In many places around the globe, the impacts of climate change are already being felt. From the bleaching of coral to increases in floods and droughts. In India, however, the effects of rising temperatures has been manifesting itself in a far more distressing way, as desperate farmers are taking their own lives.
A new analysis has found that the increase in temperature and decline in rainfall may have contributed to close to 60,000 Indian farmers and workers committing suicide over the last three decades. Reporting their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, suggest this is due to climate change having an effect on agriculture in the region, and failing harvests pushing the people who depend on them into poverty.
They found that when the daily average temperature increased by just 1°C (1.8°F) during the nation’s growing season, it leads to an average of 65 people committing suicide. When the temperature rising by 5°C (9°F), this figure increases to around 335 deaths. In total, the study has found that warming over the last 30 years may have been responsible for 59,300 suicides, accounting for 6.8 percent of the increase in suicide rate seen over this period.
The researchers observed that there was a link between high suicide rates and an increase in temperature and decline in rainfall only during the annual growing season. Similar events had no impact on the number of people taking their own lives during the off-season suggesting that the effect the temperature and rainfall have on agriculture and the growing of crops is the critical link. As crops are more likely to fail, the poorer farmers are more likely to take their own lives.
“It was both shocking and heartbreaking to see that thousands of people face such bleak conditions that they are driven to harm themselves,” said Tamma Carleton, who conducted the study. “But learning that the desperation is economic means that we can do something about this. The right policies could save thousands.”
It is often talked about that as the impacts of climate change hit hard, society will adapt to the warming. But the reality is that there is as yet little evidence to back this up. This research shows that without interventions to help people acclimatize, we are likely to see an increase in suicides as climate change worsens in India.
Not only that, but this "adaptation" that people mention will almost certainly involve mass migration and climate refugees. Already, the UN estimates that since 2008, 21.5 million people have been displaced due to climate-related weather. As the world continues to warm, this is only expected to get worse.