Saturday, August 12, 2017

New Findings Show How Climate Change Is Influencing India’s Farmer Suicides



Brian Kahn By Brian Kahn
Aug. 11, 2017

A suicide epidemic among India’s farmers has shaken the country and contributed to a doubling of the nation’s suicide rate since 1980.

It’s a widespread and intensely personal issue, one that has been difficult to tease out the root source. Debt, mental health, lack of social services, weather vagaries and even media coverage have all been put forward as part of the problem. Now, recent research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that climate change could also be playing a role.

The findings attribute more than 59,000 suicides in India to rising temperatures since 1980. With the world expected to warm further, the results suggest that adaptation could play a key role in helping farmers.

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Agriculture makes up 14 percent of India’s GDP, but employs 230 million people or 32 percent of the rural population. Roughly two-thirds of those farmers have poor access to irrigation and rely on rainfed agriculture, itself a crapshoot tied to the Indian monsoon. That leaves them vulnerable to not just drought but other climate shocks like rising temperatures.

“These farmers and agricultural workers face extremely stressful and difficult conditions,” Carleton said. “In this risky environment where families are very poor, any additional shock can lead to extreme economic destitution, and some individuals may cope with that hardship by committing suicide. I find that the climate, and temperature in particular, causes crop losses while also elevating the risk of suicide.”

The study shows that there’s a strong link between high temperatures in the growing season and suicide rates. Carleton found that degree days above 68°F (20°C) was a key threshold for suicide rates in India. By looking at the increase in degree days above 68°F since 1980, she was able to tease out how many additional suicides across India have likely been due to rising temperatures. Her results show the additional heat is responsible for 59,300 suicides since 1980, accounting for about 7 percent of the overall increase.

Rising temperatures essentially act as a threat multiplier, similar to how the military views climate change. Rather than directly causing suicides just because it’s hot out, Carleton’s work suggests that hotter weather can have knock-on effects like reducing crop yields and increasing financial hardship.

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