Intersectional Challenges for Climate Justice

On the 26th of October, the New York Times ran an evocative piece called "The Uninhabitable Village" on farmer suicides and rising temperatures in Tamil Nadu. The Tamil country has a special significance for me since I am Tamil, being born about two hundred miles from Nagapattinam where this story was reported. While I was reading - viewing, really - this story, I was struck by the correlation between farmer suicides and warmer temperatures. That, in turn lead me to recent work by Tamma Carleton, with an eye popping statistic: 

UC Berkeley researcher Tamma Carleton discovered that warming a single day by 1 degree Celsius (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 (68 degrees Fahrenheit). Warming a day by 5 degrees Celsius has five times that effect.

That's 65 additional suicides per day. We are at the threshold of our second season on climate justice and it's these stories that I want to understand more deeply. Farmer suicides have been a problem in India for a long time and are directly tied to neoliberal economic policies and the move towards intensive, market driven agriculture. 

Anthropogenic warming is only going to make this worse - rising temperatures drives crop failures and will also make input costs more expensive (imagine the killing to be made by the Monsanto's of the world by marketing "heat-resistant" seeds) and of course, water will be the scarcest commodity of all. 

Incidentally, Tamil Nadu is one of the richest and most industrialized states in the Indian Union, which is why the men in the NYT story can migrate toward industrial employment. What happens to the women when the men migrate, temperatures rise and you're responsible for agricultural labor and sustanence?

Climate justice is intersectional by its very nature - it cannot be understood in isolation from food, water, gender, geography and imperial history and in my view, there's no solution without substantial reparations from the west. 


Aryt Alasti's picture

Apparently suicides by young

Apparently suicides by young people is happening in even greater numbers elsewhere in India.


Kumar Venkat's picture

Hi Rajesh, I saw that video

Hi Rajesh, I saw that video story as well on New York Times.

I am from that part of the world too (and spent many summers in a rural part of Tamil Nadu) and empathize very much with the despair and hopelessness of the small-scale farmers when their crops fail in bone-dry conditions and there is no other source of income for the year. These are extreme conditions where agriculture is impossible to sustain with or without GMOs, and there are definitely climate justice questions that need to be asked. 

Kumar Venkat's picture

Rick, I found that video

Rick, I found that video quite scary!  India's green revolution in the 1960s needed synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to increase production, and they've been standard in Indian agricu

lture since then. But I find the government scientists' claims of little or no pesticide residue not very believable. There is clearly the need for an independent lab to assess this and other impacts such as water pollution.

Rick Shankman's picture

"Rick, I found that video

"Rick, I found that video quite scary!  India's green revolution in the 1960s needed synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to increase production, and they've been standard in Indian agriculture since then."

Kumar, have a look at this... Cheap pesticides, costly harvest: Kids genetically poisoned in India

Yes, this is very scary.

MIT ClimateX blaming this on a 1 °C increase in temperature is even scarier.

Rick Shankman's picture

"But coming back to the

"But coming back to the original topic, I would say that climate change is an orthogonal issue with definite impact on food production and will overwhelmingly hurt small farmers in the poorer countries."

Kumar, I suggest that "the original topic" is Indian farmer suicide, and that climate action distraction (as practiced widely here on ClimateX), is a far greater risk to the poor than the actual global warming issue.

When you blame suicide on heat, rather than the (corporate and corrupt governmental) coordinated destruction of entire cultures and their very way of life, you have a much bigger problem than excess CO₂ in the atmosphere.

Kumar Venkat's picture

Drought-related crop failures

Drought-related crop failures are among the many reasons for suicide. There is plenty of research literature on this.

Regarding your other comments, I'll just say that I've found ClimateX to be a great resource and community and I don't see any risk there :)  In any case, let's just disagree on that one and leave it there!

Rick Shankman's picture

Wow Rajesh, I’m just

Wow Rajesh, I’m just speechless here.

I literally have no idea how to even address your post.  I just simply can’t get my head around the magnitude of the distraction involved in it and the gravity of the injustice you are eluding to.  I’ll give The New York Times a pass on this for stupidity or just bare ignorance.

You want to talk Indian farmer suicide?

I have one word for you... MONSANTO.

You know, the same “trigger-word” embedded in your post above.

You want to know why Indian farmers are taking their own lives as temperatures rise?  They loose their crops, farms and livelihood; then, they loose their lives (literally) in despair.  Genetically modified (patent protected) seed introduced into Indian agriculture years ago requires large amounts of artificial irrigation to thrive.  This destroys the farmers’ ability to farm based upon natural rainfall and requires (expensive) institutional farming techniques to yield results.

Traditional Indian farmers didn’t stand a chance.

This isn’t about global warming, this is about greed.

See... Monsanto Indian Farmer Suicide

Here's an idea for a Climate Conversations podcast... interview Dr. Stephanie Seneff from CSAIL (32-G438) and get her take on Monsanto, and Roundup too.