A new study links rising temperatures and subsequent crop failures to more than 59,000 suicides in India over the past 30 years.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analyzed 47 years of suicide records from India’s National Crime Records Bureau, as well as data on temperature, climate, and crop yields. It found that on days above 68 degrees Fahrenheit, a 1.8 degrees rise in temperature caused an average of 70 suicides. This correlation was found only during growing seasons, when higher temperatures can damage crop yields and deal devastating blows to the one-third of Indian farmers who live below the international poverty line.
Also supporting the link was the finding that when a growing season’s rainfall increased as little as 1cm, there was a 7 percent drop in the suicide rate on average.
One-fifth of the world’s suicides every year occur in India. Since 1980, suicide rates in the country have doubled, with 130,000 Indians taking their own lives annually. With more than half of India’s working population employed in agriculture, the public has increasingly been linking these deaths to the adverse impact of climate change on agricultural production. But the causes of these deaths have been understudied by scientists, writes Tamma Carleton, author of the PNAS study and an agricultural and resource economist at the University of California, Berkeley. “This analysis… demonstrates that the climate, particularly temperature, has a strong influence over a growing suicide epidemic,” she writes.