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Reap What You Sow: Rural Midwest Community Action on Climate Change

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Maggie Callahan
January 23, 2020

This year, America’s Midwest has suffered from intense flooding leading to only 58% corn yield and 29% soybean yield. America supplies a quarter of the world’s production of these crops, and ongoing changes in weather patterns threaten the global food supply and these American farmers’ livelihoods. According to a 2019 report of the National Climate Assessment, dramatic increases in rainfall would, “Threaten rural livelihoods, sustainable food security and price stability.”

Farmers, despite being typecast in media and pop culture as conservative and backwards, are becoming vocal advocates for action on global warming as it continues to threaten their livelihoods. The federal government, however, continues to deny global warming exists, thwart and discontinue programming to prevent it and invest in activities that intensify global warming. Local governments, therefore, are becoming active in policy and practice changes to lessen the effects of global warming in rural communities.

The Rural Climate Dialogues in greater Missouri are one of many examples of local governments and citizens becoming change agents within their communities in the direction of combatting climate change. 15 to 18 participants were randomly selected in each community and represented their area’s diversity of age, gender, income, ethnicity and party affiliation.

Over 3 days, the participants engaged in a citizen’s jury. This process involves participants hearing and filtering critical information to share with the rest of the community, developing recommendations to address climate change and pinpointing opportunities for community investment and improvement in regard to climate resistance and resilience.

In Winona and Stevens County, surveys were used to understand and gauge the greater communities’ awareness of climate change and its impacts. Following these surveys, discussions were held regarding concerns and opportunities that the surveys highlighted. At the end of the meeting, an action plan was formed by the jury to address the concerns and capitalize on the opportunities.

Following these local county meetings, there was a state-level discussion to create synergy between the local action plans and allow for coordination to ensure maximum effectiveness. Participants shared their climate action recommendations with state agencies, which included: pursuing a clean energy future, strengthening infrastructure to be more climate resistant, and improving rural land stewardship.

State agencies also presented on their research and information regarding climate change and actions. These presentations focused on planned transportation improvements, health implications of climate change and energy efficiency. These presentations highlighted how the state was working to mitigate these challenges and issues.

Through this process a network of community members, policymakers and nonprofits formed which continues to work in the direction of stopping and mitigating the effects of climate change. These meetings resulted in the creation of a solar garden, renewable energy learning exchanges between American and German students and energy audits for households in the area.

These outcomes and ongoing work are proof that rural communities fully understand the old adage: you reap what you sow. Rural Midwesterners are beginning to sow the seeds of change in the local communities to protect their livelihoods and their environment.

To learn more about this case visit https://participedia.net/case/5865. To read about other innovative applications of public participation, visit www.participedia.net

Author: Maggie Callahan biography: Maggie Callahan is a master’s student of public diplomacy at Syracuse University and a graduate assistant for the Participedia Project at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. She holds a bachelor’s in political science and economics from Mercer University and has worked in Georgian, Moroccan and Nepalese nongovernmental organizations and the American government. Follow her on Twitter: @laissezmaggie

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