Explaining differential vulnerability to climate change: A social science review

Kimberley Thomas, R. Dean Hardy, Heather Lazrus, Michael Mendez, Ben Orlove, Isabel Rivera-Collazo, J. Timmons Roberts, Marcy Rockman, Benjamin P. Warner, Robert Winthrop

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

399 Scopus citations


The varied effects of recent extreme weather events around the world exemplify the uneven impacts of climate change on populations, even within relatively small geographic regions. Differential human vulnerability to environmental hazards results from a range of social, economic, historical, and political factors, all of which operate at multiple scales. While adaptation to climate change has been the dominant focus of policy and research agendas, it is essential to ask as well why some communities and peoples are disproportionately exposed to and affected by climate threats. The cases and synthesis presented here are organized around four key themes (resource access, governance, culture, and knowledge), which we approach from four social science fields (cultural anthropology, archaeology, human geography, and sociology). Social scientific approaches to human vulnerability draw vital attention to the root causes of climate change threats and the reasons that people are forced to adapt to them. Because vulnerability is a multidimensional process rather than an unchanging state, a dynamic social approach to vulnerability is most likely to improve mitigation and adaptation planning efforts. This article is categorized under: Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change > Values-Based Approach to Vulnerability and Adaptation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere565
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Atmospheric Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Explaining differential vulnerability to climate change: A social science review'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this