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Why Does Appalachia Need to Focus on Climate Resilience Today?


Why Does Appalachia Need to Focus on Climate Resilience Today?

Invest Appalachia is designed to accelerate both the flow of financial resources to the region’s underserved communities, as well as the intangibles of capacity, shared analysis, and collaboration. By incentivizing climate resilience and sustainable development practices within IA’s own investment priorities, we hope regional and national partners will join us in enabling rural communities to build resilience from the ground up.

Central Appalachia is a complex region consisting of six states (KY, WV, TN, OH, VA, and NC) within the larger Appalachian region spanning from Maine to Alabama. In analyzing the predicted impacts of the climate crisis, empirical evidence, though limited to date, indicates that Appalachia as a region is relatively well-positioned geographically to adapt to climate related challenges (PLACE Initiative, 2022). As a result, it will likely see an influx of migrants from other regions within the United States. While we advocate for more publicly-available future research into the topic, we need to begin planning and preparing our communities for that reality now.

This effort presents unprecedented challenges and opportunities for innovation and impact in the fields of community economic development, economic justice, sustainable development, and impact investment. The geostrategic position of the region and its resources, being within five hours driving range from most metropolitan areas East of the Mississippi, presents varying conflict and security implications vis-a-vis migration in the decades to come.

A shared understanding of this climate-impacted future is essential to securing livelihoods in the near term and preparing the region to be a likely destination for in-migration as the country, particularly the East coast and southern region, is projected to face more frequent and severe climate shocks.

Here, we aim to outline the challenges and opportunities Central Appalachia will encounter related to community and economic development through a climate lens. Specifically, we must understand the opportunity to mitigate the impacts of climate shocks on already vulnerable rural communities. This baseline analysis will be critical to advancing long-term climate resilience, as well as environmental and economic justice in the region.

The extraction of Appalachia’s natural resources has fueled economic growth of the United States for generations, while the industries associated with this extraction contributed directly to the climate crisis itself. All the while, working families in rural Appalachian communities received little benefit from this extraction and bore the brunt of the economic, environmental, health, and social costs of this country’s extraction-based energy economy (Crosson, 2021) (Zipper & Skousen, 2021). In fact, economic and environmentally motivated migration are central facets of the region’s past, present, and future.

As we look forward, it is clear that Appalachia will become increasingly relevant nationally and internationally in the coming decades due to its role as a natural carbon sink and as a globally-significant site of ecological diversity that is juxtaposed by defaced mountains, fouled waterways, and other legacy impacts of fossil fuel extraction (The Nature Conservancy, 2022).

Invest Appalachia is committed to building more equitable and sustainable economic markets within our region. Necessary to achieving that objective is the recognition that the climate crisis will challenge and exacerbate existing inequalities (and is doing so already). Doing this work in a region with existing economic challenges requires the assembly of collaborative infrastructure to move tailored and targeted resources to the ground, in support of a climate resilient future.

Invest Appalachia is committed to continued research and exploration in the areas outlined in this report. Our next step is to begin work alongside partners. Our deepest hope is that this analysis contributes to a regional response that will sustain our region’s land, people, culture, and economies for generations to come. We welcome any and all partners in this dialogue and this shared pursuit.

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