LOS ANGELES (CBS) — As much of the West Coast safely watches Hurricane Irene make landfall 3,000 miles away along the eastern seaboard, researchers may have found a link between the violent weather changes in our skies and bloodshed on the battlefield.
Kyle Meng, co-author of a new study out of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, told KNX 1070 that data seems to show that violence tends to rise in some parts of the world during El Niño years.
“Our study focuses primarily on the tropics and semi-tropics, and that’s where we see a very strong effect,” said Meng.
The El Niño phenomenon — a periodic warming, drying pattern seen occurring roughly every five years over the Pacific Ocean — is much less pronounced in the U.S. than in the Gulf and Caribbean region, Meng added.
But when it comes to exactly what element of the weather contributes to the statistical rise in violence, researchers are still hunting for clues.
While correlations are still a bit shaky, some studies have found lower crop yields and higher human aggression levels during periods of higher temperatures.
The prominent theory at the moment is not that warm and dry conditions are a primary cause of violence, but that they merely contribute to the list of motivations for violence — similar to how one might explain a rise in traffic collisions.
“We know that what causes car crashes ultimately is probably human error, but if you’re driving and the roads are wet and there’s ice on the road, that really increases the likelihood that you will be in an accident,” said Meng.
“When there’s an El Nino going on, the likelihood that violence occurs really jumps up,” he added.
Still, Meng doesn’t advise anyone to use the El Niño defense in a courtroom.
“What causes violence really is human actions, and we are ultimately responsible for the consequences of those decisions,” he said.