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Climate change’s role in Appalachia 

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

Climate change has a much bigger role in Appalachia than most people think.

At this point, everyone has heard about climate change and what it is doing to our planet. Many people ask similar questions such as, “Why should I care?” and “How does that affect me?” They should start by understanding what climate change is and why it is a bad thing.

At the most basic level, climate change is essentially the rapid heating and cooling of the earth, coupled with erratic weather patterns and unseasonable temperatures. There has been an obvious increase in these issues as humans have become involved.

“We want humans to be able to inhabit this earth longer than we have been here," says Griffin Dickson, a native Appalachian and former USDA employee. "If we don’t start to take climate change seriously, human beings will not be able to inhabit this earth for much longer."

Dickson has had a long career in agriculture and textiles. He has done significant research on sustainability and how fast fashion plays a role in these issues. He is now a marketing consultant and has had the opportunity to connect many important and influential clothing brands with the Real Good campaign. This campaign advocates for sustainable manufacturing practices, down to how the cotton is grown.

Humans are heavily impacting climate change, and fast fashion and consumerism are two of the biggest factors in this. Humans want the next new thing all the time, causing waste and rapid consumption of valuable resources. It is a vicious cycle that seems to see no end.

Climate change is affecting a lot more than just the weather. In many areas, it is hindering access to sustainable food sources in communities that need it most. Anywhere between 30-50% of the food supply in this country goes to waste because it is not visually pleasing.

“We don’t have a problem of not having enough food in this country, we have a problem of food distribution in this country,” says Dickson.

Food insecurity, especially in our region, is a big issue that many communities face. Many rural Appalachian communities are not given the same access to stable food sources. Unfortunately, we are seeing a rise in this all over the country.

“There is an area on the West Coast of the country that provides the main source of fresh produce for the whole country. Due to the lack of rain and snowfall, they are literally out of water,” says Sterffi Rausch.

Rausch is the Western North Carolina Chapter Leader for Citizens’ Climate Lobby. She is a constant advocate for the Climate Lobby and their state. She has helped push for more sustainable farming practices within her state.

This is happening in many other places and is creating a scary reality. Without predictable weather patterns, farming is much more difficult.

“It is already so hard to be a farmer, and adding in the erratic weather patterns is going to create so much of a challenge that you almost would have to stop doing it," says Anne Grier. "At some point you will have to stop doing it because you have to do something to make money."

Grier works on a farm within the Appalachian region called Gaining Ground Farm. Over the past couple of years, erratic weather patterns have created many issues. There was a drastic flooding event that nearly wiped out all of their crops, but because of their farming practices and having a full crop season, there was no free soil for the excess water to penetrate.

Appalachian farming happens on significantly smaller scales. Most are family-owned farms that thrive on the success of crops and products, but erratic weather patterns are drastically affecting the success of crops.

The big freeze around Christmas wiped out a lot of crops. Flooding has grown to be a big issue in this region. Due to drought and floods, the soil is building a tolerance to holding water. This soil is usually not usable for at least one crop season, causing a loss in profits from the absence of that crop.

“People will start selling their land and resources because they are not able to make money," says Grier. "Land value is increasing as climate change increases because we are living in a very desirable region farming-wise."

Land within this region is highly valuable, so if people do not start taking care of it, they might run out of luck and resources one day. All of this to say: supporting local farms and knowing where your food comes from is very important.

Climate change is a very big issue and if people do not advocate for a change, they may not be around long enough to see one.

Below are some resources for how you can get involved.


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