Climate Change: The Psychological Impact

Words: Paribha VASHIST

We live in a conflict-ridden world where the feeling of bonhomie is nothing short of utopia. The bloody combat in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the inter-ethnic violence in the Sahel, and the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Venezuela, are just some of the major social and ethnic rows characterising today’s society.

When individuals find themselves in this morass of endless disputes, they reach the mental precipice: the enormous stressful pressure that this chaotic world creates on their mental tranquillity whittles down their agility, also emotional balance.

A rational global citizen would optimistically believe that détente, dialogue, and certain diplomatic forays for dispute resolution would improve the status quo; however, the gloomy reality is that this picture is only going to exacerbate in the future and it may, perhaps, be less direct, but with a circuitous, also more dangerous, causal chain. An increasing body of evidence with examples from Africa and the Middle East to Latin America establishes the intimate link that exists of conflict risk and outbreaks of violence with climate change.

Climate Change & Conflict Risk

The accelerating human-induced phenomenon of climate change has caused the average global temperature to increase by over 1.5°C, thereby intensifying heat waves and other extreme weather events. Research based on regression models have revealed that warmer regions tend to experience more violent crimes than cooler regions, keeping all other socio-economic factors constant. One specific study based in the United States estimated that a 1oC increase in average temperature would likely yield a 6 per cent increase in violent crime rates. The simple logic behind this causality is that when it gets unbearably hot, irritability increases and people tend to become more aggressive and unduly violent.

The disproportionate impact of climate change is also a cause of concern. The ravaging effects of climate-induced heat waves, droughts, floods, and hurricanes will mostly be felt by the disadvantaged and vulnerable social groups, resulting in higher levels of poverty and income disparity. These differences would fuel the feelings of resentment and retribution among individuals, also societies and communities, thus increasing the chances of a civil war. There is also a possibility that the dissatisfaction of the common masses without a constant stream of income would be exploited by terrorist recruitment agencies.

Yet another anticipated effect is ecomigration, which refers to the migration caused by physical, economic, or political instability brought by ecological disasters. Ecomigration could stimulate intense competition between the migrant group and the local population for a given area’s resources, and bring people with opposing worldviews to face-off against each other. One example is the Bangladeshi migration: a mix of environmental and socioeconomic factors during the past few decades that has pushed millions of Bangladeshis to migrate to India. This influx has resulted in increased social tensions between the migrants and the local Indian population, which often begins with direct confrontation.

The Way Forward

The factors cited validate that if climate-driven natural disasters continue to rise in frequency and intensity, the incidences of violence will show no signs of abating, or subsiding. With this alarming rate, only expanding, we will ‘peak’ all the more towards a future marked by social disorder, endless conflicts and total chaos.

It, therefore, becomes more than ever important to investigate the psychological aspects of climate change. A fresh, also pragmatic, insight into behavioural components would help us to design appropriate incentives that will propel us to reducing our carbon footprint and the pace of climate change in the present situation, while mitigating the acute possibility of a terrifyingly violent future. If we pay focused attention to psychopathological factors associated with climate change, right now, before things go perfidiously out of hand, we may possibly be able to envisage a society where peaceful co-existence is the norm. It’s a difficult proposition, yes, but not an impossible prospect.

Recommended Reading 

  1. 10 Conflicts to Watch in 2021
  2. Global Warming and Violent Behavior
  3. The Impact of Climate Change on Mental Health: A Systematic Descriptive Review
PARIBHA VASHIST is a first-year Bachelor of Economics student at Gargi College, University of Delhi, New Delhi. A voracious reader and a naturally gifted writer, Vashist is zealously passionate about international economics, environmental policy and sustainable development. She wishes to effectively disseminate, in her own simple, yet profound way, scientific knowledge and policy tools to bringing about a positive, healthy change in our increasingly madding world.

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