? When ambient heat is well above our preferred core temperature? At 38°C, our bodies don’t feel so good anymore and by 40°C, death is a likely outcome. Too much heat raises our heart rate, which makes blood circulation increase, dilating blood vessels in the skin. These physiological mechanisms help the body lose body heat. And we can sweat, but this only really works in dry heat, like in a desert. When the temperature is hot and humid, sweating doesn’t help that much. This is because when sweat leaves your skin, it can’t diffuse into the surrounding air, which is also saturated with moisture. When you sweat in humid heat, your skin feels moist and sticky, but you do not feel any cooler.


THE EFFECTS OF HEAT AND OUR EMOTIONS

Hot temperatures activate the hypothalamus, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for thermoregulation.  Interestingly, the hypothalamus is also linked to the regulation of emotions. Neurotransmitters and hormones involved in thermoregulation can therefore impact your emotional state. For instance, more adrenaline is produced in hot weather whereas more serotonin is produced in cold weather. Adrenalin is known to encourage aggressive behavior whereas serotonin suppresses aggression. 

An experiment was done to empirically test whether heat has a bearing on the well-being of people. A random sample of people were assigned to sit in an uncomfortably hot room for an extended period of time whilst another group sat in a cooler, more comfortable room. Researchers found that the people exposed to heat were more likely to show aggressive tendencies than the others.

But we hardly need science to tell us this. People have always known hot weather causes hot tempers. Our language is littered with idioms such as “Hot under the collar”, “Hot and bothered”, “Saw red”, “His/her blood boiled”, “In the heat of the moment” and” Tempers flared”. Our language developed around the inevitability that hot equals angry, or at least grumpy! 

Humans can acclimatise to heat after 5 or 6 weeks of constant exposure, but if the temperature rapidly rises 10°C and remains that high for an extended period of time, such as in a heat wave, then acclimatisation is not possible. As the temperature continues to rise, the hypothalamus causes the body to decrease thyroid stimulating hormones, slowing the metabolic rate and triggering lethargy. We now do have the technology to regulate the temperature of our homes to a comfortable level using air conditioning. Air conditioners are unfortunately a catch-22 solution. They keep us cooler but increase the production of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. 

So, let’s try to break down how climate change may affect the man in the street. The problem runs deeper than just getting hot and bothered and needing to quickly find a swimming pool and an ice-cold beer. 


HOT DAYS AND HOT TEMPERS

I guess one way a lot of us have experienced the effect of hot weather on our mood is on the road. Think about how many road rage incidents are reported in hot months compared to when everyone is cooler and more level-headed. This is almost anecdotal, but let’s see if science has proof: A study was done at the University of Arizona to assess the effects of rising ambient temperature and horn honking in traffic. It was found that as the temperature increased, horns were honked much more than in cooler weather, and the horns that got honked the most belonged to cars without air-conditioning!

Back to our idioms, People from warmer countries are often accused of being “hot headed”.  There is a temperature-aggression hypothesis that predicts that people experiencing more hot days exhibit more aggressive behavior than the good citizens of colder climes.

Studying the temperature-aggression hypothesis has led to the emergence of a model that predicts aggressive behaviour, called the General Aggression Model. This model is built on the assumption that the relationship between heat and aggression will cause increasing assault cases and violent crimes during hot periods of time. For example, when it is hotter, more aggressive crimes such as homicide, assault or rape are likely to occur. Even school children are found to get more aggressive and have more fights during the heat.

WARM WEATHER EQUALS MORE CRIME 

Another model called the Routine Activities Theory, suggests a more indirect relationship between heat and violent behavior. When the weather is warm, people spend more time outdoors. This makes it easier for criminals to share the same spaces as potential victims, resulting in more opportunistic incidents of assault and robbery. 

Regrettably, the poorest of people are often the most vulnerable to this phenomenon. The city of St. Louis, USA is generally considered to be poorer than most American cities, and with a higher crime rate. Often the life style of poor, inner city dwellers involves events taking place out on the streets. A study done in this city has shown that each time the temperature rose by one degree, the average monthly crime rate increased by 1%. This study also showed that 20% of the poorest communities will amount for more than 50% of the predicted climate-related increases in violent crime. 


MURDER RATES AND THE WEATHER

The link between aggression and violent crime is not just a generalized concept. In an article titled “A Rise in Murder? Let’s Talk About the Weather”, New Your Times contributor Jeff Asher suggests that there could even be a correlation between heat, gun violence and murder incidents in American cities. For years crime analysts have battled to ensure that their statistics are accurate because crime victims often fail to report the incident to the police. There are a host of reasons for this including intimidation, fear of the police or simply apathy on the part of the victim. The murder rate is however different, there is a body that can be definitively counted. 

Asher notes that the murder rate in the USA rose in 2015 and 2016. He then shows correlations in 10 cities between increased temperature and shootings in this time period. He also refers to the increase in outdoor activity during hot periods. The article emphasizes the need for better research into the link between gun violence and fluctuations in the weather.  

CLIMATE CHANGE SCENARIOS

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has developed a number of climate models to stimulate the different ways in which the dynamics between the most important drivers of climate (atmosphere, oceans, land surfaces and ice) will change in future.  These changes will depend on variations of the amount of the sun’s energy reaching Earth, changes in the reflectivity of the Earth’s atmosphere and surface, and changes in the greenhouse effect.  One of the models, called A1B, predicts a scenario that assumes the world of the future will have rapid economic growth, low population growth and a rapid replacement of fossil fuels with new energy efficient technology. And yet, with this euphemistic outlook, it is predicted that global temperatures are still likely to rise by about 2.8°C (5 °F) by the year 2099. 

