Global warming is making us lose our cool
We are losing our minds because of climate change.
We are no strangers to the losses brought about by climate change: landscapes that drastically change, animals that could not cope and have become endangered or extinct, coasts that have been eaten up by rising sea levels, croplands that have been scorched by draught or drowned in floods. And it is not only natural capital we are losing – we are also being cut off from the anchors of meaning, because we humans have cultivated meaning that are tied to the natural environment. No matter how much you love the internet, all culture is still anchored in place, in the natural world. Human-caused climate change is altering the natural world at rates so much faster than natural systems can say the ecological equivalent of "What the %*&%!$?" and cope to restore themselves. But it gets worse: science has also found that the loss has crept in even more intimately into our humanity. We seem to lose it when climates warm up.
By "losing our minds," I specifically mean that we all generally lose our cool because of climate change. We become hot-headed and thus, violent. I wish I were making this up, but a study I came across looked at a lot of data across centuries and found that higher temperatures indeed caused more violence.
The review looked at 60 studies found in various fields like archaeology, economics, psychology, and criminology that probed what climate and violence had to do with each other. It studied cases across history – from as far back as 10,000 BCE up to the present – in many different parts of the world and what the review found was really disheartening: apart from the things known to cause eruptions of violence (like massive unrest, discrimination, revenge, and grievances of many kinds) hotter, wetter climate also upped the ante for violence.
And this was not only violence among groups (civil wars, riots, and ethnic violence) but also personal violence (murder, assault, rape and domestic violence) as well as collapse of institutions and civilizations. This is probably enough for you to revisit records of personal family histories as well as the recorded rise and fall of the great powers, and to think about higher temperatures as a major factor behind any violence. What was remarkably scary was that the review saw a pattern wherein extreme climate conditions led to a rise in violence regardless of a nation's wealth, geography, and period in time. There seems to be something about rising temperatures that contributes to the ascent of human tempers.
This is not to say that our hot tempers are only triggered by rising temperatures. That is too simplistic. Humans have multiple triggers that act on each other like a Rube Goldberg machine. Scientists who did the research posed that one reason for the violence may have to do with the impact of hotter temperatures on crop yields. This strikes at the heart of sectors whose literal and metaphorical guts are sustained by agriculture – press this button hard, and you get an uprising. We did a related study on this many years ago when we were trying to uncover links of environmental degradation to civil strife. The pathways we found were similar: people's lifelines are anchored on land, and so if the land won't yield sustenance, the tendency to find blame or simply erupt out of desperation is a lot more likely.
Hunger is definitely a reliable path to anger. There are very few things that could cause tempers to flare more than food issues. This BBC article explored the prospects of food supply with climate change, and the verdict from the studies cited is clear: yields go down after 30ºC. This is very true of the major crops on which the world is so dependent: corn, wheat, rice, and soy. Crops cannot naturally cope with temperatures that are rising so fast. This is why genetic engineering – if done carefully and with an eye toward possible dangers and effects in other parts of the ecosystem – could be part of the solution, while we also get our act together in transforming the way we consume, heating the planet in the process.
The BBC article also pointed out how traditional sources of food will shift and most likely will not be as accessible as before. This will cause major increases in the prices of many food items, and will disrupt sources of sustenance for populations. Imagining this, it would not be a stretch to see how climate change can cause violence among neighbors, countries, or regions.
The earlier study on hotter temperatures and violence drew their conclusions from data that showed a less than 1ºC rise in history. We are looking at 2ºC by 2050. The scientists involved in the study said that this increases the risk of civil war in many countries by 50%!
Climate change is the plague of our time. It strips us of our land, water, and food. It also affects our sense of safety, our sense of place and, now we know, even our sense of peace. What more does science have to show that we are losing so we can get our act together in arresting the fast rise in global temperatures? 'Til we have nothing left to surrender? – Rappler.com
Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, "Science Solitaire" and "Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire." You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.