Quick Takes

Kentucky among the most vulnerable states to climate change impacts, according to new research

By: - October 2, 2023 1:21 pm

Flooding in Breathitt County, July 2022. (Photo by Michael Swensen/Getty Images)

A new index measuring 184 categories of public data across more than 70,000 census tracts in the country shows Kentucky communities, particularly Eastern Kentucky, among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. 

The U.S. Climate Vulnerability Index, created in collaboration by researchers at Texas A&M University and the nonprofit advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund, aims to show which communities have existing challenges with health outcomes, environmental pollution and infrastructure coupled with the risks communites face from climate change impacts such as increased flooding, heatwaves and more. 

Environmental Defense Fund Senior Health Scientist Grace Tee Lewis in a statement said with the recent “historic” influx of federal funding to state and local governments, the “right investments need to flow to the right places for the biggest impact.” 

“The CVI equips and enables communities, policymakers and organizations to proactively address vulnerabilities and enhance resilience in the face of a changing climate,” Lewis said. 

According to the index, Whitley, Knox and Floyd counties in Eastern Kentucky are among the top ten counties most vulnerable to climate change impacts. Large swaths of Eastern Kentucky and some parts of Central and West Kentucky making up 28 counties are in the top 10% of vulnerability. 

Specific addresses can be searched to see the vulnerabilities of communities to climate change across the state, narrowed down to specific census tracts. 

Among the strongest drivers of vulnerability in Kentucky include:

  • Chronic disease, defined as the number of adults diagnosed with long-term health conditions.
  • Disaster-related deaths, defined as how “climate disasters” could increase deaths in a community.
  • House Composition and Disability, defined as the quality and accessibility of housing in a community.

In past years, another data analysis by the nonprofit First Street Foundation showed much of Kentucky susceptible to increased flooding risk due to climate change impacts, particularly in lower-income communities.

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Liam Niemeyer
Liam Niemeyer

Liam covers government and policy in Kentucky and its impacts throughout the Commonwealth for the Kentucky Lantern. He most recently spent four years reporting award-winning stories for WKMS Public Radio in Murray.