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. [irp posts=”44319″ ]
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.
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.
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.
4. Changing Political Perspectives
Climate change is not just an environmental issue; it also has significant impacts on political beliefs and actions.
According to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center, the perception of climate change as a major threat to the planet is on the rise globally, with 59% of people considering it a major threat in 2020, compared to 45% in 2013. This increased awareness has led to changes in political beliefs and actions worldwide.
One example of this is the Green New Deal proposed by the United States Congress in 2019.
The legislation aimed to combat climate change by reducing carbon emissions and transitioning to renewable energy sources while simultaneously creating jobs and promoting economic growth.
While the bill did not pass, it helped to increase public awareness of climate change and demonstrated the willingness of some politicians to take action on the issue.[irp posts=”45659″ ]
In Europe, the Green Party has seen significant gains in recent elections, with climate change being a key issue for many voters. In Germany, the Green Party saw its best results ever in the 2021 federal election, with 14.8% of the vote. This was largely due to the party’s emphasis on climate change and environmental policies, which resonated with many voters.
Climate change has also affected international relations, with countries increasingly cooperating on climate action.
The Paris Agreement, signed in 2015, saw nearly every country in the world commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and limiting global warming. While some countries have since withdrawn from the agreement, others have continued to work towards their goals and have made significant progress in reducing their carbon footprint.
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 sociological and environmental changes.