Climate Change Impacts

Climate Impacts on Society

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As a society, we have structured our day-to-day lives around historical and current climate conditions. We are accustomed to a normal range of conditions and may be sensitive to extremes that fall outside of this range.

Climate change could affect our society through impacts on a number of different social, cultural, and natural resources. For example, climate change could affect human health, infrastructure, and transportation systems, as well as energy, food, and water supplies.

Some groups of people will likely face greater challenges than others. Climate change may especially impact people who live in areas that are vulnerable to coastal storms, drought, and sea level rise or people who live in poverty, older adults, and immigrant communities. Similarly, some types of professions and industries may face considerable challenges from climate change. Professions that are closely linked to weather and climate, such as outdoor tourism, commerce, and agriculture, will likely be especially affected.

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Map showing population change in the US, from <-50% to >500%.The percentage change in population across the United States from 1970 to 2008. In recent decades, population has grown rapidly in coastal areas and in the southern and western regions of the United States. Source: USGCRP (2009)

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Impacts on Vulnerability and Equity

Projected climate change will affect certain groups of people more than others, depending on where they live and their ability to cope with different climate hazards. In some cases, the impacts of climate change are expected to worsen existing vulnerabilities.

Geographic Location

Where people live influences their vulnerability to climate change.

  • Over the past four decades, population has grown rapidly in coastal areas and in the southern and western regions of the United States. These areas are most sensitive to coastal storms, drought, air pollution, and heat waves. [1]
  • Populations in the Mountain West will likely face water shortages and increased wildfires in the future. [1]
  • Arctic residents will likely experience problems caused by thawing permafrost and reduced sea ice. [1]
  • Along the coasts and across the western United States, both increasing population and changes in climate place growing demands on transportation, water, and energy infrastructure. [1] [2]