Violence & Global Warming: The Need for Harsher Punishment of an Overlooked Consequence

By Nicolette Pellegrino

In the 1980’s, the American Government began to implement statutes and regulations to punish and penalize those who pollute the environment with the intent to combat climate change.[1]  However, perpetrators of environmental crimes are causing more than just global warming.  The sole victim is not Planet Earth, but also many species within the ecosystem, including humans.  Studies reveal that rising temperatures naturally cause civil unrest, which leads to increased rates of violent crimes such as rape and murder.  Should American law become more stringent upon considering the vast consequences of global warming?

Some of the most commonly noted environmental offenses include forestry, air pollution, wildlife poaching, logging and more.[2]  The offenses have many dangerous repercussions, such as contributing to climate change.[3]  However, besides the obvious increases in heat and natural disasters, climate change instinctively intensifies the level of psychological stress felt by individuals.[4]  Such stress leads to an increase in “anger, frustration and violence,” and has led to increases in criminal activity such as food riots, arson, tree spiking, migration and smuggling, gang warfare, homicide, and rape.[5]  Many of the criminal activities create a hostile environment for all individuals, and dramatically increases the likelihood of a woman becoming a victim of sexual assault.[6]  Generally, rape and sexual assaults occur significantly more during the summer, when the temperatures are warmer.[7]

While some areas of the world are proposing to coin the term ecocide: a crime against humanity punishable as both an environmental and international crime,[8] perhaps it would be just as sufficient to increase the sanctions and penalties on those who commit the already established environmental crimes which lead to climate change.  However, it is extremely difficult to identify perpetrators of environmental crime due to the difficulties in establishing the chain of causation.  Yet, if there is a clear link in an environmental crime aiding climate change, and climate change leads to migration and psychological stress, which increases the rates of rape and other violence against women, it is logical for punishment of such crimes to be greater.  It is estimated that there will be an additional “22,000 murders, 180,000 cases of rape, 1.2 million aggravated assaults, [and] 2.3 million simple assaults” due to global warming.[9]  Perhaps ecocide is an appropriate response to such a complex causational chain.  Even so, it is important for environmental crimes to be seen as more than a crime against the environment, but as a crime against the public interest.[10]  Improving the safety of women, who have higher rates of sexual victimization, is a worthy cause for increasing the punishment of the environmental crimes that encourage climate change.  Punishing for climate change must be more than simply punishing for pollution or for the aiding in the emission of greenhouse gases, but for the increased rates of sexual violence against humanity, specifically females.[11]

[1] http://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=6725&context=jclc

[2]https://www.unodc.org/documents/commissions/CCPCJ/CCPCJ_Sessions/CCPCJ_22/PNI_Workshop/Paper_ICCLR_CJP_PNI-Workshop.pdf

[3]https://www.unodc.org/documents/commissions/CCPCJ/CCPCJ_Sessions/CCPCJ_22/PNI_Workshop/Paper_ICCLR_CJP_PNI-Workshop.pdf

[4] Id.

[5] Rob White, Climate Change from a Criminological Perspective, Springer New York (2012); http://www.nber.org/papers/w20598.pdf

[6] http://www.movetoendviolence.org/blog/climatechange_sexualviolence/

[7] http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/spcvt.pdf

[8] http://www.envirosecurity.org/ecocide/nov2012/Kramer,R.C.(2012)-ClimateChange_A_state-corporate_crime_perspective.pdf

[9] Crime, Weather, and Climate Change. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0095069613001289

[10]https://www.unodc.org/documents/commissions/CCPCJ/CCPCJ_Sessions/CCPCJ_22/PNI_Workshop/Paper_ICCLR_CJP_PNI-Workshop.pdf

[11]https://www.unodc.org/documents/commissions/CCPCJ/CCPCJ_Sessions/CCPCJ_22/PNI_Workshop/Paper_ICCLR_CJP_PNI-Workshop.pdf

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