UC Berkeley research links climate change to suicides in India

Xinhua News Agency


Estimates in a study published Monday indicate that climate change

has led to failing harvests that push farmers into poverty and cause

more than 59,000 suicides in India over the last 30 years.

University of California, Berkeley, researcher Tamma Carleton

discovered that warming a single day by 1 degree Celsius, or 1.8 degrees

Fahrenheit, during India's agricultural growing season leads to roughly

65 suicides across the country, whenever that day's temperature is

above 20 degrees Celsius, or 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Warming a day by 5

degrees Celsius has five times that effect.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

(PNAS), the study helps explain India's evolving suicide epidemic, where

suicide rates have nearly doubled since 1980 and claim more than

130,000 lives each year.

While high temperatures and low rainfall during the growing season

impact annual suicide rates, similar events have no effect on suicide

rates during the off-season, when few crops are grown, implicating

agriculture as the critical link.

Finding that 7 percent of this upward trend can be attributed to

warming that has been linked to human activity, Carleton acknowledged

that "it was both shocking and heartbreaking to see that thousands of

people face such bleak conditions that they are driven to harm


More than 75 percent of the world's suicides are believed to occur in

developing countries, according to a UC Berkeley news release, with

one-fifth of those in India alone.

Using methods that she developed in a previous paper published in the

journal Science, Carleton, a doctoral fellow at UC Berkeley's Global

Policy Laboratory and a Ph.D. candidate in agriculture and resource

economics, projected that today's suicide rate will only rise as

temperatures continue to warm. "Without interventions that help families

adapt to a warmer climate, it's likely we will see a rising number of

lives lost to suicide as climate change worsens in India."

More than half of India's working population is employed in

rain-dependent agriculture, long known to be sensitive to climate

fluctuations such as unpredictable monsoon rains, scorching heat waves,

and drought. Heat drives crop loss, which can cause ripple effects

throughout the Indian economy as poor harvests drive up food prices,

shrink agricultural jobs and draw on household savings. During these

times, it appears that a staggering number of people, often male heads

of household, turn to suicide.

Carleton tested the links between climate change, crop yields and

suicide by pairing the numbers for India's reported suicides between

1967 and 2013, using a dataset prepared by the Indian National Crime

Records Bureau, along with statistics on India's crop yields, and

climate data. To isolate the types of climate shocks that damage crops,

she focused on temperature and rainfall during June through September, a

critical period for crop productivity that is based on the average

arrival and departure dates of India's summer monsoon.

She cautioned that her estimates of temperature-linked suicides are

probably too low, because deaths in general are underreported in India

and because national law held that attempted suicide was a criminal

offense until 2014, further discouraging reporting.

In response to rising suicide rate, the Indian government has

established a crop insurance plan equivalent to 1.3 billion U.S.


Advocating protecting rural workers from major economic shortfalls in

time of warming, forecast to reach 3 degrees Celsius by 2050, through

policies like crop insurance or improvements in rural credit markets,

Carleton warned that "without interventions that help families adapt to a

warmer climate, it's likely we will see a rising number of lives lost

to suicide as climate change worsens in India."