Environment

Study: Atlanta Communities Are Vulnerable To Climate Change

A new study finds that climate change poses a greater risk to people in Atlanta than in some other parts of the state.
A new study finds that climate change poses a greater risk to people in Atlanta than in some other parts of the state.
Credit GREGOR SMITH / FLICKR.COM/FLC

In Georgia, the people most vulnerable to climate change are in the metro Atlanta area, according to a new study by scientists at the University of Georgia.

Climate change is likely to increase the temperature, cause flooding and drought and raise sea levels in Georgia. However, those aren’t just problems for people on the coast or for farmers, said Marshall Shepherd, the director of the atmospheric sciences program at UGA. That’s because cities have more concrete and old infrastructure.

“You have an urban heat island; you have the background warming, and you have the propensity for more flooding,” Shepherd said.

Plus, he explained, Atlanta has a less adaptable population: a lot of poor people without health or flood insurance — and even people without air conditioning.

“Marginalized populations and groups will always bear more of the brunt of changing climate,” Shepherd said.

The other areas most at risk are the southwest corner of the state and the coast. The study was published in the journal, Applied Geography.

Another paper published this week looks at how many people will be exposed to extreme heat as the climate changes. Within the next 50 or 60 years, Atlanta could get a lot hotter.

“You could easily see up to 40 more days, let’s say 40 to 50 even, more days, with temperatures being above 95 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Linda Mearns, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

She was a co-author on the paper, published in Nature Climate Change. She said for public health agencies and urban planners to prepare, it’s not just the temperature that matters.

“These other things that are going to be changing like population and how they’re distributed can be as important as the climate change itself,” she said.

Southeast states that border the Atlantic Ocean continue to add population. Mearns said when you multiply the projected number of people in our region, with the number of expected days over 95 degrees, it could add up to more than 2 billion extra days of extreme heat exposure a year.