Climate of Crime

March 1, 2019
Policy/Ethics
Could rising temperatures lead to rising crime rates? Photo Credit: Daniel Stein/I Stock/Getty Images Plus

School’s out and summer is in full swing. Everyone’s outside trying to escape the heat; people are socializing, playing sports, and cooking barbeque. But this time of fun and relaxation also carries a gruesome and disturbing uptick in both violent and property crime.

The increase in crime in the warm, summer months is not a new phenomenon. Decades of scientific research has reinforced support for the correlation between crime and warm weather. Two dominating theories have historically defined this research. The Temperature-Aggression Hypothesis defined in 2001 states that “higher heat stress primes aggressive thoughts and attitudes”. On the contrary, the Routine Activities Theory suggests that inclement weather, such as rain or cold, keeps three characteristics of crime from converging: a motivated offender, a suitable target, and the absence of a guardian that could prevent a crime from occuring. Because people are less likely to go outside during inclement weather, confrontation and the subsequent crime is far less likely to occur.

Temperatures in DC last February reached 82 degrees, the warmest February day on record. Photo Credit: Government of DC

Just recently, a study published in Geohealth, a journal by the American Geophysical Union, attempted to see if crime was correlated with rising winter temperatures due to global warming. Researchers in this study analyzed crime and climate data over twenty-seven years in five defined regions of the United States: the Northeast, South, South-Central, West, and Midwest. The researchers found a strong correlation between both warm winters and higher crime rates.

In order to find out whether or not the Temperature-Aggression Hypothesis or the Routine Activities Theory caused this correlation, researchers looked at the property crime statistics in addition to the violent crime statistics. The researchers found the property crime did increase. Because property crime is not related to aggressive thoughts or attitudes, researchers ruled out the Temperature-Aggression Hypothesis. Because, during warmer weather, people are more likely to be outside and engaging with others, crime is more likely to occur.

This research provides an interesting look into human behavior, as well as another unexpected effect of climate change. Perhaps there are more unexpected negative effects of climate change, and it would be best if the world takes action to prevent the process from accelerating.


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