By Jillian Randel
Consider the effects that a warming earth will have on the global economy. Ecological and environmental systems provide enormous benefits to the goods and services sector, reminding leaders that we live in a multi-layered, interconnected world. The Appalachian region presents a diverse array of economies susceptible to the impacts of climate change.
The forestry industry is a backbone economy in many Appalachian communities. Increased temperatures and increased levels of CO2 in the air — two side effects of climate change — have uncertain effects on tree growth. While increased CO2 could stimulate forest growth, warmer temperatures could inhibit long-term growth.
“The climate is not going to do anything unless CO2 continues to rise,” said John Seiler, forestry professor at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. “If CO2 rates doubled, for example, photosynthetic rates would double. Even if it’s possibly a little dryer trees may not care because they are eating twice as fast and don’t need to worry about eating when it’s dry.”
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics, Tennessee ranks second in the nation for hardwood lumber production. In 2000, the forest product industry accounted for 6.6% of the state’s GDP, generating 21.7 billion in economic output and providing 180,000 jobs. Tennessee is not the only state in the region whose economy relies on forestry and lumber production.
Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina all gain from the economic benefits of the timber industry.
Even if trees do gain from the short-term benefits of increased CO2, there is still a big question about long-term survival for trees that prefer cooler growing seasons. The timber industry will see a huge decline if hardwoods are replaced by softer trees that carry less commercial value.
“The level of uncertainty is really, really high,” said Seiler. “It’s not going to be whether one individual tree survives, it’s going to be changes in competition between trees that survive. Chestnut oak seems to be coping better than black oak, so you might find chestnut replacing black oak. Survival is about who responds the best in the future environment.”
National Parks and other preserved areas stimulate spending in areas that are far away from cities and other destination spots. Think of all the spending that occurs on vacations: motels, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, retail stores, grocery stores, gas, camping, the list goes on.
Changes to ecology and habitat could dramatically affect outdoor recreation. The effects of climate change could cause species to move north in search of water and cooler climates.
The Outdoor Industry Foundation estimates that outdoor recreation adds $730 billion dollars to the U.S. economy annually and the central Appalachian states see many of these benefits (see table above).
Preserving land through national and state parks, land trusts and community parks establishes protection of scenic areas, drinking water, cold water fisheries, capacity of the land for carbon storage, habitat for wildlife and recreational activities like hunting, climbing, paddling, camping, fishing and other outdoor sports.
According to the North Carolina Ski Areas Association, revenue generated by the ski industry in 2009-2010 amounted to $146 million dollars and provided over 100,000 jobs. Warmer winters will shorten ski seasons and provide less favorable weather for snow.
The environment is our main source of healthy air and water — naturally! Without functioning ecosystems we would have to spend more to filter air and purify drinking water. According to the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, the value of federally designated wilderness areas for watershed protection, carbon storage, climate regulation and waste treatment (nutrient cycling), is $174 per acre/per year. With those estimates, a forest like the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia provides a value of $7 million or more of ecosystem service per year.
“The thing with Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky is that people don’t realize that most states do not have deciduous forests and copious amounts of water,” said Sissie Summers, the Central Offices Programming Administrator for West Virginia state parks. “Most places have one or the other, or neither. People in Appalachia forget that we have things that most of the world doesn’t have, and they are affordable, generational, treasured places.”
Climate change is directly linked to economic development. The extent to which business relies on atmospheric changes ranges from harmful — a small fly fishing business in West Virginia to catastrophic — a multi-billion dollar lumber industry in a states like Tennessee. We live in an interconnected world and Appalachia is particularly susceptible to the trickle-down effects of a warming earth.