climate change effects on human behaviour

The impacts of global warming have brought on more than just an influx of natural disasters. Throughout history, it’s been documented that climate change increases the spread of diseases, mortality rates, shortages in essential resources and destruction of livelihoods. 

Of course, along with extreme weather events and heightened levels of air pollution, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that climate change negatively influences human behavior, as well. 

While populations will have to find ways to adapt to droughts, flooding, and stronger storms—triggering the need to migrate to safer regions—the psychological aspect is likely to influence our interactions and relationships with one another and our thought processes for future planning. Here are three ways climate change impacts human behavior.

 

1. Extreme Heat Will Make People More Aggressive

When temperatures rise, human bodies sweat. Sweating is the body’s natural cooling mechanism that allows us to live across the globe in all sorts of warm weather conditions without overheating. However, even our capable bodies have a threshold. 

If you’ve ever had to live without air conditioning in the heat of the summer, you may have noticed you become more irritable the hotter you get. That’s because prolonged durations in the heat tend to make people aggressive.

A “wet bulb” temperature—the combination of heat and humidity—is measured at 35° Celsius or 95° Fahrenheit. While scientists believe this occurrence is rare, climate change will presumably make these instances more common. Under these conditions, even a healthy, fit human may only survive for a few hours.

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Research has shown that regions with extreme temperatures tend to have higher violent crime rates. A 2011 study conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that a 1°C increase in temperature led to a 6% rise in violent crimes in the United States alone.

Globally, hotter temperatures’ effect on aggressive behaviors is expected to increase the probability of international armed conflict by 26% with a 4°C increase or by 13% with only a 2°C increase.  

 

2. Climate Change Will Hinder Mental Health

Climate change will have dire consequences on communities, such as driving mass migrations, inaccessibility to clean water, increasing pandemics and rising sea levels. Its effect on agriculture pushes the possibility of several socioeconomic implications, as well, with an estimated 2-20% loss of income in the poorest communities in the United States.

Facing these challenges bears psychological effects on individuals. In a recent study, three-quarters of Americans stated their concerns about climate change, double as many responses as reported in 2017. 

A majority of the population experiences climate change in widespread regions across the globe, posing different types of threats to humans. Natural disasters and severe weather have even fueled several mental conditions, such as post-traumatic stress, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

However, more research is required to grasp how climate change relates to mental health. As more weather-related events occur, the need for mental health services is expected to rise, as will the need to overcome disruptions and inaccessibility of services. 

 

3. Changes the Way We Plan for the Future

So far, only a 2015 study has examined how human planning behaviors change in response to climate change. The investigation uncovered that people tend to make decisions according to the daily weather. 

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For example, planning behaviors differ from those living in hotter climates instead of colder climates. When people live in warmer regions, a dip in temperatures can be unwelcome. Likewise, people used to more temperate weather may not know how to best prepare themselves for a significant and prolonged heatwave.

With global warming expected to cause more abnormal weather events in the future, this could lead to weaker planning behaviors, increased violence and altered habits and personalities. 

Nevertheless, recognizing that climate change is transpiring can help us collectively prepare more intelligently and in advance for extreme weather events.

 

Just the Beginning

Environmental psychology is a newer field of study that aims to understand the link between climate change and human behavior. Grasping the psychological and behavioral impacts of global warming could lead to better solutions for adapting to the sociological and environmental changes. 

 

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