Climate Change: Behavioural, Psychological and Societal impacts
There are many possibly more dangerous repercussions of climate change that are concealed behind the better or more well-known ones and which global authorities have not yet taken into consideration. While researchers predict that rising sea levels, more intense storms, melting glaciers, and the destruction of coral reefs would result from climate change, there are other potential effects that could have a longer-lasting impact on human health and behavior. Professor of Earth System Science and fellow at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies Marshall Burke, mentioned that recent studies have shown that an increase in global temperatures will result in more wars, more crime, and a rise in infant mortality.
Environmental changes including temperature increase, extreme weather events, and increasing air pollution are the basis of projected behavioral effects of global climate change. As temperatures rise due to carbon emissions, which cause global warming and climate change, interpersonal and inter-group conflict, and possibly psychological & mental distress may rise as well. Droughts, floods, and violent storms, reduces quality of life. Extreme weather conditions limit recreational options and may affect growing children and their cognitive development, elevated pollution levels raise worries for citizens/individuals, and may exacerbate the aforementioned psychological distress.
Two major social effects of climate change that are inceasingly given attention to by researchers are conflict and suicide. Conventional mitigation and adaptation climate action have been directed most exclusively at the physical environment and there is need for adaptation measures directed at social, behavioral and psychological impacts of climate change.
Temperature and Conflict
Image by NinjaMonkeyStudio
According to a UN report, civil wars are significantly more likely to occur when a country’s economy declines. A country’s economy declines more frequently when the agricultural sector is deemed unproductive and, in turn, high temperatures and little rainfall, which are primarily due to rapid climate change, make the agricultural sector unproductive.
The effects of climate change may be felt and seen in Nigeria, where desertification is expanding quickly and sea levels are rising as Lake Chad is drying up, which is caused by social factors such as overuse of water resources in the Lake Chad basin as well as environmental factors like climate change . The instability in the area is a result of recurrent fights between citizens of several nations over possession of the last of the water in the drying lake.
Conflict between Nigerian herdsmen and farmers dates back decades. According to the International Crisis Group, there have been conflicts between farmers and herdsmen in Nigeria for many years, but they have recently gotten much worse as a result of climate change pushing herders south into the country’s central farmland.
The Middle Belt, a central region, has seen a huge increase in the long-running conflict over land between farmers and Cattle herdsmen as herdsmen from their traditional grazing lands, primarily in the northeast of Nigeria, were forced to migrate south due to drought, and this forced migration forms the basis of the conflict between the two groups.
Now the nomadic Cattle herders are currently looking for pastures and sources of water for their cattle, and due to a lack of available land, they are moving permanently to places that are already occupied by farmers in southern Nigeria, who are already becoming increasingly frustrated as agricultural practices start to alter.
Farmers are now implying that they now have to plant/farm on different days and months than they are used to due to factors like temperature and rainfall, which unknown to some of them, is a result of climate change.
Bachama farmers and Cattle herders mostly around the Middle Belt (North Central) are now forced to compete for limited arable land, thereby increasing tension and bloodshed between the two groups. However, this influx into the Middle Belt’s savannah and rainforest not only put further strain on the environment and sparked the conflict, but it also provided a space for militant organizations to establish themselves in the region surrounding the Lake Chad Basin.
Hot Weather and Suicide
Researchers who compared historical temperature data with data on suicides discovered a high association between warm weather and an uptick in suicides. It is therefore predicted that climate change will increase the suicide rate in the United States and Mexico.
Using extensive data from multiple decades for both the United States and Mexico, a study led by Stanford economist Marshall Burke finds that the suicide rate increases by 0.7 percent in US counties and by 2.1 percent in Mexican municipalities for a 1°C increase in monthly average temperature.
There has been little historical adaptation because this effect is the same in hotter and cooler places and has not changed over time. The research finds that depressive words like “lonely,” “stuck,” and “suicidal” appeared more frequently in tweets during hot spells in a subsequent review of nearly half a billion Twitter updates or tweets to further assess if greater temperatures affect mental well-being.
The study also predicts that unchecked climate change (which is said to be a global mean temperature increase by 0.3 to 4.8 °C by the late 21st century), could lead to a total of 9,000–40,000 more suicides in the United States and Mexico by 2050. This change in suicide rates would be comparable to the estimated effects of economic recessions, suicide prevention initiatives, or laws restricting access to firearms.
Photo by Sushiman
Researchers have known for decades that suicide rates tend to rise in the summer, but other seasonal factors like unemployment rates and daylight hours also affect suicide rates. Until recently, it has been challenging to separate the effect of temperature from other risk factors. Instead than being considered as direct causes of suicide, climate change and changes in temperature may raise the risk of suicide by influencing the likelihood that a certain circumstance results in an attempt at self-harm.
Climate change is a worsening issue that leads to more environmental problems, but these problems are not limited to our surroundings alone. The environmental problems also affect our societies, human behavior and psychology which may lead to more severe consequences than anticipated if not properly addressed. Climate action has typically been focused on the mitigation, adaptation and loss & damage measures, which have been directed at the physical environment.
Focusing mostly on the effects climate change has on our physical environment without putting into consideration the effects it also has on our behavior, psychology and society may prove to be another major challenge if left unchecked, which is why it is important to also direct adaptation measures at the social, psychological and behavioral impacts of climate change which would require the expansion of certain mental health, public health and social services as well as conflict resolution and counter-terrorism mechanisms.
Kenechukwu Chuba-Nwene* is a Knowledge Management Intern at Clean Technology Hub.