Cultural knowledge and local vulnerability in African American Communities

Cultural knowledge and local vulnerability in African American Communities

Policymakers need to know what factors are most important in determining local vulnerability to facilitate effective adaptation to climate change. Quantitative vulnerability indices are helpful but are limited in their ability to capture subtle yet important aspects of vulnerability such as social networks, knowledge and access to resources.

A grant from CPO's Coastal and Ocean Climate Applications (COCA) program funded a project titled: "Overcoming the obstacles and capitalizing on the incentives for climate change adaptation in coastal environmental justice communities," which researchers investigated these very issues. A paper based on that research, "Cultural knowledge and local vulnerability in African American Communities," appeared in Nature Climate Change on June 8, 2015.

Working with three African American communities on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the researchers systematically elicit local cultural knowledge on climate change and connect it with a scientific vulnerability framework.

The results of this study show that: a given social–ecological factor can substantially differ in the way in which it affects local vulnerability, even among communities with similar demographics and climate-related risks; and social and political isolation inhibits access to sources of adaptive capacity, thereby exacerbating local vulnerability.

These results show that employing methods for analysing cultural knowledge can yield new insights to complement those generated by quantitative vulnerability indices. 

To view the paper in Nature Climate Change, visit:




Americans’ health, security and economic wellbeing are tied to climate and weather. Every day, we see communities grappling with environmental challenges due to unusual or extreme events related to climate and weather. In 2017, the United States experienced a record-tying 16 climate- and weather-related disasters where overall costs reached or exceeded $1 billion. Combined, these events claimed 362 lives, and had significant economic effects on the areas impacted, costing more than $306 billion. Businesses, policy leaders, resource managers and citizens are increasingly asking for information to help them address such challenges.


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