Rural Resilience

There is much research on vulnerability and resilience in urban communities, but much less about how rural communities and their populations are responding to natural and man-made hazards. More importantly, even the limited research that exists on rural resilience is narrowly focused, and does not sufficiently address the multifaceted problems of these communities.
– Siva Sureshwaran, US Department of Agriculture in Disaster Resiliency: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (Kapucu et al. 2013)

Rural community resilience is understudied and not fully understood. In an effort to explore how rural communities respond and adapt to disaster events, Dr. Ashley Ross partnered with sociologist Dr. Michael Fortunato, Director of the Center for Rural Studies at Sam Houston State University, and community consultant Neil Davidson, Collaborative Innovation Systems, to engage in and study a set of rural communities in Australia. The study communities were located in the Murray-Darling basin (an area spanning the states of New South Wales and Queensland). The project, funded by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority of the Australian Government, was focused on identifying how these communities may develop their economies and societies after suffering considerable economic losses and shifts in agriculture production, in the context of a new system of water allocation. It was evident, through multiple engagement sessions with key stakeholders (i.e. farmers, ranchers, local government officials, tourism directors, artists, retirees), that diversity was key to adaptation. The communities better equipped to adapt to the socioeconomic and environmental changes brought on by drought had diverse resources at their disposal. Moreover, all the communities of the study were in the process of pursuing community initiatives and local government programs to develop new businesses, expand education opportunities, and reduce housing and social inequities. These preliminary findings are still being explored; stay tuned for more.

Climate Adaptation

Climate change poses real challenges to local governance. The responsibilities of local governments to provide for community well-being across human (e.g. public health), built (e.g. infrastructure and zoning), and natural (e.g. environmental management) environments is – and will be to a greater degree in the future – influenced by the effects of climate change (e.g. increasing temperatures, sea level rise). It is, therefore, imperative that local governments take action to mitigate and reduce the risk to climate change impacts; however, there are a number of issues local governments must overcome to do so. These include: poorly defined roles and responsibilities, limited fiscal capacity, lack of professional and technical expertise (ranging from how to conduct a climate change risk assessment to how to use scientific data), unavailability of climate change risk information on the local level, lack of political will, and uncertainty about liability and land use implications of local climate change policies. How do local governments overcome these challenges to effectively address climate change on the local level? To answer this question, the research in progress assesses the hazard management practices of local administrators in Australia as compared to those in the United States. Interviews and surveys of local administrators in Australia will be conducted later this year. This project is a collaboration of Dr. Ashley Ross, Dr. Brian Gerber (Director of the Emergency Management and Homeland Security program at Arizona State University), and Dr. David Sanderson (Chair of the Architecture Department at the University of New South Wales). The findings of the project will help us to better understand the drivers of climate adaptation and innovation on the local level.

Millennial Generation

The Millennial Generation, young adults aged 18-35 years, have a unique perspective on politics and policy, including on environmental issues. Analyses of original survey and focus group data demonstrates that Millennials, in comparison to older adults, are more accepting of climate change science and prefer policies that incentivize shifts in environmental culture (i.e. use of alternative energy) over government regulation. In examination of the Millennial Generation, broadly, it is evident that this age cohort is less likely to engage in a traditional sense (see Dalton’s The Good Citizen 2008). Rather, Millennials feel strongly connected to the global community, are highly reliant on digital forms of information, and are more likely to participate by volunteering than voting. These norms and values are likely to shape how Millennials engage in their communities, including in ways that contribute to the development of resilience. These findings as well as others examining the issues of the economy, education, foreign policy, immigration, and the 2016 presidential election will be shared in the forthcoming book, The Politics of Millennials: Political Beliefs and Policy Preferences of America’s Most Diverse Generation. The book, co-authored by Dr. Ashley Ross and Dr. Stella Rouse, will be published by the University of Michigan Press.