The Effects of Temperature on Political Violence: Global Evidence at the Subnational Level

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Alexander Bollfrass
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PLoS ONE 10(5): e0123505. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0123505

A number of studies have demonstrated an empirical relation- ship between higher ambient temperatures and substate violence, which have been extrapolated to make predictions about the security implications of climate change. This literature rests on the untested assumption that the mechanism behind the temperature- conflict link is that disruption of agricultural production provokes local violence. Using a subnational-level dataset, this paper demonstrates that the relationship: (1) obtains globally, (2) exists at the substate level – provinces that experience positive temperature deviations see increased conflict; and (3) occurs even in regions without significant agricultural production. Diminished local farm output resulting from elevated temperatures is un- likely to account for the entire increase in substate violence. The findings encourage future research to identify additional mechanisms, including the possibility that a substantial portion of the variation is brought about by the well-documented direct effects of temperature on individuals’ propensity for violence or through macroeconomic mechanisms such as food price shocks.