Dumb, angry and unhealthy: The weird, lesser-known effects of climate change
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Dumb, angry and unhealthy: The weird, lesser-known effects of climate change

CLIMATE change has been in the headlines a lot recently and for very good reason – it feels like the world is burning.

Consider the extreme weather events we’ve witnessed in just the last couple of months – a heatwave across the northern hemisphere; deadly forest fires blazing in California, Greece, and remarkably Finland; Tokyo and Toronto sizzling under record-setting heat as the death toll rises from heat exhaustion; Australia suffering its worst drought in living memory while others are lost to extreme flooding in India.

All of this is happening at the same time on our little blue planet. And scientists warn it will only get worse if we don’t drastically pick up our pace when it comes to climate action.

While scary and devastating, extreme weather is not the only fallout we can expect from a warming world. The knock-on effect has further reaching implications that will affect even the little things in our daily lives.

Here are some of the unexpected effects of climate change you maybe haven’t heard of:

You can get away with speeding (kind of)

On excessively hot days, police officers tend to do less of their duties, according to a new study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists. The worrying thing is, this is also when the risk is at its greatest.

Lead researcher Nick Obradovich and his colleagues analysed data from more than 70 million police stops between 2000 and 2017 and more than 500,000 fatal motor vehicle crashes between 2001 and 2015 in the United States.

SEE ALSO: Global heatwave explained: Why the world is burning

They found people are more likely to have a fatal crash in hot temperatures, and yet the probability of traffic stops also goes down as police officers reduce their efforts.

The study also found food safety inspectors are less likely out carry out inspections when the temperature goes up. As anyone in this part of the world will know, that’s when food safety standards need to be stringent. Higher temperatures pose a greater risk to food safety because pathogens, including E. coli and salmonella, replicate faster in warmer temperatures.


Men sleep on benches along Nanjing East Road, a popular pedestrian street filled with shoppers and tourists during the day, to escape the heat of residential apartments in Shanghai. Nanjing East Road has turned into an open-air slumber party as local residents try to beat the heat of their cramped nearby homes. Source: Johannes Eisele/AFP

Health and wellbeing

The impact of excessive heat on your mental health and wellbeing are extensive.

While we’ve no doubt all felt a little cranky when the heat gets too much, it can go well beyond that into profound health risks. These include increased rates of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even death.

In fact, heat now kills more Americans than floods, hurricanes or other natural disasters combined.

There have even been a number of studies find a disturbing link between hot weather and an increased risk of suicide.

A far less surprising effect is sleep deprivation. Most people will have already twigged that increased heat contributes to insomnia, which worsens with increased humidity. The impact of this can be much more serious than getting peeved with your partner for hogging all the bed space.

Sleep is important for overall health, and research shows not getting enough sleep, or getting poor-quality sleep, increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

You get more violent

Extreme heat has been linked to increases in aggression and violence.

One study published in the research journal Current Directions in Psychological Science showed that hot temperatures increase aggression by directly increasing feelings of hostility and indirectly increasing aggressive thoughts. Results showed that global warming trends may well increase violent-crime rates.

This is true on both a personal and an intergroup level. There have long been stories shared between prison staff of increased inmate violence during heat waves.

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You get dumber

Complex cognitive tasks have been observed to be significantly impaired through heat stress.

A study from Harvard recently observed that students who live in buildings without access to air conditioners during heat waves fare worse when it comes to cognitive function, reaction times and working memory.

When the students woke each morning, researchers sent them a set of questions for 12 consecutive days.

One test included basic addition and subtraction, and measured cognitive speed and memory. A second test assessed attention and processing speed.

The results, published in PLOS Medicine, showed that the students who were in the non-air conditioned buildings had slower reaction times; 13 percent lower performance on basic arithmetic tests, and nearly a 10 percent reduction in the number of correct responses per minute.

Let this be food for thought. If we don’t start putting some serious work into hitting our global climate targets, events like record-setting heat, extreme rainfall and drought won’t be the only thing we have to combat. We could also be looking at an inefficient world full of unhealthy, dumb, angry people.