The Regions

Explore The Regions

The Risky Business analysis builds on the research and analytical work done over the past several decades by international climate scientists and economists, including the recent National Climate Assessment (NCA), released in early May 2014. The Risky Business Project takes as our unit of measurement the National Climate Assessment regions, which are organized loosely around shared geologic characteristics and climate impacts. 10 These are: Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, Great Plains, Northwest, Alaska, and Hawaii.

However, we went even deeper than the NCA, conducting analysis down to the county level in some cases, and also focusing on key economic sectors. We overlaid our regional climate impact findings with an economic analysis showing the potential cost of these impacts within those regions and sectors. Below, we explore the most striking findings from each region. To view the independent research team's complete risk assessment, visit


In a country as large and diverse as the U.S., it does not make sense to aggregate the highly localized economic impacts of climate change into one headline number. Take the case of Hurricane Katrina: In the last quarter of 2005, every state in the nation prospered except the state of Louisiana, which lost 1.6% of Gross State Product (GSP) as businesses were shuttered and workers stayed home; 11 meanwhile the following year, storm recovery activities in Louisiana (e.g., construction) actually increased the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by half a percent.12 Indeed, most economic successes and disasters in the U.S. happen at the individual metropolitan, state, and occasionally multi-state level.

Regions also have a cultural dimension: Americans often think of themselves as “belonging" to specific regions, according to Joel Garreau's famous 1981 book The Nine Nations of North America. Garreau posits that Americans live in nine completely different cultural and economic zones. He writes: “Each has a peculiar economy; each commands a certain emotional allegiance from its citizens. These nations look different, feel different, and sound different from each other, and few of their boundaries match the political lines drawn on current maps." 13 Garreau's observations underscore the fact that as mobile as many Americans are, we're still often unwilling or unable to move out of our home regions simply because of weather or economic changes.

The regional nature of climate impacts and the regional nature of the overall American economy and cultural identity mean that there may not be one single national response to the risks highlighted by the Risky Business Project. But the reality of these impacts, especially in the Southwest and Southeast—which will likely experience the most extreme heat and sea level rise over this century—may also mean that Americans have no choice but to migrate to cooler and more livable areas, disrupting lives, livelihoods, and regional identities formed over generations.

Explore the Regions


10 U.S. Global Change Research Program, “Regions & Topics," available at (last accessed June 2014).

11 U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, “News Release: Gross State Product," June 6, 2006, available at

12 U.S. Economics and Statistics Administration, “The Gulf Coast: Economic Impact & Recovery One Year after the Hurricanes" (Department of Commerce, 2006) available at

13 Joel Garreau, The Nine Nations of North America (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981).