Guest essay by Eric Worrall
According to a new study, global warming causes more crimes because in warm weather police officers are more reluctant to leave the air-conditioned comfort of their vehicles.
Global warming? Tell it to the judge.
First, climate change was blamed for coastal flooding and wildfires. The links seemed intuitive and the effects observable. But more recently, studies have probed its connection to farther afield things, like lower SAT scores and upticks in suicide rates. Now, a new report says warmer temperatures associated with the phenomenon could also be behind seasonal increases in fatal car crashes – and maybe even violent crime.
The reason for the impending social breakdown: Hotter weather makes people more sluggish, so police officers will be less willing to get out of their cars and make traffic stops as temperatures soar.
The study points out that such lethargy couldn’t come at a more inconvenient time: Hot temperatures are associated with more deadly crashes, more violent crime and more health violations, meaning that police and health inspectors become less vigilant just when they’re needed most.
“Do these meteorological conditions simultaneously amplify the public health risks officers are tasked with overseeing, like violent crime and vehicular crashes,” the authors ask in the study. “Previous studies have found a predominately linear relationship between higher temperatures and increases in violent crime.”
Nonetheless, Tingley and his coauthors say they hope the results will spur agencies to consider more closely how to help their workers – whether cops or health inspectors or elsewhere – cope with the heat.
“It’s an open question whether these agencies have the capacity to do that,” Tingley says. “If people have better air conditioning, these things could dissipate. But that ignores the broader message that climate change is real and that it impacts people’s performance.”
The abstract of the study;
Effects of environmental stressors on daily governance
Nick Obradovich, Dustin Tingley, and Iyad Rahwan
PNAS August 13, 2018
Human workers ensure the functioning of governments around the world. The efficacy of human workers, in turn, is linked to the climatic conditions they face. Here we show that the same weather that amplifies human health hazards also reduces street-level government workers’ oversight of these hazards. To do so, we employ US data from over 70 million regulatory police stops between 2000 and 2017, from over 500,000 fatal vehicular crashes between 2001 and 2015, and from nearly 13 million food safety violations across over 4 million inspections between 2012 and 2016. We find that cold and hot temperatures increase fatal crash risk and incidence of food safety violations while also decreasing police stops and food safety inspections. Added precipitation increases fatal crash risk while also decreasing police stops. We examine downscaled general circulation model output to highlight the possible day-to-day governance impacts of climate change by 2050 and 2099. Future warming may augment regulatory oversight during cooler seasons. During hotter seasons, however, warming may diminish regulatory oversight while simultaneously amplifying the hazards government workers are tasked with overseeing.
From the full study;
… The results of estimating Eq. 1 for the effect of maximum temperatures on police stops indicate that temperature nonlinearly relates to the log number of police stops on a given county day. Stops increase up to their maximum at 29 °C and decline past that point (Fig. 2A, P < 0.001, n = 938,273). This closely mirrors the functional form observed between maximum temperatures and participation in physical activity among a representative sample of the US population (31). Fig. 2B displays that stops decline linearly with increases in daily precipitation (coefficient −0.012, P < 0.001). See SI Appendix, Tables S1–S8 and SI Appendix, Marginal Effects for additional estimation results. Putting scale to the magnitude of our estimated relationship, a +10 °C shift from a maximum temperature of 30 °C to 40 °C produces a reduction in stops that represents an approximately 1.5% reduction in log number of stops compared with their mean value in our sample.
Adverse temperatures and precipitation reduce the number of regulatory police stops in our sample. Do these meteorological conditions simultaneously amplify the public health risks officers are tasked with overseeing, like violent crime and vehicular crashes? Previous studies have found a predominantly linear relationship between higher temperatures and increases in violent crime (21, 32). Extrapolating from that literature indicates the possible existence of a regulatory gap between marginal officer effort and the marginal added occurrence of violent crime at high temperatures. …
Read more: Same link as above
Naturally the study references RCP 8.5 for producing its projections.
My thought – even if the tiny effect identified by this study is real, there are plenty of jurisdictions like Singapore with extremely hot climates and low crime rates, just as there are extremely cold states and nations with similarly low rates of crime, like some Scandinavian countries.
Spinning a slight reluctance to step outside in bad weather into a significant impact on future crime rates strains credibility.
Training, leadership and resourcing are obviously far more important determinants of police effectiveness than temperature.