Study Claims The Air Pollution From Driving Your Car Is Causing Crimes


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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor
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First, researchers said global warming would make people more violent, now they argue being downwind from air pollution increases crime rates. A new study claims that driving your SUV may be causing crime downwind.

Researchers with Harvard University and the University of California, Davis published a study claiming to have “the first quasi-experimental evidence that air pollution causally affects criminal activity.” Researchers claim “ violent crime is 2.2 percent higher” on the side of the Chicago’s I-290 freeway that’s downwind of air pollution.

Researchers, however, admit that increases in crime from air pollution are “modest in magnitude,” but then argue their “back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that the cost of mobile pollution-induced crime in the United States is on the order of $100-200 million annually.”

“This magnitude is comparable to many of the well-studied impacts of traffic on health, and should be considered in relevant cost-benefit analyses,” researchers suggest.

The study builds on a growing body of research suggesting air pollution is driving crime by making people more aggressive and impairing their cognition. Researchers have also claimed global warming will increase crime rates because there will be more hot days — and studies have linked hot days to crime.

“There is a body of epidemiologic health literature that shows that pollution at high levels can impair judgement, can increase aggression, can impair cognition,” Josh Graff Zivin, an economist at the University of California in San Diego who was not involved in the study, told The Washington Post.

“Consistent with evidence from psychology on the relationship between pollution and aggression, the effect is unique to violent crimes – we find no effect of pollution on the commission of property crime,” researchers wrote in their new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

U.S. air pollution has declined dramatically in the last few decades thanks to increased economic efficiency and environmental regulations. Environmental Protection Agency data shows six different types of air pollutants decreased 63 percent since 1980, despite huge increases in energy production and the number of people driving in cars.

While air pollution rates have fallen, so have overall crime rates, according to federal statistics. Crime rates aren’t usually linked to weather and air pollution, but instead are more often associated with economic conditions and law enforcement presence in an area.

For example, researchers say the spike in crime during the 1990s was brought to heel by economic growth and improved law enforcement tactics in cities, like New York City under Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Franklin Zimring, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, wrote in his 2007 book, “The Great American Crime Decline,” that improvements in policing caused New York City’s crime rate to plunge.

“There were clever programs to stop fare avoidance in the subway system, but the subways didn’t change, nor did the schools, the streets and surface transportation systems, the population, or the economy,” Zimring wrote.

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