Understanding the interactions between Social Capital, climate change, and community resilience in Gulf of Mexico coastal counties

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Conference Paper

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Coastal communities in the Gulf of Mexico are facing new and complex challenges as their physical environment is altered by climate warming and sea level rise. To effectively prepare for environmental changes, coastal communities must build resilience in both physical structures and social structures. One measure of social structure resilience is how much social capital a community possesses. Social capital is defined as the connections among individuals which result in networks with shared norms, values and understandings that facilitate cooperation within or among groups. Social capital exists in three levels; bonding, bridging and linking. Bonding social capital is a measure of the strength of relationships amongst members of a network who are similar in some form. Bridging social capital is a measure of relationships amongst people who are dissimilar in some way, such as age, education, or race/ethnicity. Finally Linking social capital measures the extent to which individuals build relationships with institutions and individuals who have relative power over them (e.g local government, educational institutions). Using census and American Community Survey data, we calculated a Social Capital index value for bonding, bridging and linking for 60 Gulf of Mexico coastal counties for the years 2000, and 2010 to 2015. To investigate the impact of social capital on community resilience we coupled social capital index values with physical datasets of land-use/land cover, sea level change, climate, elevation and surface water quality for each coastal county in each year. Preliminary results indicate that in Gulf of Mexico coastal counties, increased bonding social capital results in decreased population change. In addition, we observed a multi-year time lag in the effect of increased bridging social capital on population stability, potentially suggesting key linkages between the physical and social environment in this complex coupled-natural human system. This transdisciplinary study integrated physical and social open science data and provides a better understanding on how increased social capital improves resilience to changes in the physical environment. Thus, by investing in social capital, local governments may have a low cost and non-structural way of increasing community resilience.





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Additional authors: Page, Courtney M; Sherchan, SP; Tobias, VD; Wu, H