Climate change affects all Americans—regardless of socioeconomic status—and many impacts are projected to worsen as temperatures and sea levels continue to rise, snow and rainfall patterns shift, and some extreme weather events become more common.1 A growing body of literature focuses on the disproportionate and unequal risks that climate change is projected to have on communities that are least able to anticipate, cope with, and recover from adverse impacts. Many studies have discussed climate change impacts on socially vulnerable populations, but few have quantified disproportionate risks to socially vulnerable groups across multiple impacts and levels of global warming.
This report contributes to a better understanding of the degree to which four socially vulnerable populations—defined based on income, educational attainment, race and ethnicity, and age—may be more exposed to the highest impacts of climate change in six categories: Air Quality and Health; Extreme Temperature and Health; Extreme Temperature and Labor; Coastal Flooding and Traffic; Coastal Flooding and Property; and Inland Flooding and Property.
Specifically, the analyses presented in this report first identify the areas in the contiguous United States (U.S.) where impacts are projected to be the highest under future global temperature change and sea level rise. For example, the Extreme Temperature and Labor analysis estimates where weather exposed workers are projected to lose the most labor hours due to high-temperature days, and the Coastal Flooding and Property analysis estimates where the highest percentage of property is projected to be inundated due to sea level rise. Next, the analyses estimate the likelihood that those who are socially vulnerable live in these areas compared to those who are not. This determination is based on current demographic distributions and projected changes in climate hazards under different levels of global warming and sea level rise. The result is a consistent measure of the disproportionate risk to socially vulnerable individuals, which can be compared across groups, regions, and impact categories.