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Video: Rural Communities, Wellsprings of Life, Besieged by Climate Change

With just 20 percent of the U.S.'s people living on 95 percent of the land, climate change's impact on cities is profound, but indirect.
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From flood to famine, the 20 percent of people who live in rural areas of the U.S. are on the front lines of climate change.

But although they live remotely, they do not live in isolation, warns David Hales, the convening lead author of the Rural chapter of President Barack Obama’s National Climate Assessment released earlier this year.

“Rural america, if you look at a map, you’ll see that that 95 percent of our country is classified as rural,” Hales says in this video summation of the chapter created along with others by The Story Group. “About 20 percent of the people in America live in those areas that are classified as rural. But we’re all dependent on it.”

That 95 percent of U.S. land “is where our water comes from, it’s where our energy comes from, it’s where our food and fiber come from, it’s the source of literally all of the desirable biodiversity that we have in the country,” he points out. “So there’s a direct relationship to the vast majority who live in cities and those few people who live in the rural areas. And climate change is hitting those rural areas in ways that will disrupt most of those relationships over the next 50 to 60 years.”

In affecting every facet of rural life—from growing seasons to water availability to disease patterns, to name a few—climate change will have a profound impact on cities. Effects on agriculture and tourism will influence the food supply and economy, for instance. In south Florida alone, Hales says, $1 billion will be lost annually in tourism-related income over the next 40 to 50 years just because of the sea level rise.

The climate assessment shows, ”without shadow of doubt, scientifically founded,” that we are already experiencing the impacts of climate change.

“And the implications of that for human behavior underscore something that is really, really important,” he says, “and that is we have a choice as to how we react to those. But we don’t have a choice if we don’t recognize what’s happening.”

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