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

E. van de Vliert, R.S.J. Tol

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-28
JournalClimate Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Bibliographical note

PT: J; NR: 39; TC: 0; J9: CLIM RES; PG: 10; GA: AQ3TN; UT: WOS:000342716500002


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