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CR 61:19-28 (2014)  -  DOI:

Harsh climate promotes harsh governance (except in cold-dry-wealthy environments)

Evert Van de Vliert1,*, Richard S. J. Tol2,3 

1University of Groningen, The Netherlands, Social and Organizational Psychology, Grote Kruisstraat 2/I, 9712 TS Groningen, The Netherlands
2Department of Economics, University of Sussex, United Kingdom; Institute for Environmental Studies and Department of Spatial Economics, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; and Tinbergen Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
3Falmer Brighton, BN1 9SL, United Kingdom
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Human societies are usually thought to adapt culturally to mean climatic temperature. Here we alternatively propose that cultural adaptations are fine-tuned, using monetary means as tools, to harsh deviations from optimally livable winter and summer temperatures around 22°C. We test for the first time the interactive impacts of cold demands, heat demands, precipitation, and income on the autocracy of central government. Eight regression analyses across 173 nations, with R2 ranging from 0.29 to 0.55, show that political cultures vary from maximally autocratic in poor countries threatened by demandingly cold and dry climates, to maximally democratic in rich countries challenged by demandingly cold and dry climates. Moreover, demandingly hot and dry climates appear to promote autocracy everywhere, irrespective of the country’s level of income. The best documented rival explanations, including human-to-human transmitted diseases, ethnic diversity, and low average intelligence of the population, could not account for the findings. This kind of evidence may lead climate-culture scholars to move away from climatic determinism toward climato-economic theory building on the origins of cultures.

KEY WORDS: Cold · Heat · Precipitation · National income · Autocracy · Democracy

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Cite this article as: Van de Vliert E, Tol RSJ (2014) Harsh climate promotes harsh governance (except in cold-dry-wealthy environments). Clim Res 61:19-28.

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