Rural communities are at risk to be disproportionately affected by the direct impacts of climate change and by efforts to mitigate climate change. This is especially true when considering solutions and policies that increase energy, resource, or transportation costs. At the same time, much of the production in climate friendly economies will occur in rural areas through renewable energy deployment, reinvigorated local food economies, and changes to land use patterns. Rural communities will play an integral role in addressing climate issues.
Despite this, rural America is often overlooked in climate conversations, and policy changes tend to emphasize urban and suburban perspectives. In many communities, this has led to a culture of misinformation and confusion that prevents publicly supported policy from emerging.
But it doesn't have to stay this way. Rural residents and communities have the potential to remain vibrant and develop innovative solutions that respond to local and regional challenges. The Jefferson Center and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy are moving conversations about climate change forward by working with rural community partners and residents.
The Rural Climate Dialogues use the innovative and time-tested Citizens Jury method for community problem solving and leadership development. This approach, which brings together a microcosm of the community to study an issue in-depth and generate a shared community response, has consistently provided a productive, educational, and inclusive way to address complex or divisive challenges. Each Dialogue focuses on a specific rural community and gathers a randomly selected but demographically representative group of citizens for a three-day moderated study and deliberation forum. They are tasked with creating a shared, community-based response to climate change and extreme weather events. The panels are completely citizen-driven; no one tells them what to do or what to think. The panelists have the liberty, information, and resources to produce their own recommendations that respond to community needs, priorities, concerns, and values.
Sustainable systems change will require a rural population that is empowered to be part of the climate solution. The Rural Climate Dialogues not only help rural communities think critically and plan strategically to address local challenges related to weather and climate; they allow the opportunity for community members to embrace their starring role in the creation of good policies and on-the-ground solutions. At both the national level (via the Clean Power Plan) and the international level (through the UNFCCC), climate policy frameworks are being structured for bottom up solutions. Rural communities are foundational to this framework and must be authentically engaged.
Click through the links at the top of this page to view results from the Rural Climate Dialogues held in Morris, Grand Rapids, and Winona, MN.