When a day above 20 degrees Celsius gets one degree hotter during India’s growing season, there are, on average, 67 more suicides that day.
That’s just one data point from from University of California, Berkeley researchers who found that global warming contributed to nearly 60,000 suicides among farmers in India — a country where suicide rates have already doubled since 1980.
Researcher Tamma Carleton analyzed 47 years of suicide records in one of the rare attempts to quantify the relationship between climate change and the surge in suicides among India’s agricultural population.
Carleton found that when temperatures rose, suicide rates spiked, and that the relationship was only true during the growing season, when, among other factors, higher temperatures affected crop yields.
“While some aspects of climate impacts are relatively easy to observe and measure, such as crop yields or national GDP, other key indicators of human well being are much harder to quantify,” Carleton told VICE News. “Suicide is a heartbreaking indicator of human hardship, and the finding that this phenomenon is affected by a changing climate implies that it is essential to quantify its effect and consider this relationship as we build climate policy for the future.”
Carleton says that her research was only designed to isolate the impact of temperature on the suicide rate, and emphasizes that climate change isn’t the only absolute cause. A myriad of other considerations, including access to health care and religious norms, also factor into the rates.
Marshall Burke, an assistant professor in the Center on Food Security and the Environment at Stanford University, who has led similar studies isolating climate change’s impact told VICE News he agrees with Carleton’s methodology, saying it provides a “compelling story.”
“I think it’s a super convincing paper,” Burke said, calling it a “tried and true research design that is able to isolate climate variables.”
Roughly 800 million of India’s citizens rely on agriculture for survival, and the country has taken steps to curb the suicide rate among India’s farmers by helping them hedge against poor crop yields. A government-backed $1.3 billion insurance plan, set up in 2016, allows farmers who pay a small percentage premium to reclaim the full value of their crops.
“The scheme will be a protection shield against instances of farmer suicides because of crop failures or damage because of nature,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh said last January after the plan was approved.
But despite the fact that India is taking measures to try and curb the suicide rate, the study found the rates remain steady, suggesting there’s no real evidence to show these efforts — or other factors like wealth — are having any impact.