Effects of environmental stressors on daily governance

Source: Nick Obradovich, Dustin Tingley, and Iyad Rahwan, Proceedings on the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), August 13, 2018

Public servants are often first responders to disasters, and the day-to-day completion of their jobs aids public health and safety. However, with respect to their individual psychological and physiological responses to environmental stressors, public sector workers may be harmed in much the same way as other citizens in society. We find that exposure to hotter temperatures reduces the activity of two groups of regulators—police officers and food safety inspectors—at times that the risks they are tasked with overseeing are highest. Given that we observe these effects in a country with high political institutionalization, our findings may have implications for the impacts of climate change on the functioning of regulatory governance in countries with lower political and economic development.

Human workers ensure the functioning of governments around the world. The efficacy of human workers, in turn, is linked to the climatic conditions they face. Here we show that the same weather that amplifies human health hazards also reduces street-level government workers’ oversight of these hazards. To do so, we employ US data from over 70 million regulatory police stops between 2000 and 2017, from over 500,000 fatal vehicular crashes between 2001 and 2015, and from nearly 13 million food safety violations across over 4 million inspections between 2012 and 2016. We find that cold and hot temperatures increase fatal crash risk and incidence of food safety violations while also decreasing police stops and food safety inspections. Added precipitation increases fatal crash risk while also decreasing police stops. We examine downscaled general circulation model output to highlight the possible day-to-day governance impacts of climate change by 2050 and 2099. Future warming may augment regulatory oversight during cooler seasons. During hotter seasons, however, warming may diminish regulatory oversight while simultaneously amplifying the hazards government workers are tasked with overseeing.