The effects of climate change are discussed all the time. We hear a lot about rising seas, extreme weather events, and so on. And mostly, the weather gets warmer. Heatwaves are increasingly common and longer and stronger.
A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked at some of the less discussed effects of excess heat. The study found that on excessively hot days, there are more likely to be fatal car accidents and food safety problems, and police officers and government food inspectors tend to do less of their duties.
The essential conclusion of the study is that hot temperatures are basically bad for human functioning. They effect sleep quality, mood, mental health, risk of suicide, and work productivity.
The study looked at enormous quantities of data about motor vehicle crashes, food safety violations, and police stops. They found significant correlations with temperature. Fatal crash incidence goes up in hot temperatures. Meanwhile, police stops decline at higher temperatures. The probability that a restaurant or food production facility will be inspected goes down when it is hot out and the number of violations a facility has goes up with temperature.
There is a debate in the social sciences over whether the environment or political institutions matter more in determining people’s well-being. It turns out that the environment can have a significant effect on the functioning of political institutions – such as law enforcement – so that the debate is more complicated than it seems.
The bottom line is that a warming climate affects how we perform our duties and how we go about our daily lives. A pretty simple idea, but one that is increasingly important.
Photo, posted July 5, 2009, courtesy of Ethan via Flickr.