About a month ago I was introduced to the Hoosier Resilience Index (https://hri.eri.iu.edu/). I’ve been aware of this unfolding project during the year, and have more recently been able to look at the compilation of data and analysis which has resulted. This is an impressive set of interactive maps and questions that will allow anyone to explore the latest climate change science related to Indiana and Indiana communities.

The Hoosier Resilience Index (HRI) is created in part with local governments and decision-makers in mind, but it is really a tool for any interested and concerned person to look at. This makes sense since the government is staffed by people with questions and concerns just like everyone else. There are two main components to the index. One part is a Readiness Assessment, and is a set of evaluations for local governments to complete and report on so they can plan for environmental and climate impacts. This is an important exercise for us in Goshen as we continue to work on our Climate Action Plan.

The other part looks at climate vulnerability and “presents data on four metrics (heat, precipitation, land use, and socio-demographics) for every incorporated city and town and every county within the state of Indiana. All data come from credible, publicly available government or university sources.” (HRI)

Within the Climate Vulnerability portion of the index, I am able to find details about what some of the impacts of climate change are projected to be. These data can be searched by municipality or by county. So for instance, I can search Elkhart County, and see that our number of extreme precipitation events (defined as average number of days per decade with more than 2 inches of precipitation) are projected to rise slightly between now and 2050 — from 10 to 12 days. Then I can look at an interactive map, and select Floodplain from a number of other data layers (including Land Use and People). This map now shows me the 100-year floodplain and the 500-year floodplain — the low-lying areas in the county where water will spill and gather in extreme precipitation events.

I can then zoom in on Goshen, or simply switch my search to Goshen, which immediately draws in the boundaries of the city. Using census tract information, the map ranks various vulnerability characteristics (socioeconomics, household composition and disability, minority status and language), and allows me to see how those characteristics are spread around Goshen. In this case, I’m looking to see where these characteristics with the highest vulnerability are located in relation to the floodplain. What I see is that there are significant parts of our population which have high vulnerability to flood.

Of course, we know some of this already from very recent memory — historic flooding in 2018 and more flooding again in 2019. The power of this index along with the mapping is that it is clear to see and available to all of us. No one needs to ask for special access to this information. And I don’t have to go looking at various different sets of data and then try to match them up on my own — it’s all compiled and layered together here in one place. Anyone who is interested can see this information in common and become a part of the conversation about how to prepare for and react to climate change.

There is an additional link on the HRI website to a fantastic piece of research into Hoosier attitudes about climate change, the Hoosier Life Survey Opinion Map. Compiled and analyzed in 2019-20, researchers from IU sent out 10,000 surveys, and worked through 2,700 responses from across the state. There are several analytical documents curated which explore the data in terms of politics, policy, race, solutions and commonality. These are well-written, easily accessible deep dives into the responses to the survey questions.

Just as interesting as these analyses, however, is the opinion map, which correlates and collates responses to all 81 questions. For example, I can choose the question, “Do you believe climate change is happening” and select that I want to see the collated statewide response, by percent: 74.9 say yes, 13.9 say no, and 11.2 say they don’t know. Then I can choose to see responses to the same question in seven different regions of the state. Goshen’s region (the Industrial Northwest) responded this way by percent: 73.5 yes, 11.7 no, and 14.7 don’t know. Then I can compare this response to other regions and the statewide average, as well as explore answers to other questions, such as “Do you have shade trees to cool your home?”

Please take some time to look at the Hoosier Resilience Index and Hoosier Life Survey Opinion Map. These are important resources for an essential discussion.

Aaron Sawatsky-Kingsley is Goshen’s urban forester. He can be reached at aaronkingsley@maplenet.net or at 537-0986.

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