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Two UNG faculty members contribute to Georgia Climate Research Roadmap

2018-07-06-JamieMitchem-MelissaHopkinson
University of North Georgia faculty members, Dr. Jamie Mitchem and Dr. Melissa Hopkinson were two of 41 professionals from academia, government, nonprofits, and private industries took climate change issues in Georgia seriously and developed the "Georgia Climate Research Roadmap." The consortium devised a list of 40 key research questions to help policymakers and practitioners better understand and address climate change in Georgia.

Dr. Jamie Mitchem, professor of geography in the Institute for Environmental and Spatial Analysis at the University of North Georgia (UNG), said when people think of climate change, they tend to focus on other regions, such as melting polar ice caps and rising sea levels on the beaches.

"We don’t realize the impact in our own backyard," he said. "But if we do realize it is happening here, we take it more seriously."

Mitchem and 40 professionals from academia, government, nonprofits, and private industries took climate change issues in Georgia seriously and developed the "Georgia Climate Research Roadmap." The consortium devised a list of 40 key research questions to help policymakers and practitioners better understand and address climate change in Georgia. The questions were published in May in the journal "Environmental Management."

"The really exciting thing about the article is it is new and something that's never been done," Mitchem said. "It's very specific to Georgia, and it will help the state prepare and mitigate any losses from climate change."

Mitchem believes the top three questions affecting the northeast Georgia region include: the availability, quality and quantity of water; shifts in agriculture and productivity; and increase in population.

"Those are the top three concerns in my opinion," Mitchem said, adding that water and agriculture affect more than the environment. "Those two are economically important to our area."

Dr. Melissa Hopkinson, instructor of geography, geology and earth science at UNG, agreed with Mitchem about water and agriculture. Her third concern focused on the question about the ecosystem sensitivity in the north Georgia mountains and streams.

Examples of the 40 questions asked include:

  • What short-, mid- and long-term climate impact scenarios should Georgia be planning for?
  • How will climate change impact food security in Georgia?
  • What ecosystem services are most at risk in Georgia due to climate change?
  • What are the most significant climate-related health threats for communities in Georgia?

The questions cover 10 topics: weather and climate; ecosystems in Georgia; oceans and coasts; agriculture, forestry and food; water; energy and transportation; human health; communities and infrastructure; human values, social equity and environmental justice; and mitigation and adaptation across multiple sectors and scales.

The 41 co-authors explained the reasons behind each question. Representing UNG were Mitchem and  Hopkinson. Other representatives were from Emory University, the University of Georgia, Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia Southern University, Agnes Scott College, College of Coastal Georgia, and North Carolina State University.

Nonprofit groups, private companies and government agencies were also part of the consortium, including Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Atlanta Regional Commission, and Turner Foundation.

"It wasn't just universities," Mitchem said. "These groups are not always known for collaborating. The approach and perspectives we take are very different."

He said the ultimate goal of all involved was to identify the major issues for Georgia.

"The next step is to develop research to answer or try to answer these questions," Mitchem said.

He also pointed out the consortium tried to stay as nonpolitical as possible during its process.

"Our job is to inform them of the facts," he said. "It's the legislators' job to make policy. The overall idea, though, is to be proactive and prevent some of the real damage as the climate changes."

Hopkinson said she hopes the general public is also informed about the challenges Georgia is facing regarding climate change.

"I think the first question we need to address deals with education," she said. "We need to ask 'What are Georgians' attitudes, perception, and knowledge about climate change?' and "How are the challenges of climate change best communicated to Georgians?'"

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