Climate scientists have issued a dire warning that global temperature must be kept below a 2°C rise or else we must prepare for calamitous consequences. In his paper Crime, Weather and Climate Change Matthew Ranson of the Harvard Kennedy School, uses historical crime records with the IPCC A1B model and predicts that the USA will experience additional 35 000 murders, 216 000 rapes, 1.6 million aggravated assaults, 2.4 million simple assaults, 409 000 robberies, 3.1 million burglaries, 3.8 million cases of larceny and 1.4 million cases of vehicle theft than what would have occurred between 2010 and 2099 if there was no climate change.

 Anyone living in the developing world will skeptically describe this utopian scenario as overly optimistic. Those living in the developing world will probably feel that one of the IPCC A2 models are more fitting with reality. These story lines, referred to as “Business as Usual” scenarios, predict that economic growth will be slower and more unevenly spread in different parts of the world; population growth will continue to rise unchecked and technological change to cleaner energy sources will be fragmented regionally. Under these conditions we can expect a 3.2°C rise in global temperature by the turn of the century.

An example of a country whose citizens are more likely to agree with the IPCC A2 models is South Africa. Here is a country with much of the population living in extreme poverty without much hope of ever getting a job. To ward off starvation, crime becomes a more attractive option. And keeping warm in winter means huddling around burning tires on street corners. warmth takes priority over burning fossil fuels, and hunger takes priority over whether more crime is committed in hot or cold weather. 


CRIME, HOT DAYS AND RAINY WEATHER 

A study was conducted in Tshwane, the capital city of South Africa, to see whether high temperatures or high rainfall increased certain types of crime in various parts of the city. Results show that there is an undeniably an increase in crime in hotter temperatures. In fact, violent crimes increased by 50%, sexual crimes by 41% and property crimes by 21% on hot days compared to cold days. Violent and sexual crimes can be explained mostly by the temperature-aggression hypothesis, whereby hot temperatures increase the level of frustration and aggression in individuals. The increase in property crime can be explained by the Routine Activities Theory, where people are more likely to leave their homes in hot weather to enjoy outdoor events, thus leaving their property less protected from crime incidents. Interestingly heavy rainfall decreased the incidents of violent and sexual crimes but slightly increased property crime by 2%. Perhaps this is because rainy weather gives more concealment for the criminal to pass unnoticed. 


PRACTICAL TIPS FOR DEALING WITH CLIMATE CHANGE AND CRIME

I am not an expert in the field of crime and security. I am an ecologist with a keen interest in the crime of global warming. It’s evident that climate change is going to have an impact on crime levels. This will impact on the personal safety of politicians, ecologists, account executives, nursery school teachers, street sweepers, parents and grandchildren alike. Clearly reduce, reuse, recycle isn’t going to address the situation when an enraged primate in a leather jacket is trying to smash through your car’s passenger window. Here are a few practical considerations that could be implemented:

  • Consciously activate your situational awareness during hot temperature situations, specifically when in crowds of people. The hotter it gets the more space you are going to need to escape. If you don’t know to do that you can learn situational awareness in this article – Getting practical with self awareness.
  • Notice how your temper fluctuates in the heat. When this takes place, increase your exposure to fresh air and shade, change your breathing patterns and drink lots of water. Also do not exert yourself physically in the heat.
  • Neighborhood watches and local police departments should be planning patrol routines around specific weather conditions. Hot nights when there are lots of people on the street will require increased patrols or extra manpower on the ground. 

I have focused on the direct effects of climate change, heat and human behavior. In my next post, I will explore the relationship between crime and violence, and climatic disasters like the fallout from floods, wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes and cyclones. 

References & further reading 

al, V. L. (2017). Aggression and violence around the world: A model of Climate, Aggression, and Self-control in Humans (CLASH). Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1-58.

al., A. C. (2000). Temperature and Aggression. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 63-133.

Anderson, C. A., & Anderson, K. B. (1998, December). Temperature and Aggression. Retrieved from Research Gate: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/279428017_Temperature_and_Aggression

Anonymous. (n.d.). Temperature. Retrieved from Earth in the Future: https://www.e-education.psu.edu/earth103/node/1015

Asher, J. (2018, September, 18). A Rise in Murder? Lets Talk About the Weather Retrieved from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/21/upshot/a-rise-in-murder-lets-talk-about-the-weather.html

D, S. F. (2018). The influence of extreme weather conditions on the magnitude and spatial distribution of crime in Tshwane (2001–2006). South African Geographical Journal Volume 100 – Issue 3.

Hanna, L. (2013, January 10). Could we acclimatize to the hotter summers to come? Retrieved from The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/could-we-acclimatise-to-the-hotter-summers-to-come-11507

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). (2000). Emissions Scenarios. Retrieved from IPCC: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/emissions-scenarios/

Mares, D. (2013, February). Climate Change and Levels of Violence in Socially Disadvantaged Neighborhood Groups. Retrieved from Researcg Gate: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235716978_Climate_Change_and_Levels_of_Violence_in_Socially_Disadvantaged_Neighborhood_Groups

Matthew, R. (2012, November 10). Crime, Weather and Climate Change. Retrieved from https://www.p-plus.nl/resources/articlefiles/Opwarmingencriminaliteit.pdf

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