Hot Flashes

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It has been a hot summer, one of the hottest on record. Drought has destroyed crops throughout America’s farmlands. Many of us on the east coast learned a new weather term, derecho, to describe the brutal line of thunderstorms that knocked out power for days in the region.

Meanwhile, scientists expressed incredulity over the rate and extent of ice melt in Greenland and Earth’s polar regions. In response, some experts warned that their earlier predictions about the pace of climate change had been too optimistic. It’s coming faster than they had feared, they claimed, and this year’s weather-related disasters are just a sneak preview of things to come.

Expressed in that context, many of us probably think that climate change is a meteorological event best measured using thermometers and rainfall gauges. There’s another aspect to rising temperatures, however, that should trouble us far more than that: violence.

Horrific shootings grabbed the headlines far too many times this summer, leaving many of us stunned and feeling helpless. The obvious debate centered around gun control and the easy explanation that firearms were to blame. While access to weapons certainly deserves our continued attention, we also need to consider other factors that might motivate individuals to use weapons against one another.

As it turns out, the weather may be one such factor.

Sociological studies have linked rates of aggression to temperature. Physiological studies have demonstrated connections between heat and increased heart rates, increased testosterone production, and other metabolic changes. We can find traces of this link in our own language: “A hothead wrote a flaming comment about my blog and really got my blood boiling.” Some studies have suggested that higher temperatures not only make us more prone to violence; they make us more tolerant of it as well. In this way, we become too hot to be bothered.

Though I wouldn’t place too much stress on a causal link between the two, I find it interesting that the temper of our political climate seems to be rising along with the temperatures, especially in this, an election year. Even as I’m drawn in like a moth toward the flame, I try to keep my cool, to chill out as often as possible. With all of the hot air being produced by political rhetoric, I look for the socio-psychological equivalent of carbon offsets wherever I can.

Having a puppy in the house seems to help. Reading good books seems to do the trick. Walks through the woods to pick berries provide some relief. These are personal and highly localized solutions, of course. It will be interesting to see what kinds of remedies we might envision on the national or global level as the climate continues to heat up.

For more about this topic, check out this informative article from Wired magazine. It both corroborated and expanded upon some of the ideas I had while writing this post:

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/07/hot-weather-violence/

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