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Does this heat make us fight?

OPINION

(Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune )
July 08, 2012|By Stephen Markley, For RedEye

Temperature records have fallen across the country. Multiple states in the West are burning. The entire state of Colorado appears to be on fire. And violent storms knocked out power all over the Midwest and Eastern Seaboard on some of the hottest days of the year.

Yes, I know: Every time I write about global warming, I can hear readers groaning, "Markley, we know you're doing this to pick up chicks. Ladies dig dire warnings about rapidly accumulating greenhouse gases and the runaway feedback effects that are super-heating the planet. Stop using your column to so transparently try to get laid."

Nevertheless, of all the myriad effects of a warming climate, one (of many) that deserves closer study is the connection between longer, hotter summers and urban violence.

The link between particularly warm weather and a rise in violent crime is hotly (boom!) debated. Studies by psychologists such as Ellen Cohn and James Rotton of Florida State University or Iowa State University's Craig Anderson seem to suggest there is a link, but the connection and causality remains controversial.

What I know is that I live in Chicago, and when the summer here cranks up, the headlines turn grim. This record-setting summer has been especially bleak.

Chicago's homicide rate has been worse than what American soldiers face in Afghanistan. A hot, bloody Memorial Day weekend with 40 shootings left 10 people dead, and the Fourth of July saw four killed and 19 wounded in a single day.

I certainly don't mean to discount all the complicated sociological, economic and educational factors that go into producing Chicago's violence, but no one will disagree that for whatever reason—whether people simply go outside more and the potential for conflict grows or whether heat actually predisposes people to acting rashly—it explodes during the summer.

And within the lifetimes of most of the people reading this column, Chicago's summers are going to get much longer, and much, much hotter. Last year, the city told The New York Times it already was attempting to plan for where we're headed: summers like Baton Rouge, La., with as many as 72 days when the temperature breaks 90 degrees, as compared with an average of 15 days during the 20th century.

(One might ask: "Well, what the hell are summers in Baton Rouge going to be like?" The answer: You don't want to think about it.)

The most frustrating element of the climate crisis is that the ways in which it manifests itself like this will seem so easily explained away even as their accumulated effects lead to great economic cost and societal chaos.

Yet we remain dismissive of and annoyed by the constant nagging (of people like me) that this is real, that it's more serious than just about any other issue of the day, and that our political, educational, corporate and media institutions are absolutely failing us in response to this imminent and unique threat. That we are failing ourselves by covering our ears and closing our eyes.

All right! Another successful panty-dropping climate column for the ladies of Chicago! Please contact me via RedEye, and feel free to send topless pics—it is hot out.

REDEYE SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR STEPHEN MARKLEY IS THE AUTHOR OF "PUBLISH THIS BOOK." REDEYECHICAGO.COM/MARKLEY

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