Southwest climate gap: poverty and environmental justice in the US Southwest

Margaret Wilder, Diana Liverman, Laurel Bellante, Tracey Osborne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


This article examines the “climate gap” in the Southwest US (Arizona and New Mexico), referring to the “disproportionate and unequal implications of climate change and climate change mitigation” for “people of color and the poor” [Shonkoff, S.B., et al., 2011. The climate gap: environmental health and equity implications of climate change mitigation policies in California. Climatic Change, 109 (Suppl. 1), S485–S503]. The climate and poverty relationship is examined using multi-scaled analysis across three indicators of climate vulnerability, focusing on connections to health, food, and energy during the period 2010–2012. We provide an overview of climate-related social vulnerability in the Southwest based on available federal, state, and county-level census data. We then summarise the results from a stakeholder workshop and in-depth interviews about climate vulnerabilities with social service providers in southern Arizona. We identify a significant Southwest climate gap based on census data and interview findings about climate vulnerability especially relating to high levels of poverty, health disparities, and increasing costs for energy, water, and food. We find that grassroots and community organisations have mobilised to respond to climate and social vulnerability, yet resources for mitigation and adaptation are insufficient given the high level of need. Confronting a changing climate that is projected to be hotter, drier, and with the potential to reach new thresholds, we suggest that more research needs to be done to understand the social and spatial characteristics of climate risk and how low-income populations embody and experience climate risk, and adapt to a changing climate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1332-1353
Number of pages22
JournalLocal Environment
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016


  • Climate justice
  • Southwest
  • climate gap
  • poverty
  • vulnerability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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