State of the Union: Green Energy and Rural
Rural resistance has helped slow down the expansion of renewable energy production. It doesn’t have to be that way. For the President’s green-energy plans to succeed, he needs to reach out to the rural leaders who are ready to act on climate change.
President Barack Obama made urgent calls for new steps to address climate change in his State of the Union address yesterday, “for the sake of our children and our future.” While the focus was on renewable energy, he missed an opportunity to talk about the essential ingredient for addressing climate change: the support of rural communities.
This awakening to the realities of climate change holds real potential to reduce obstructionism and actually catalyze rural support for effective climate policy. For this to happen, Washington needs to engage rural leaders, organizations and citizens “where they are” in climate science and climate policy; spread the word about viable and profitable climate-friendly agricultural and forestry practices; invest in, encourage and support local investment in new opportunities for rural economic development; and, most importantly, listen and support the growing cadre of rural leaders who understand the need and value of effective climate policy, nationally and internationally.
Understanding rural communities’ concerns and interests around climate change and climate policy is the essential starting point. In general, their views are based upon their economic and social realities, which differ in some key ways from their urban counterparts, particularly around the issues of wages and energy costs. Rural residents, on average, earn less than urban residents, and expend a higher percentage of their income on transportation and energy. Existing farm and rural policy, and the farming and rural development that follow, pull in the opposite direction from what is needed to address climate change. For most farmers, fertilizer, pesticides, diesel fuel and propane used for crop drying represent some of the biggest crop production costs. Because these are mostly derived from fossil fuels, it is hardly a surprise that farmers would reflexively oppose any policies that result in higher fossil fuel costs—especially since neither agricultural researchers and educators nor agricultural policies and markets have done anything to promote or support viable, climate-friendly farm production options.
[imgcontainer left][img:barack-obama-state-of-the-union.jpg]President Obama addresses Congress Feb. 12, 2013
For rural citizens and farmers to support climate policy and action, they need to see how policies, programs and new development and infrastructure address their existing concerns while also effectively meeting the long-term challenge of mitigating climate change itself. Simply put, to make progress on U.S. climate policy, we need to support and assist rural leaders who are ready to act.
The next two years will be crucial. The way the climate issue is defined between now and the 2014 mid-term elections will determine the political context within which the Obama Administration approaches national policy as well as the international negotiations for a 2015 climate agreement.
Let’s hope President Obama extends a hand to rural communities and starts us on the path toward real climate action.
Jim Kleinschmit is Rural Communities Program Director for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.