Heat and Crime

The May 2014 issue of Smithsonian Magazine contains an article entitled, “Hot Enough For You?’ by Jerry Adler. This is what Mr. Adler says as a preview to his thoroughly thought-provoking article. “Devastating droughts, killer storms, flooded cities, raging tropical diseases—you’ve heard that climate change promises a host of catastrophes. But the reality of a hotter world will probably be more subtle—and it’s already here.” Mr. Sadler then walks up through a series of scenarios showing some of the mental health issues connected to climate change.

Last evening as Amarillo newscast reported that, according to Amarillo police, summer crime is on the uptick already. The report said that in June 2014 there are already 1000 more calls for a wide assortment of crimes. According to the Amarillo police department spokesman, February is the month with the lowest report of crime—July is the month with the highest. The spokesman said that juveniles out of school, homeowners who leave garage doors open in the summer, and more alcohol drinking all contribute to more crime. After reading the Smithsonian article and listening to the latest local crime data, maybe there is something to the theory of “heat and crime.” Let’s take the crime in Chicago as an example.

So far this year (as of April 30, 2014) there have been 101 murders in Chicago, mostly from gun violence. Last year there were 439 murders in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune online website (www.chicagotribune.com) contains a monthly list of names of each victim “Crime in Chicagoland.” The Tribune also maps the murders by neighborhood. The online list of names allows a viewer to click on a name and read about the life of the murdered victim. The list of those maimed or otherwise injured by Chicago’s gun violence triples or quadruples those killed. The recent drive-by killing of32-year old anti-violence activist Leonore Draper (who was returning home from an anti-violence charity event) should trouble all Americans and send us in search of causes in ways known and unknown. Mr. Adler’s “Hot Enough For You?” offers a possible reason for Chicago’s crime—and maybe Amarillo too.

Mr. Adler makes this statement in his article, “But climate is about more than ecology: It’s also a force in human behavior, a fact often overlooked in global-warming scenarios. And new research suggests that a hotter world may, for one thing, be more dangerous, and not just because of road rage.” Mr. Adler then points to research done by Craig A. Anderson at Iowa State University. Mr. Anderson has pioneered research on climate and aggression “and derived the formula that each additional degree of warming increases the rate of violent crime (homicides and assaults by 4.19 cases per 100,000. Mr. Adler also points to work done by Solomon Hsiang, a public policy specialist at UC Berkeley, who has found that “climate change historically leads to social disruption, up to and including war. Property crime, personal violence, domestic violence, police violence—everything you want less of, climate change seems to bring more of….”

Could climate change be a factor in Chicago’s murder rate? Could it explain the 1000 more calls to Amarillo police in July than in February? Could it be that researchers like Hsiang and Anderson have hit upon something worthy of further investigation? Adler’s article contains an experiment to show the effect of Phoenix heat on driver attitudes. While waiting at a traffic light, Mr. Adler found that the hotter the temperature the sooner a waiting driver would become aggressive to make the traffic move sooner. He then makes this statement: “An ambiguous act now seems more provocative when your mind is in turmoil because of heat.” This is the “crankiness factor” that Anderson discusses that clouds the way people see things—“minor insults may be perceived as major ones, inviting even demanding, retaliation.”

So can Mr. Adler’s “Hot Enough For You?” explain Chicago’s gun violence—or Amarillo’s uptick in crime in the summer? Does Mr. Adler offer at least a connective theory for why people who live in hot weather, or who live in neighborhoods where elevated body heat caused by not enough personal space (and other factors) turn to violence as a direct result of “minds in turmoil?” So why does Chicago have high crime even when it is bone chilling cold? I think the theory still holds because Adler says that in extreme cold the survival mode kicks in driving people to escape it with clothing, fire, and shelter. But after donning layers of clothing, “minds in turmoil” still react the same as if the temperature outside was 105 degrees. When people feel trapped by their surroundings, either socio-economic or physical, the mind churns with “hot-headed” thoughts of escape. And, given the right “blood boiling” triggers- poverty, hopelessness, anger, lack of constructive social outlets, “hot-headed” gangs fighting over turf, then gun violence is the natural result. Just a theory. But the solutions may lie with how we deal with “public space livability” that should make our cities friendlier to its inhabitants. When humans feel disenfranchised, disconnected, unwanted or unneeded within their immediate living environment, maybe “minds in turmoil” become “hotheaded “is as a necessary outlet for relief.

Copyright 2014 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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