Rural communities vary greatly in their geographies, economies, and politics, but one similarity is that they will all be impacted by climate change, and the people that live there have an important story to tell. The Rural Climate Dialogues (RCDs), co-hosted by IATP and the Jefferson Center, sought to explore how climate change is manifesting in rural communities across Minnesota. A newly-released set of 8 video interviews with RCD participants tells the stories of how climate change has impacted them and their communities.
Many of the stories convey a stark contrast between rural life as a child and present day conditions. Troy Goodnough from Morris said, “I love my state, I love Minnesota, I love being Minnesotan, and I love winter. But I’m not really sure that I’m going to get cross country skis for my son, because the winter’s not really there… The way that my son will experience Minnesota isn’t going to be the same way I experienced it as a kid.”
Similarly, Katherine Sublett from Winona shared, “I was raised on the river. My mother’s hobby was fishing and that’s how we got introduced to Minnesota, because we’d always come from Chicago up here fishing. Back then we could swim in the Mississippi, we could eat as much fish as we wanted. Now I wouldn’t go into the Mississippi without shoes on, I wouldn’t eat any fish out of the Winona Lake. I mean, it’s just not up to par.” Still, she sees hope for change: “I think we the people are the solution. If we can get together and implement, educate, learn about what we can do to explore different energy options, how we can do things differently on the farm and protect our trout streams – I just know we are part of the solution.”
Each interview expresses some call for individual or community action on climate change, with a strong belief that rural communities can and should act. Caleb Tomilla from Glyndon said, “There are things we can do… It is a global issue, but there are community and individual issues too that can be dealt with.” Melissa Weidendorf from Grand Rapids said, “I’m not really sure why climate change has to be a political issue. It doesn’t seem like it needs to be.” She added, “I think when you’re talking about rural communities there’s a really big opportunity there.”
The video interviews capture a wide range of expertise—a mental health professional, a railroad worker, a motivational speaker, a paper mill worker, a sustainability coordinator, and an organic farmer all share their perspectives. These personal stories complement the Rural Climate Dialogues State Convening final report, which outlines the climate change priorities of rural Minnesotans and how state agency program offerings can best resource these priorities.
In many rural communities, there are limited opportunities to talk about climate change and develop climate action priorities. However, rural residents and communities can develop innovative solutions to local and regional challenges, ensuring rural Minnesota remains vibrant and prosperous. The experiences and stories shared in the video interviews provide a glimpse into how climate change is affecting rural communities, and illustrate that rural residents are ready to tackle the climate challenge.