Contemporary social science has produced little research on connections between climate change and crime. Nonetheless, much prior research suggests that economic insecurity may affect individual calculations of the cost and benefit of engaging in criminal behavior, and climate change is likely to have important economic consequences for professions like fishing that depend directly on the environment. In this paper, we test the possibility that climate change affects participation in maritime piracy, depending on the specific ways that it impacts regional fish production. Our analysis is based on piracy in East Africa and the South China Sea. These two regions are strategic in that both areas have experienced a large amount of piracy; however, rising sea temperatures have been associated with declines in fish production in East Africa but increases in the South China Sea. We treat sea surface temperature as an instrument for fish output and find that in East Africa higher sea surface temperature is associated with declining fish production, which in turn increases the risk of piracy, whereas in the South China Sea higher sea surface temperature is associated with increasing fish production, which in turn decreases the risk of piracy. Our results also show that decreases in fish production bring about a larger number of successful piracy attacks in East Africa and that increases in fish production are associated with fewer successful attacks in the South China Sea. We discuss the theoretical and policy implications of the findings and point out that as climate change continues, its impact on specific crimes will likely be complex, with increases and decreases depending on context.
There is little evidence on the effect of climate change on criminal behavior. This study seeks to quantify the impact of a specific type of climate change—rising sea temperature—on maritime piracy, a type of crime that is linked exclusively to the ocean. The risk of piracy attacks and the probability of successful attacks are higher with declines in fish production in East Africa and lower with increases in fish production in the South China Sea. These results suggest that climate change does affect maritime piracy rates and that its effect depends on the specific situational context and the rational choices that changing sea temperatures generate.
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