Climate Change Will Drive Up Violent Crime Rates, Study Finds

Jan 15, 2020

The United States could see tens of thousands more violent crimes per year as climate change causes warmer winters, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

A couple of years ago, the researchers looked at FBI crime data as well as climate data and found that warming winters correlated to big jumps in violent crime. 

In their latest study, published this week in the journal Environmental Research Letters, they used that data along with climate change models to predict how global warming might affect violent crime over the next 100 years. And it’s not good.

Kris Karnauskas, a co-author of the study, said the U.S. could see between 20,000 and 50,000 more violent crimes per year.

“That range spans scenarios where the world only warms by 1.5 degrees and where it warms by 4 degrees,” Karnauskas said. “So it’s quite a strong dependence on how much the world warms.”

He acknowledged that climate is just one of many factors that affect the crime rate, but that it can influence the way trends are already going.

“We’re not predicting that violent crime in the U.S. is gonna go one way or the other. We’re saying whatever happens, climate is going to bend that trend upward,” Karnauskas said.

Karnauskas said this is just one of the many ways that science shows climate change is impacting health—and the economy. He said this crime trend could cost the U.S. about $5 billion annually.

“We are just beginning to scratch the surface on the myriad ways climate change is impacting people, especially through social systems and health,” Karnauskas was quoted as saying in a press release about the study. “We could see a future where results like this impact planning and resource allocation among health, law enforcement and criminal justice communities.” 

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center For the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.