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How Does Climate Change Affect Crime in the U.S.?

Global warming will trigger an increase in violent as well as less serious crimes in the United States over the next 100 years, indicates a study by Abt Global’s Dr. Matthew Ranson—the most comprehensive study to date on the topic—published online in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management (JEEM).

The study, the first to examine and combine crime statistics and weather data for each of the nearly 3,000 counties in the continental United States over a 30-year period, shows that between 2010 and 2099, climate change will cause an increase in a wide range of criminal activity nationwide. This includes an additional 20,000 murders, 200,000 cases of rape, and 3.5 million cases of assault over the next 100 years.

“Temperature has a strong effect on criminal behavior.  When temperatures rise, so does crime,” Ranson said.  “That’s been historically true and it’s unlikely to change in the future.”

Ranson said that “even moderate temperatures have a strong influence on violent crime,” and that while the rise in U.S. crime rates over the next 100 years is a modest one to three percent increase, “the impact on victims and law enforcement will be substantial.”

Ranson’s findings, starting with the prediction by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of a jump in global temperatures of five degrees Fahrenheit, were drawn from three decades of weather data from the National Climatic Data Center and crime statistics over the same time period from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports database.

The study is described online in “Crime, Weather and Climate Change” in the JEEM issue due out in hard copy in early April.

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