Date: 03 May 2011

Socio-economic impacts of climate change on rural United States

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Abstract

Directly or indirectly, positively or negatively, climate change will affect all sectors and regions of the United States. The impacts, however, will not be homogenous across regions, sectors, population groups or time. The literature specifically related to how climate change will affect rural communities, their resilience, and adaptive capacity in the United States (U.S.) is scarce. This article bridges this knowledge gap through an extensive review of the current state of knowledge to make inferences about the rural communities vulnerability to climate change based on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios. Our analysis shows that rural communities tend to be more vulnerable than their urban counterparts due to factors such as demography, occupations, earnings, literacy, poverty incidence, and dependency on government funds. Climate change impacts on rural communities differs across regions and economic sectors; some will likely benefit while others lose. Rural communities engaged in agricultural and forest related activities in the Northeast might benefit, while those in the Southwest and Southeast could face additional water stress and increased energy cost respectively. Developing adaptation and mitigation policy options geared towards reducing climatic vulnerability of rural communities is warranted. A set of regional and local studies is needed to delineate climate change impacts across rural and urban communities, and to develop appropriate policies to mitigate these impacts. Integrating research across disciplines, strengthening research-policy linkages, integrating ecosystem services while undertaking resource valuation, and expanding alternative energy sources, might also enhance coping capacity of rural communities in face of future climate change.

Research highlights

• Rural U.S. population is more vulnerable to climate change than urban counterparts. • Climate change impacts differ across regions and economic sectors. • Geography and vulnerability of rural communities impact climate change tradeoffs. • Local and regional studies to discern climate impacts on rural U.S. are needed. • A suite of policy actions is needed to enhance coping capacity of rural communities