Neelam Poudyal, University of Georgia, School of Forestry and Natural Resources
Cassandra Johnson Gaither - USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station, SRS-4952
Jeff Hepinstall-Cymerman, University of Georgia, School of Forestry and Natural Resources
Climate change studies indicate that gradual increases in temperature, precipitation and the frequency of heat waves will also deepen the vulnerability of human populations and will put more communities at risk. The growing literature on social vulnerability indicates that the resiliency of human life and community structures both depend on socioeconomic characteristics and environmental factors. Since climate change takes place gradually, the public may not appreciate the immediate danger from the effects of this global phenomenon. However, there are certain aspects of climate change that people can directly perceive. For example, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has indicated that heat waves increased significantly around the end of 20th century and early 21st century. The IPCC has also warned that the world will observe increased heat waves in the future. Increased heat effects are predicted to increase community vulnerability due to more heat-related illness and health care costs, energy consumption, declines in crop production, and more.
Research is needed regarding the actions that can be taken to increase the resiliency of local communities to climate change shocks. For example, appropriate land use planning, and promotion and adoption of innovative and cost effective air conditioning technology are solutions that could be adopted in the short-term. Similarly, urban communities facing intense heat island effects may benefit from appropriate land cover and land use planning and green vegetation management. A number of recent studies have established evidence that vegetation management could mediate heat effects in urban areas. If increasing canopy coverage could reduce the vulnerability of poor, tree-less communities in some urban areas, community or urban forestry programs could be a cost-effective long-term policy intervention. Such programs will not only buffer economically disadvantaged people from intense heat stress and related health problems, but also will increase community well-being by reducing residential energy costs, and bringing a number of ecosystem service co-benefits to the community. Understanding of the role of urban forestry in reducing climate change vulnerability could have important policy implications in terms of designing adaptive strategies and especially in developing heat emergency response plans at local and regional levels.
The objective of this research project is to evaluate the role of forest resources in reducing the community vulnerability specific to increased heat effect due to climate change. We will also explore how various levels of canopy coverage, the health of the forest, and different ownership and management systems affect this relationship.