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Scorcher! How The Heat Waves Of Climate Change Could Fuel Urban Violence

Another collateral effect of global warming could be that rising temperatures feed existing tensions in cities around the world. Starting from Lisbon, but investigating related studies around the world, Portuguese digital magazine Mensagem reports.

Scene from Director Spike Lee's "Do The Right Thing", which follows the events of the hottest day of the summer in Brooklyn, New York.

Spike Lee's classic "Do The Right Thing" took place in a fictional Brooklyn, New York, where violence broke out on the hottest day of the summer.

Universal Pictures
Ricardo R. Santos


LISBON — We've gotten used to saying that everything is changing. The weather is crazy. Habits have changed. Values are vanishing. Traditions are not what they used to be. Language itself, some say, has degenerated.

Preferences across all fields, from food to entertai be they gastronomic, cultural, literary, entertainment or sexual, have changed. For some, for the worse. For others, for the better.

This perception of change depends a lot on age: when you live to be 60 years old, you perceive, with greater subtlety, that things change, inevitably, and end up with a certain nostalgia for those old times.

But strictly (and scientifically) speaking, everything is indeed always changing. So if the world is constantly changing – even if it sometimes happens invisibly – why such widespread panic about climate change?

The short answer is because it's happening so quickly, so dramatically, and with such devastating, often irreversible effects.

Often, the news tells us that predictions are surpassed by observations. Last April, in Portugal, a new record for national maximum air temperature was reached, at 36.9ºC (98.42ºF) — the highest since 1945.

Climate forecasts, therefore, anticipate a scenario of continued, intensified, global warming that, unfortunately, is unstoppable, at least in the immediate future.

Heat waves will increase, not only in number but also in intensity and duration. More heat waves, for more days, with higher temperatures — in Lisbon, Beijing, São Paulo and in Berlin and everywhere in the world, cities will get hotter and hotter.

Call it overheating

Indeed, in a warming scenario – perhaps the most appropriate expression here is really overheating – the risk of drought increases, the risk of forest fires increases, the risk of illness and death increases.

According to estimates by the European Environment Agency, by 2100, if nothing is done, we will experience an annual excess of more than 90,000 European deaths due to heat waves.

Sixty percent of the world population will live in cities.

Even in this scenario of overheating, cities assume particular prominence.

According to the United Nations, currently, the population living in cities is greater than the population living in rural areas, and it is expected that, in the next 50 years, it will reach 60% of the world's population. However, cities account for only 3% of the physical space, which means that the trend is for increasingly denser cities, from a population point of view.

Cities are also responsible for the consumption of 80% of all energy produced and for 75% of greenhouse gas emissions. Inevitably, the fight against climate change will be won or lost in cities.

A melted ice cream cone on a road.

Pawel Janiak/Unsplash

A correlation with antisocial behavior

The risks of the overheating of cities are already well known, and many of them are already quantified. There are direct and indirect risks, to health, the economy, work, justice, education, social and territorial cohesion, biodiversity, etc.

There are, however, other less obvious risks. One of them has to do with the possible effects of rising temperatures on hate speech, harassment, and voluntary homicide, resulting, therefore, in a risk of increased social conflicts.

On days when the temperature exceeded 32.2 °C, harassing behavior increased by 5%.

A researcher of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research Annika Stabmesser, in 2022, published a study in which she analyzed more than 4 billion tweets using machine learning.

Her conclusion: in situations where the temperature reached extreme values, that is, between 42ºC and 45ºC, the prevalence of tweets that included hate speech increased by 22%, when compared to tweets that were made in a context of moderate temperature.

Harvard University researcher Ayushi Narayan, a specialist in labor economics, also conducted a study in which she evaluated the correlation between heat and discriminatory and harassing behavior in the workplace, using a sample of postal service workers in the United States.

On days when the temperature exceeded 32.2 °C, harassing behavior increased by 5%.

The association between heat and cases of voluntary homicide has also been studied in cities including Chicago and New York: an increase of 5ºC in the average daily temperature corresponded to an increase of 9.5% and 8.8%, respectively, conclude the authors of this study.

Why does this happen?

Several theories have been proposed to explain the relationship between heat and antisocial behavior.

One of them, of a biological nature, proposes that an increase in temperature increases discomfort, frustration, impulsivity and aggression, in addition to interfering with cognitive abilities. In the case of indoor environments without cooling, these effects end up being exacerbated, which may lead to aggressive behavior, both physical and verbal, online and in real life.

Today, climate change adaptation plans in cities cannot ignore the effects of temperature on citizen behavior.

In ever denser, ever hotter cities, the risk of aggressive behavior between people is not a negligible risk, even if it can be subtle. By the way, a good example of this subtlety is perhaps what happened in two recent hearings of the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry in Portugal. In a room susceptible to heat, there were a lot of complaints that the air conditioning was not working properly. In this context, an air conditioner is much more than an air conditioner; it will perhaps be a containment device. In other words, cooler. Cities, too, need these cooling devices, precisely so that, when they ignite, they prevent the conflagration.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

What Zelensky Won't Say Out Loud: Ukraine Is Running Short On Troops

Ukraine has a recruitment problem, with some units at only 70% of their intended strength. But President Zelensky is unwilling to talk about mass mobilization. The result is a parallel reality, with more recruitment coming from rural areas and lower classes, and some urbanites feeling victory is not too far, and their sacrifice is not needed.

photo of Zelensky and a Ukrainian soldier

Zelensky and a Ukrainian soldier.

Rustem Khalilov, Mykhailo Krygel & Olga Kyrylenko

KYIV — Walking through the center of Kyiv in the fall of 2023 can make you feel like you’ve gone back in time. The atmosphere in the city seems to transport you to either a carefree past or a promising future.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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You'll find bustling cafes filled with people enjoying oat milk lattes, business lunches, and people zipping around on scooters.

Amongst these images of ‘normal life’, the "Field of Memory" on Maidan Square, adorned with thousands of flags bearing the names or call signs of fallen soldiers, serves as a poignant reminder of the ongoing war. Lights and billboards of the Armed Forces of Ukraine beckon citizens to "join their ranks." But these often go ignored.

Military chaplain Andriy Zelinskyi has diagnosed this situation as "discursive incompatibility."

“An entirely self-contained and substantial illusion of an alternative reality has emerged,” he says. “A reality that acts as an escape from the pain, wounds, and losses of war. This alternative reality poses a significant threat to the unity needed to effectively resist Russia.”

One segment of society has been in the trenches for a year and a half, witnessing the daily horrors of destruction, injury, and the loss of comrades. Meanwhile, another segment lives on in cities like Kyiv, Lviv, or Odesa, offering donations, or just thinking about contributing, while attempting to distance themselves from the war as much as possible.

The government has also played a role in creating and maintaining this alternative reality. In its public communication, full-scale mobilization is a taboo. An honest conversation about mobilization as a guarantee for survival and eventual victory seems "out of place" when elections are looming.

Periodically, cracks in this alternative reality emerge. For instance, a publication in TIME magazine highlighted that in some military branches, personnel shortages were more critical than those of weapons and ammunition. The article was dismissed by Ukrainian authorities as nonsense.

In the meantime, without waiting for the transition to full-scale mobilization, some military units are taking matters into their own hands, actively seeking and motivating individuals who are willing to don a military uniform and bear arms.

Following the challenging defense of Bakhmut and Zaporizhzhia, it became clear that the Ukrainian military was in dire need of reinforcements.

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