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Climate change impacts unfolding in Tennessee


The iconic wild ramp of Southern Appalachia may be one of the ecological and cultural casualties of climate change, according to the latest Federal Climate Change Report. That probably won’t ever be a national news headline but the potential demise of that humble plant, mentioned by name in the report, highlights the vulnerability of our region to the effects of climate change.

You may have missed it but less than a year ago, FOX 17 News in Nashville reported on the Federal Climate Change Report’s assessment of impacts to Tennessee. The report, developed by 13 federal agencies and a team of more than 300 scientists and experts from local, state and federal government and the private sector outlined impacts to the region.

The findings of the report included, not surprisingly, more and longer periods of excessive heat, an increase in extreme downpours and flooding, more and longer periods of drought and an increase in the number and severity of wildfires and vector-borne diseases in the region.

The report goes on to say changing winter temperature extremes, wildfire patterns, floods and droughts, among other factors, are expected to redistribute species and change our local ecosystems, affecting resources we depend on for “livelihoods, protection, and well-being.”

“For example, certain insect species, including mosquitoes and tree-damaging beetles, are expected to move northward in response to climate change, which could affect human health and timber supplies,” the report says. “And some bird species, including certain ducks, are not expected to migrate as far south in response to milder winters, which could affect birding and hunting recreational opportunities.”

Intra-annual droughts, like the one in 2016, are expected to become more frequent in the future and devastating wildfires along with it. Agriculture and drinking water supplies will be affected.

The executive summary of the report, found at noted that poorer areas, like many of our rural, Northeast Tennessee counties, may be impacted more significantly because of vulnerable infrastructure, the inability to “respond robustly” to disasters, inadequate health care and other resources, and the associated impacts to transportation and the economy. Most county and municipal governments in the area struggle with maintaining infrastructure and services as it is, without the compounding factors of advancing climate change effects. Rural southeast residents will see increasing demand on electrical grids and heating and cooling costs.

Emergency management and first responder agencies will face challenges. According to the report, the healthcare system in the Southeast is already overburdened and has seen more rural hospital closings than any other region. Tennessee is among the top five states for hospital closures.

West Nile virus has already made its way into the state. Dengue, Zika and others could follow. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “illnesses from mosquito, tick, and flea bites have tripled in the U.S. and nine new germs spread by mosquitoes and ticks have been discovered or introduced.

It would be foolhardy to sit and twiddle our thumbs while we watch catastrophe continue to unfold, but what can we do in the face of such large and varied problems? The idea of preparing for the worst while working for the best seems like a good strategy to me. For some, that may mean installing solar panels, improving home insulation or upgrading to a more efficient vehicle to reduce their carbon footprint.

Trying to prepare to be less dependent on goods and services from vulnerable infrastructure, as individuals, families and communities should be coupled with working toward solutions, locally, nationally and globally.

That strategy could encompass many things but one area for which there are resources to help citizens prepare is the aftermath of natural disasters. The federal government provides  guidelines for individuals, families, farms and businesses to prepare for such events at

To be in a position to help others when local resources are stressed by critical incidents, become certified as an emergency medical responder or for a community emergency response team, or CERT. Licensed ham radio operators can become vital links in the chain of communication when phone and internet services are interrupted. The Tennessee State Forestry website provides strategies to prevent and minimize damage to property from wildfires.

Climate change should be on the radar of our local elected officials and their constituents should be engaging them in helpful conversations to develop plans to halt or reverse it and manage the impacts. Ditto for our state and national representatives.

The good news is that as more data emerges, more people are taking a common sense look at what the potential outcomes and solutions are. By using Earthwise strategies we can adapt to and overcome the threat posed by climate change. We must if we’re going to avoid disaster.