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Crime may rise along with Earth's temperatures

When most people think about global warming, they envision rising temperatures and sea levels. Robert Agnew, a professor of sociology at Emory, thinks about rising crime rates.

It was in the early 1990s, while focusing on the causes of crime and delinquency, that he began to see that certain strains, or stressors, increase the likelihood of crime – including economic deprivation, discrimination, criminal victimization, harsh or erratic discipline, child abuse and neglect. These strains can foster a range of negative emotions such as anger, frustration and depression that put people under pressure to take corrective action. Some of those actions are criminal.

During the last few decades, Agnew’s research on general strain theory has become one of the leading explanations for crime, and he has become its chief architect. He is among the most frequently cited criminologists in the world, and was recently elected president of the American Society of Criminologists.

Agnew believes the pressures caused by climate change will become "one of the major forces – if not the major force – driving change as the century progresses." He lists strains such as increased temperatures, heat waves, natural disasters, serious threats to livelihood (thinking farming, herding, fishing), forced migrations on a massive scale and social conflicts arising as nations and groups compete for increasingly scarce food, fresh water and fuel. Especially in the developing world, he believes crime will become a critical issue, making it more difficult to keep the peace in megacities heavily populated by immigrants.

Agnew’s background in criminology isn’t purely academic. He grew up in the Atlantic City of the 1950s and 60s, before casinos brought tourist dollars and jobs. "There was a lot of race and ethnic conflict a lot of crime and delinquency in high school, and I drew very much on those experiences when I came to criminology."

Read more about Agnew’s youth in Atlantic City >>

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