Regional Effects of Climate Change, Part 2
There is no part of the world where climate change will not impact nearly every aspect of life.
According to the 4th National Climate Assessment, its impact will vary by region. Across the US, each state will experience climate change differently, depending on its local industries, infrastructure, and culture.
This article will cover the Southwest, Northern Great Plains, Southern Great Plains, Alaska, and Hawaii & Pacific Islands. If your region is not covered, you can read about it in part one of this series. LINK
Understanding how climate change will affect the area you live in can help you prepare and support your community. As you'll see in this article, some of the best actions we can take as individuals are to advocate for changes in our community.
The Southwest is home to cowboy lore, arid landscapes, natural wonders like the Grand Canyon, and many Native American tribes. This region can expect to get hotter and drier in the coming decades, thanks to climate change.
Natural resources: Climate change will intensify water shortages for people and animals who live in this region. Severe droughts and destructive flooding will damage existing infrastructure and water supplies. States like California will experience megadroughts (severe droughts that last up to ten years), which will make it difficult to regularly access clean water for everyday things like brushing your teeth.
Human livelihoods: Extreme events such as wildfires will disrupt the natural ecosystems that Native tribes rely on for their livelihoods. The changing physical environments threaten traditional foods, cultural resources like beargrass, and the spiritual practices of Indigenous people local to this region.
Energy: The energy created with hydropower and fossil fuels will likely suffer shortages because both energy sources require reliable access to water. As seasons get hotter and severe droughts become more frequent, the electricity of many residents could be at risk.Energy blackouts will impact things like food refrigeration, accessing the internet, and running the air conditioning—the latter of which will become crucial to human survival during the increasingly hot summer months.
What you can do:
-If you're a homeowner, consider switching to solar energy.
-Take action to reduce your carbon footprint.
-Support organizations like the Southwest Indian Relief Council Program, which provides research and funding to Native tribes in the region.
Northern Great Plains
When you think of the Northern Great Plains, you might think of whiskey, cattle ranchers, the Grand Tetons, and maybe even John Mayer. This region is composed of vast plateaus and stunning mountain ranges. Climate change will affect industries that many citizens rely on for their livelihoods.
Recreation & tourism: Recreational activities like skiing and river rafting play a huge role in the regional economy. A warming climate means shorter winters, less snow, and lower summer streamflows.
Agriculture: This region is crucial for the country's food security. Recent changes in the regional climate (like longer growing seasons) have actually benefited agricultural industries in this area. But that's not expected to stick as the weather gets more extreme and water sources become strained.
Energy: The Northern Great Plains are energy abundant. It supplies many in the US with crude oil, natural gas, coal, wind, and stored water energy. Extreme weather will add risk to existing infrastructure and the supply of power to people around the country.
What you can do:
-Support local efforts to increase energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions.
-Join or support local climate change action groups like the Northern Plains Resource Council.
-Plant a tree and reduce your carbon footprint
Southern Great Plains
The Southern Great Plains are known for being hot, dry, and full of oil. Composed of only three states (Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas), this region has very diverse weather patterns, such as tornadoes, ice storms, heat waves, and droughts. As you can imagine, these will get a lot more extreme with climate change.
Energy, food, & water: The population of this region is rapidly growing, especially in urban areas. This influx of people is expected to increase in the coming decades, increasing the demand for food, energy, and water. Severe droughts and other weather events will constrain energy and food production, and limit access to clean water for the 34 million people who live there.
Ecosystems: Extreme droughts, unprecedented floods, and wildfires are changing the landscapes and ecosystems of this region. As a result, certain animal species will be forced to either adapt or move.
Human health: Rising temperatures increase the threat of heat-related illnesses and diseases from food, water, and insects. Extreme weather events like hurricanes and tornadoes will increase, so physical injuries and population displacement will also increase.
What you can do:
-Support legislation that puts a price on carbon.
-Invest in alternative energy sources such as wind and solar. Websites like Sage Energy can help you find local and affordable solar companies.
-Plant more trees!
Alaska is the biggest and coldest state in the nation. It's home to the largest bears in the world, an abundance of natural resources, and, of course, a lot of ice! Hotter temperatures, melting icebergs, and rising sea levels are reshaping Alaska.
Wildlife: Part of what makes Alaska so unique is its wildlife. Melting ice and ocean acidification will disrupt Alaskan marine life habitats. Animals like polar bears and walruses rely on Alaska’s ice to forage, reproduce, and rest. This is resulting in declining populations and behavioral changes in both species.
Human health: The health of residents is at risk as the warming climate will decrease food and water security and introduce new infectious diseases. People living in rural areas will face significant health threats from extreme weather like storms and flooding, threatening access to regular food sources. Alaskans are already seeing an increase in venomous insect stings because warmer weather is extending the range of insects and arthropods.
Economic: Rising sea levels and destructive storms will change Alaska's economy, which will put marine life industries (like fishing) at risk. Further, coastal erosion and thawing permafrost will threaten existing infrastructure and cost the state roughly $3.7 billion by the end of the century.
What you can do:
-Join or support organizations like the Alaska Conservation Foundation that protect Alaska's wildlife, coastlines, and mountains from the impacts of climate change.
-Support renewable energy projects and reduce your carbon footprint.
Hawaii & Pacific Islands
These islands have an abundance of wildlife and flora, natural beauty, and indigenous cultures. While island life is synonymous with relaxation, the impacts of climate change will not be very chill.
Ocean resources: Island communities rely on fisheries and coral reefs for their livelihood. Rising ocean temperatures and increased acidification are bleaching and destroying the reef structures, which supply the fishing industry with its product.
Indigenous life: The indigenous people of this region rely on the land and natural resources for livelihood. Things like rising sea levels will impact access to freshwater and change local ecosystems. Not only will this impact the physical health of communities, but it will affect the transfer of traditional knowledge and practices because some are place-based and intergenerational.
Water: Thanks to droughts, changing rainfall patterns, and extreme flooding, freshwater supplies are at growing risk of saltwater contamination. This could catastrophically impact both water and food production for the Island communities.
What you can do:
-Support Indigenous organizations like Ke Kula Nui O Waimānalo that teach self-sustainable practices to their communities.
-Fight for better management of watersheds and freshwater systems.
-Purchase from sustainable fisheries.
Some of these issues may seem complicated to solve. The good news is that there are a lot of smart solutions to climate change problems. You can play an active role in fighting climate change by working to reduce your carbon footprint by planting trees.