The Rural Climate Dialogues use a Citizens Jury approach to give rural residents the resources and information they need to think critically and create sustainable community solutions to climate change and extreme weather events.
Problems and Purpose
To provide a creative, resource-sensitive approach for bringing communities together around climate and extreme weather issues, the Jefferson Center partnered with the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy to create the Rural Climate Dialogues. The Dialogues use a Citizens Jury approach to give rural residents the resources and information they need to think critically and create sustainable community solutions. Their representative recommendations address actual community needs, which are presented to local, state, and national policymakers.
Background History and Context
Changes in weather and climate, like higher temperatures and more rainfall, are straining state, local, and tribal governments around the world. Institutions and systems responsible for emergency management, energy distribution, transportation, infrastructure, public health, and more are struggling to adapt. Rural communities, in particular, are hard hit by these changes.
Yet these communities play a key role in the future of affordable food, energy, water, and more. Seventy-two percent of land in the United States is classified as rural, but rural residents are often left out of key climate discussions, resulting in apathy and distrust, which hinders climate progress. If we are to effectively respond to rising extreme weather and the changing climate, residents of both urban and rural communities must have the necessary information and opportunity to act.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Jefferson Center partnered with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy to conduct the Dialogues, and funding is provided by the Carolyn Foundation, McKnight Foundation, and Bush Foundation.
The Jefferson Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan civic engagement organization focused on partnering with citizens, communities, and institutions to design and implement informed, innovative, and democratic solutions to today’s challenges.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
15-18 participants were randomly selected to participate, in order to represent the demographic makeup of their community in regards to gender, ethnicity, party affiliation, age, education, and annual household income. They were invited to participate through a postcard detailing the event dates, purpose, and payment.
Select residents who participated in Rural Climate Dialogues in their communities were invited to join the Rural Climate Dialogue State Convening in 2016.
Methods and Tools Used
The Jefferson Center used a Citizens Jury approach. Over 3 days, participants in each community learned more about and discussion the local impacts of climate change. They filtered critical information to share with the rest of the community, and developed recommendations to address top climate challenges and realize key opportunities. These recommendations served as a starting pointing for ongoing community conversations and action.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Stevens County Climate Dialogue
To lay the groundwork for the climate dialogue, in early May 2014 the Jefferson Center worked with Morris Area High School students to raise awareness of extreme weather and climate issues in the community. Students also distributed energy surveys to their families and neighbors, which helped inform research by the Center for Earth, Energy, and Democracy.
Then in June 2014, they convened fifteen Stevens County residents for 3 days to assess the local impacts of extreme weather and climate patterns, identify community concerns and opportunities to address those concerns, and recommend actionable goals to address risks and build resilience through community action.
In recent years in Itasca County, residents witnessed warmer winters and warming lakes, a changing forest landscape, and stronger storms. These changes pose serious threats to the local economy, local recreational opportunities, and the overall quality of life in the area.
In May of 2015, 18 Itasca County citizens met for 3 days to study and discuss local climate and weather challenges and solutions.
To start engaging with the community around these issues, in February 2016 an event was hosted at Winona Senior High School where about 100 students heard from local experts and discussed their own priorities and concerns about local climate and weather issues.
Then in March of 2016, eighteen Winona County citizens gathered for 3 days to learn more about climate change and discussed the ways their community could become stronger and more resilient.
While each of the three Rural Climate Dialogues produced unique action plans about how their community could respond locally to climate change, a common priority stood out: the need to strengthen connections between local efforts and state agencies and programs. To help make this possible, the Jefferson Center hosted a state convening of selected rural residents from each community, state agency representatives, and nonprofit organizations on September 8-9, 2016, in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
At the convening, dialogue participants shared their climate action recommendations with state agencies, which included: pursuing a clean energy future, strengthening infrastructure to be more climate resilient, and improving rural land stewardship. State agency staff presented on a number of key climate issues for rural Minnesota, such as resilient transportation, health impacts of climate change, and energy efficiency. Each presentation included how state agency programs were working to address these challenges, including opportunities for rural communities to access funding and other state resources.
Participants spent the two days working across communities, occupations, ages, and more to determine the top priorities, actions, and potential obstacles to achieving resilience in rural Minnesota.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The recommendations, both from individual communities and from the state convening, provide a strong starting point for ongoing community conversations and rural climate action. The Jefferson Center and the Institute for Agriculture and are continuing to work with these communities as they achieve their resilience and climate goals. They are also growing a network of rural community members, nonprofits, state policymakers, and more who are leading on climate and energy to promote shared learning and increase impact.
Here are just a few examples of community impacts since the Rural Climate Dialogues:
- The Itasca Clean Energy Team and the Grand Rapids Public Utilities Commission are moving forward with construction of a community solar garden
- Delegates from Morris, Minnesota are participating in a renewable energy and learning exchange with representatives from Saerbeck, Germany
- In Winona County, Xcel Energy and Semcac (a local community action agency) partnered to provide home energy audits and energy squad visits to 197 low or fixed-income households in 2017
Analysis and Lessons Learned
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 "Rural Climate Dialogues." Jefferson Center. Retrieved from https://jefferson-center.org/rural-climate-dialogues/