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"Heated Arguments" -- The Discovery Files

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Researchers from Princeton University and UC-Berkeley found that even slight spikes in temperature and precipitation have greatly increased the risk of personal violence and social upheaval throughout human history.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Climate of conflict

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Researchers from Princeton University and the University of California, Berkeley are looking at the connection between climate change and behavioral change. The team analyzed 60 studies on the subject from different fields: Archaeology, psychology, criminology; economics. They found that, throughout history, even small spikes in temperature and precipitation greatly increased the risks of social upheaval and personal violence. In other words, though not the primary cause of conflict, when it got hot--things got heated. The heavy rains helped spawn 'precipitous' violence.

The team found a statistical correlation (Sound effect: police radio) between temperature and violent personal crime and rape in the U.S.--(Sound effect: angry crowd) temperature and the ouster of leaders worldwide--(Sound effect: civil unrest) deviation from normal rainfall and large-scale violence in Africa--(Sound effect: siren, riot) global civil conflict and the intensity of El Niņo.

Many global climate models project temperature increases of 3-1/2 or more degrees over the next several decades. The Princeton and Berkeley findings suggest warming at that level could increase the risk of civil war in many countries by more than 50 percent.

The scientists say we now need to understand what causes the relationship between climate and conflict. Unless we find ways to manage or interrupt the link, we may be in for some 'heated' arguments.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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