App State hosts workshop for rural climate change awareness

Attendees watch the workshop, April 8, 2022.

Zoey Sigmon

Attendees watch the workshop, April 8, 2022.

Zoey Sigmon, Reporter

App State hosted a workshop Friday to spread awareness about the impacts of climate change on rural, mountainous communities.

The workshop included presentations from four scientists and researchers across the state who  dedicate their time researching the effects of climate change and isolating key issues subject to the harm of these effects specific to this region.

Maggie Sugg is a professor in the Department of Geography and Planning department. She said most climate health literature covers urban areas and coastal communities but neglects the rural region. Sugg later spoke of climate and health correlations in her presentation. She  focused on three primary topics: heat-related illness, mental health and maternal health.

“We’re trying to build a community around identifying health and rural mountain requirements. We want to identify people interested in the topic, stakeholders and research needs,” Sugg said. 

In addition to presenting, Sugg also helped organize the workshop. Sugg said she and directors of the Institute of Health and Human Services and the Research Institute for Environment, Energy and Economics made collaborative efforts toward Friday’s event. 

Kathie Dello, state climatologist and director of the North Carolina State Climate Office, spoke about the direct connection between the atmosphere and climate change. Dello said awareness of this connectivity and its effects is essential to those in rural communities due to their dependence on agriculture. 

“There are economies dependent on agriculture … and thinking about food insecurity in some of these rural communities, obviously thinking about climate and agriculture is very important,” Dello said. 

Dello said climate models are the best indicators of our changing climate and its future and the most significant climate changes for the state’s rural regions include higher flood and temperature risks. She said a focus of the state needs to be on intellectualizing ways for people to survive and thrive in these communities despite the future and current threats.

Brian Byrd, a professor in the Environmental Health Sciences program at Western Carolina University, whose research focuses on native and domestic mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases, said rural areas are at the highest risk of mosquito-borne diseases in the state. 

Byrd’s priority of disease study, the La Crosse virus, originates from an eastern tree hole mosquito and is only transmittable through a bite. Byrd said due to the region’s population of dense hardwood trees, the likelihood of infections is high. 

Byrd said the virus severely affects children, causing them to live with prolonged issues stemming from the infection. Byrd also said there is no known cure for the disease aside from prevention. 

“We know we have an opportunity for intervention here,” Byrd said. “Just to sort of put it in economic terms, this disease is very costly and often, in fact, impacts your rural communities.”

Allison Crimmins, a climate scientist and director of the National Climate Assessment, U.S. Global Change Research Program, is currently working on the NCA five climate assessment, projected to release in 2023. The intention of Crimmins’ presentation was to provide information on climate change on a national level and provide a broader understanding of the issue. 

Crimmins said the new assessment has five primary objectives: advancing the conversation, making it accessible to a broad audience, being creative in communication, making it about people and ensuring it is useful and helpful.

“I hope we are able to really create memorable ways of conveying science that will help people put themselves or see themselves in the climate change story,” Crimmins said.