Climate Change

Will Violence Heat Up As Our Climate Changes?

Jeff Hayward, director of the Rainforest Alliance’s climate program, reflects on a new report that examines the link between climate change and violence.


Tempers flare when it’s hotter than normal–or so goes the “pressure cooker” hypothesis studied by social scientists to explain waves of violent crime and human conflict when the mercury peaks. A recent article in the journal Science presents a meta-analysis comparing past studies that correlate extreme weather and human conflict.

The piece, which concludes that “warmer temperatures and more extreme rainfall patterns could boost interpersonal violence by 16 percent and group conflicts in some regions by 50 percent by 2050,” has sparked a heated debate. Science mentions that some critics fault the study for conflating weather with climate change and for being selective in the sub-set of studies chosen. What is compelling is the clear pattern that emerged for places where both weather and conflict data was collected over time: violence increased when temperature or rainfall was abnormal.

The relationship between armed conflict and famine, poverty and resource degradation has been well reported. It looks like climate change could factor into the well-being of people in very different ways, with violence and conflict being yet another consequence. Add this to the list of climate change impacts on the farmers and forest-dependent communities working with the Rainforest Alliance—one that will have significant repercussions for farmers’ livelihoods, food production and overall economic development.

For example, there is high likelihood that:

  • Rising temperatures are changing crop growing seasons
  • Changing rainfall patterns are affecting yield potentials
  • Crops are becoming more vulnerable to plant diseases
  • Less suitable growing conditions are displacing production onto previously uncultivated land, resulting in additional pressures on land and biodiversity
  • Forest health is suffering through intensified stress from increasingly severe forest fires, pest outbreaks and hurricanes

In the face of these challenges it is incredibly important to seek approaches that will help people to adapt to a changing climate. This means finding technological, cultural and economic approaches to promote land, water and ecosystem stewardship practices that improve resiliency to climatic shocks.

At the Rainforest Alliance, we’re committed to this urgent journey. With every step, we aim to support communities to undertake practices that reduce the vulnerability of their farms to climate change and help them better withstand the fluctuations in temperature and precipitation.

Learn more about the Rainforest Alliance’s work in climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Read a Los Angeles Times article on the report.

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